Seas Of Snow by Kerensa Jennings – 5* Genius
1950s England. Five-year-old Gracie Scott lives with her Mam and next door to her best friend Billy. An only child, she has never known her Da. When her Uncle Joe moves in, his physical abuse of Gracie’s mother starts almost immediately. But when his attentions wander to Gracie, an even more sinister pattern of behaviour begins.
As Gracie grows older, she finds solace and liberation in books, poetry and her enduring friendship with Billy. Together they escape into the poetic fairy-tale worlds of their imaginations.
But will fairy tales be enough to save Gracie from Uncle Joe’s psychopathic behaviour – and how far will it go?
As I type this I am still very blown away by this novel. I was gripped by this intense plot and by gripped, I mean I have just read this novel straight through in 5 hours and 15 minutes! I couldn’t put it down! I felt a wide range of emotion, the strongest one being the urge to hold my daughter in my arms and promise her I will never, ever let her down. This novel really hit me in the feels, badly! It is one I doubt I will ever forget. Here is my review…..
Seas Of Snow is essentially two stories interwoven into one powerful novel. On the one hand, the novel spans 1940s-1950s and details the childhoods of neighbourhood best friends Gracie and Billy. An incredibly moving friendship built upon childhood innocence. On the other hand, the novel shows the nightmare Gracie will come to know and live. When Uncle Joe darkens her door!
The early chapters are written from Gracie’s perspective and we meet an intelligent young girl, who loves to dream and dream big. Gracie is the literal depiction of innocence and with her charming outlook on life “you don’t know everything when you’re 5”. You slowly grow to love her character. Gracie has a deep love for fairy tales and all things magical. She is a sweet little girl who reminded me of my own daughter many times. Armed with her best friend Billy, Gracie feels she can take on the world………that is until late one night in 1946.
Uncle Joe is a narcissistic bully, who destroys the lives of everyone he comes into contact with. When Uncle Joe comes to stay he automatically takes on the role of ‘abusive father’. Suddenly Gracie is witnessing her mother sustain vicious beatings at his hands. Due to the era, there is no real support or help to call upon. With these issues considered ‘domestics’ and the police unlikely to help. What goes on behind closed doors must stay there! Life at May close, Tyneside rapidly becomes unbearable. We read on as Gracie’s mother slowly becomes a beaten down, powerless and submissive woman. It is at this point Uncle Joe turns his attentions towards Gracie, one day when she is in the bath.
Gracie and Billy are best friends and their summers are spent building dens and reading poetry. The novel is scattered with literature references and they add to the story and explain how words help Gracie and poetry is a secret key. Gracie idolises Billy and it is through this friendship and hero worship she maintains some level of normality in her existence. Billie loves to invent games such as dragons and princesses. They have a genuine, once in a lifetime bond and it is simply beautiful to read it play out. Billy comforts her with her fears of ravens and eventually her confessions about Uncle Joe.
There is a backdrop character of an elderly fragile lady who Billy visits. A woman whom life has been painful and unkind too. Billy visits and reads to her and seeks to offer her some comfort and it is in this moment you realise the true beauty of Billy’s character. Gracie continues in her life to seek to interpret the world around her. She is living with nightmare presence of Uncle Joe’s returning vile, poisonous, darkness. Therefore, she starts to blame herself and believe god must be punishing her. This is not helped when Gracie’s mother encourages her to keep the secrets, out of fear for what Joe may do next. Further on in the novel we see chapters from the perspective of Joe. That show what a truly terrifying horrible man he is. Also from the perspective of a now adult Billy, as he tries to piece his and Gracie’s past life together. We soon learn that Gracie is one in a long line of Joe’s victims.
This novel is a story of life and the darkness of past betrayals. It symbolises the burdens people carry and the secrets in their closest. What makes it so harrowing, is that it could so easily all be true. The powerlessness of women in the ear, the lack of legal assistance, the hushing up of abuses both sexual and physical all contributed massively to the victimising of Gracie.
It is such an emotional journey, that provides many thought-provoking moments. It is one I think would be very popular for book groups. For the members to debate/discuss the various characters and the narrative. This novel flowed at an easy 5* pace, but with that ending I completely broke down. It was expertly crafted into the story and the writer deserves a ‘5* Genius’ rating!