uly 1962. A Mi’kmaq family from Nova Scotia arrives in Maine to pick blueberries for the summer. Weeks later, four-year-old Ruthie, the family’s youngest child, vanishes. She is last seen by her six-year-old brother, Joe, sitting on a favorite rock at the edge of a berry field. Joe will remain distraught by his sister’s disappearance for years to come.
In Maine, a young girl named Norma grows up as the only child of an affluent family. Her father is emotionally distant, her mother frustratingly overprotective. Norma is often troubled by recurring dreams and visions that seem more like memories than imagination. As she grows older, Norma slowly comes to realize there is something her parents aren’t telling her. Unwilling to abandon her intuition, she will spend decades trying to uncover this family secret.
- child labour
- loss of child
The Berry Pickers is a story about a Mi’kmaq family in 1962 who travels to Maine to pick blueberries with their five children, including six-year-old Joe and four-year-old Ruthie. When Ruthie disappears from her favourite rock her brother, Joe, the last one to see her, is devastated. Elsewhere in Maine, a young girl named Norma grows up as an only child with a distant father and an overprotective mother. As Norma gets older, she feels her family is holding something back and Norma is determined to find the truth. This debut novel is written by Amanda Peters, a writer of Mi’kmaq and settler ancestry. She currently lives in Nova Scotia, Canada.
Sometimes you finish a book and easily write a review about it, spilling everything you loved or didn’t and move on to the next book. Then a book comes along, and you wonder how you will ever find the right words to adequately describe your experience reading it. For me, The Berry Pickers falls into the latter category and while I don’t think I can do this book justice in describing it, I am going to try.
The Berry Pickers reads in alternating perspectives between Joe and Norma while flashing from the present day to the past. The author fully immerses you in the locations, bringing them to life and helping you connect to these families. One young family experiences so much trauma and loss but still comes together. After their youngest child goes missing, they never fail in their belief that she is out there somewhere. It is so tragic yet heartwarming to watch this family come together. In another family, fleeting glimpses of the past and a continued quest to find your own history, to find your place in the world, to find forgiveness, and to be at peace with yourself.
All of this is to say that this story is stunning, beautifully written, and heartbreaking. I experienced so many emotions and was rooting for each family to discover the truth, to find closure and peace. I learned about the challenges in life and the split-second decisions that can change your life forever.
I loved Joe, the doting and conflicted brother. I loved Norma, the precocious and inquisitive child. I became quickly attached to these characters. It felt like I was reading a biography of two families. This will be a story that I recommend to anyone and everyone who will listen. I will tell them that they will likely see themselves in one or all of these characters in the way they make decisions to protect who they love. I will tell them they will read heartbreak, but also hope and determination.
This is a story that will stay with me. It is a story that made me think and feel. It drew me into a world and brought it to life.