Seas of Snow by Kerensa Jennings #BookReview #BlogTour

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?
Seas of Snow is a haunting, psychological domestic drama that probes the nature and the origins of evil.   

I'm so pleased to be hosting the blog tour for Seas of Snow today. Many thanks to the author, publishers and Caroline Vincent from Bits About Books for inviting and for my copy of this very special book.
It was obvious from the blurb that this was going to be a book which tackles some dark subjects and I have to admit to opening the pages with some trepidation. I was hooked within the first few paragraphs however and knew immediately that I wasn't going to be able to put Seas of Snow until I discovered the truth, no matter how awful it might be. Told through a dual narrative, the contemporary story features the fragmented memories of a frail older woman and the often tortured thoughts of the man who knew her back then and visits her as she slowly fades away. The storyline flips back and forth; as they remember events, they -  and the reader -  are cast back to the post war years when Gracie was a child.
Gracie's early childhood is filled with innocent pleasures, sitting out in the sun and blowing bubbles with her Mam, or playing make believe games with her next door neighbour and best friend, Billy. Uncle Joe's arrival casts a long shadow over house, even at a young age Gracie notices the change in her mother when he is around and she sees the bruises despite her Mam's attempts to cover them with cardigans and high-necked dresses. Her friendship with Billy provides the succour she so desperately needs. Even from a very young age he is protective towards the little girl, their early play times are warm and touching and when Joe's brutality invades their innocence he is steadfast in his support of her. As the year pass and she confides in him, his determination to care for her juxtaposes poignantly with the neglect she suffers at the hands of the adults in her life. 
Many will blame her Mam for failing to protect Gracie but as book progresses it becomes clear she too is a victim. Beaten and broken she has become so damaged by her brother that she is little more than a shell. Readers will make their own minds up about how far she is culpable for her daughter's suffering but I was left feeling she should be pitied as another victim of a psychopath rather than vilified. Her brother, Joe is a truly evil character, the chapters that follow him and detail his crimes show him to be wholly bad. Kerensa Jennings examines whether wickedness is innate in some people as we follow Joe's progression from ripping wings off flies, through to mutilating animals and eventually almost unspeakably depraved acts culminating in his perverted obsession with his sister's young daughter. 
Though the subject matter may be difficult to read about, Kerensa Jennings writes with a lyrical beauty. There is almost fairy tale like feeling to the story as the terrifying raven of young Gracie's imagination becomes inextricably linked with the darkness she sees in her uncle. Fairy tales of course, were traditionally often dark and violent stories providing readers with the metaphors to cope with the injustices in their own lives, and so the dragons and princesses of her games with Billy reflect her tortured thoughts as she questions whether she has done something to deserve such cruelty. Poetry is woven evocatively throughout the book as the words of Wordsworth and Rainer Maria Rilke allow Gracie some temporary respite and peace from the horrors inflicted on her. I was moved to tears by Rilke's poetry and these scenes will undoubtedly resonate with anybody who has sought solace in literature at difficult times, reminding us of the power of the written word as the balm that allows us to escape reality for a while.
Seas of Snow is necessarily unflinching in its depictions of abuse and graphic violence and there were scenes I almost had to read with my hands covering my eyes, unable to draw breath. I have to admire Kerensa Jenning's bravery in writing such difficult scenes, it is so important not to whitewash these evil acts. Abuse shouldn't be kept a secret, degeneracy should be exposed for the sake of the victims like Gracie whose voices becomes silenced when people don't speak out even when they know something is terribly wrong.
Seas of Snow is achingly sad, there can be no escaping that. What happens is absolutely horrific but it's so staggeringly beautiful that I couldn't tear my eyes from the page. This is a book of light and shade; the little moments of peace and hope that Gracie finds in poetry, the tender friendship she shares with Billy, her appreciation for the simple joy of a daffodil means that what I will most remember about this book won't the darkness of Joe, it will be the courage and fortitude of a brave young girl. To say I loved Seas of Snow seems wrong given the emotive themes that are explored with such uncompromising honesty but it moved me in a way that only the most special books can, and I cannot recommend this exquisite novel highly enough.

Seas of Snow is published by Unbound and can be purchased from:
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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About the Author

Kerensa Jennings is a storyteller, strategist, writer, producer and professor. Kerensa’s TV work took her all over the world, covering everything from geo-politics to palaeontology, and her time as Programme Editor of Breakfast with Frost coincided with the life-changing events of 9/11. The knowledge and experience she gained in psychology by qualifying and practising as an Executive Coach has only deepened her fascination with exploring the interplay between nature and nurture and with investigating whether evil is born or made – the question at the heart of Seas of Snow. As a scholar at Oxford, her lifelong passion for poetry took flight. Kerensa lives in West London and over the last few years has developed a career in digital enterprise.