cover image The Berry Pickers

The Berry Pickers

Amanda Peters. Catapult, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-1-64622-195-0

Peters’s enthralling debut tracks the lives of two siblings from an Indigenous Canadian family working in Maine as seasonal berry pickers. In the summer of 1962, four-year-old Ruthie is kidnapped by a white New England woman, who renames her Norma and raises the girl as her daughter. Meanwhile, Ruthie’s brother Joe, who was six years old at the time of the kidnapping, never forgives himself for not keeping an eye on his sister. Joe’s perspective alternates with Norma’s, who shares her dim recollections of her real mother (“It’s just a dream,” she’s told by her new parents) with her imaginary friend, “Ruthie.” Joe spends most of his life guilt-ridden by his sister’s disappearance. Norma, meanwhile, is haunted by the puzzling gaps in her family history: there are no pictures of her before the age of five, and her skin is darker than her parents’ (she’s told that she takes after an “Italian great-grandfather”). Joe acts out in rage and resorts to alcohol to cope, while Norma builds a life for herself as a teacher and a wife. Peters traces their experiences over several decades, and their reunion, when it finally comes, is powerfully rendered. The result is a cogent and heartfelt look at the ineffable pull of family ties. Agent: Marilyn Biderman, Transatlantic. (Oct.)