A disastrous blizzard blasts the city of Albany in 1879, and in its chaotic wake, two young girls go missing.
Bonnie and David O’Donnell are among those killed in the storm. When no one arrives at school to collect their daughters, Emma and Claire, the girls set off on foot through the towering drifts. In the following days, Dr. Mary Sutter and her husband, William, physicians and friends of the O’Donnell family, try in vain to locate the children. Initially, the police offer to search for the girls, but after six weeks of Mary's relentless queries, they give up. The city faces another disaster when the frozen river thaws, causing devastating floods. When Mary and William return home from treating flood victims, Emma and Claire are waiting for them. The tale they tell is dramatic—a man has been holding them captive in a basement—but the tale told by Emma's body is all too clear to Mary: the 10-year-old has clearly been raped. As the Sutters struggle to unravel the truth behind the girls' trauma, a prime suspect emerges. Despite some contradictions between Emma's story and the public perception, Albany prepares for a sensational trial. Emma, who at 10 is at the legal age of sexual consent, must face down those who consider her survival proof that she was “a siren who…either seduced or acquiesced” to having sex with an adult man. Oliveira (I Always Loved You, 2014, etc.) crafts a complex, multifaceted historical novel that is both a captivating story and a commentary on the laws that have, for far too long, oppressed and endangered women. With the exception of one sympathetic lawyer, all of her main characters are strong women who reject the limited mold of femininity to help others, speak out against injustice, and create a nontraditional family unit that fiercely protects its own.
Entertaining at times, deeply political at others; a perfect example of a historical novel that also illuminates present-day issues.