The Winterkeeper

Written by Anna Schmidt
Review by Valerie Adolph

Set in the winter of 1933, mostly in Montana, this is the story of the creation of a family. It opens with 14-year-old Millie mourning the death of her mother, Lavinia, and being so terrified of her stepfather that she flees the house. Thinking to find her mother’s estranged friend Ginny, she heads into nearby Yellowstone Park, struggling through deep snow. She hides out in a boarded-up hotel until she is discovered by Nate, the winterkeeper in the park. Nate takes Millie to his cabin, where, despite his wife’s absence, he manages to care for Millie, teaches her some survival skills, and tries to protect her from her stepfather’s greed and anger. Arrested for this, Nate is put in jail in the town of Gardiner, and Millie is returned to her stepfather.

The story takes a different turn once Nate’s wife Ginny returns. Nate, Millie and the pregnant Ginny realise the stepfather means to get rid of Millie in order to benefit from Lavinia’s will. The novel builds to an exciting climax, but the steady hand of Nate, the winterkeeper, always guides the action.

This is a novel honest about the economic conditions of the 1930s and about the natural world of Yellowstone Park, where survival is the one vital skill. Its themes synthesise to create a world that honours our simple, long-lasting values.

The author draws us into the life of a small western town and the cold of Yellowstone Park in winter, both with predators and allies in unexpected places. The storytelling and scene building are masterful and create an immediacy that keeps the reader turning pages. This is a writer who feels words as well as thinking them.