THE BERRY PICKERS by Amanda Peters

The Berry Pickers by Amanda Peters is a novel about an indigenous Mi’kmaq family in Nova Scotia who travels to Maine every summer to pick blueberries as migrant workers. One summer, 4 year-old Ruthie, the youngest of the family’s five children, disappears while they are working out in the field. Her disappearance is the first in a series of devastating losses suffered by the family, and is a loss felt especially hard by her brother Joe, who was 6 at the time. Meanwhile there is a second storyline, told in alternating chapters, about a girl named Norma who lived in Maine with a severely depressed mother and who always felt that something was off with her family. These two storylines ultimately converge in a not unexpected but satisfying way.

Why I picked it up: The Berry Pickers caught my eye last fall and then picked up a lot of steam online after it came out. I asked for this one for my birthday.

The Berry Pickers is a quiet book full of loss and sadness that manages to be hopeful as well. All of the characters are dealing with some burden or demon – grief, guilt, sorrow, secrets – and carrying those burdens throughout their lives. Peters does a good job of exploring how the related traumas play out in both families andy affect the dynamic among all of the people on both sides. Peters has a lot of empathy for her characters – angry, dying Joe; lonely, resigned Norma – which she conveys throughout the book. Even if the end is barely a surprise, I was still holding my breath waiting for it to play out.

This review has taken me a while to write, in part because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say about The Berry Pickers. It’s a small story, told quietly. But that doesn’t take away from its impact, or what it has to say about the ripple effects of loss and secrets within a family. I’d recommend it for fans of family dramas and stories about identity.

The Berry Pickers was the 5th book of 2024 and satisfies the Beautiful Cover category of the 2024 EDIWTB Reading Challenge.