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This spoiler-free book review of The Berry Pickers by Amanda Peters analyzes all the reasons why this historical fiction and contemporary mystery book is so beloved by all different kinds of readers.
In this review are all my favorite book quotes from The Berry Pickers, a brief synopsis, frequently asked questions about the book, book club discussion questions for The Berry Pickers, similar books, and more!
Child labor, loss of child, abduction, miscarriage, abuse, death, alcoholism, violence, terminal illness
The Berry Pickers Book Review / Summary
The Berry Pickers is a heartbreaking, stunning tale of Indigenous family separation. We follow a Mi’kmaq family as they navigate life after their four-year-old girl goes missing in the blueberry fields of Maine.
The book is told through two alternating POVs. The first is a youngest son named Joe from Nova Scotia whose family traveled to Maine every summer to harvest blueberries. The second POV is a young girl named Norma who grows up in Maine with an overbearing mother and emotionally distant father.
Amanda Peters gently and tenderly invites the reader to examine the affects of intergenerational trauma, racist residential institutions, and the specific ways Indigenous families were treated—in a deeply personal way.
@molliereadsbooks Here are my thoughts on The Berry Pickers by Amanda Peters! My more in-depth book review is on the blog (molliereads.com), and I share my favorite quotes, book club questions, a synopsis, and more! #TheBerryPickers #AmandaPeters #bestbooksof2023 #favorirebooks #booktok #shortfiction #historicalfiction #historicalfictionbooks #indigenousauthors #bookreview #bookblogger #bookbloggersoftiktok ♬ original sound – Mollie Reads | Book Blogger
My Thoughts on The Berry Pickers
Though short, this book is powerful and moving. The Berry Pickers would be a fantastic book club book. I absolutely loved it. Resiliency blooms in the midst of collective trauma so many Indigenous families endured.
We watch both children grow up over the course of 50 years, and what follows is a story of immense loss, but also a determination to understand and be understood.
The exploration of familial guilt and expectation, shame, dysfunctional family roles, and how different people navigate grief was both fascinating and gut wrenching. Watching a young character subconsciously carry the weight of family secrets—it was so much.
But even with the heavier topics, there was a thread of hope that kept me turning pages. I rooted for Norma and Joe, and the freedom you feel at the end of the book is worth the difficult journey.
Favorite Quotes from The Berry Pickers by Amanda Peters
Some secrets are so dark it’s best they remain buried. Even people who exude light and happiness have dark secrets. Sometimes, the lie becomes so entrenched it becomes the truth, hidden away in the deep recesses of the mind until death erases it, leaving the world a little different. Secrets and lies can take on a life of their own, they can be twisted and manipulated, or they can burst into the world from the mouth of someone just as they are starting to lose their mind.—Amanda peters, the berry pickers
I teach words. How to put them together to create fear or beauty or suspense. How a long line of words strung together can take you to a dinghy out on the ocean searching for a whale, can sit you beside the witch as she tells her story of the white man, bringing him into existence. I teach words that can take you to places that exist only in the imagination, introduce you to people so peculiar, so interesting that they can’t possibly be real, yet they are, on the page. That’s why I found it strange that no word exists for a parent who loses a child. If children lose their parents, they are orphans. If a husband loses his wife, he’s a widower. But there’s no word for a parent who loses a child. I’ve come to believe that the event is just too big, too monstrous, too overwhelming for words. No word could ever describe the feeling, so we leave it unsaid.—Amanda Peters, The Berry Pickers
The dash saddens me. The simplicity misses so much. It doesn’t allow for all the downs that bring a person low or the joys that lift them up. All the bends and turns that make up a lifetime are flattened and erased. The dash on a tombstone is wholly inadequate. Everything around it is more remarkable. The name, etched in cursive or dignified fonts. Sometimes a photo is carved into the grey granite, giving life to the dead. Yet the dash, that line that carries the entire sum of a life within it, is unremarkable.—Amanda Peters, The Berry Pickers
I don’t have time for regret, or the emotional strength it requires. I see the world unfolding as it is meant to. Sometimes I have trouble finding meaning in the things that happen to me, but I assume that the universe knows what it’s doing.—Amanda Peters, The Berry Pickers
Frequently Asked Questions about The Berry Pickers
What is The Berry Pickers by Amanda Peters about?
The Berry Pickers by Amanda Peters is a heartbreaking saga about two families after a young child goes missing in the blueberry fields of Maine.
One story follows Joe, the youngest in an indigenous family from Nova Scotia that travels to Maine every summer to harvest blueberries. The other POV is a young girl, Norma, who lives with her parents: an overprotective mother and emotionally distant father.
Is The Berry Pickers based on a true story?
No, The Berry Pickers is a work of fiction. But this historical fiction book is heavily researched and based on many stories Amanda Peters heard growing up from her father about the Mi’Kmaq berry pickers.
And while this specific tale is fiction, the book speaks to the dark legacy of Native American residential schools and the way Indigenous girls were snatched from their families throughout North America.
What happened to Ruthie in The Berry Pickers?
🚨 What happened to Ruthie is a spoiler in The Berry Pickers. Read if you want to know this spoiler!
🚨What follows is a spoiler for The Berry Pickers! At age four, Ruthie was abducted while her family was visiting rural Maine for the summer from their home in Novia Scotia. She was raised by a woman and her husband who desperately wanted a family but hadn’t been able to due to miscarriages and stillborns.
Ruthie grew up believing her name was Norma, the name her kidnappers (the only family she’d known) gave her. After fifty years, she finally learns the secrets of her past and reunites with her biological family.
Who are the characters in The Berry Pickers?
The two main characters are (1) Joe, the youngest son in a Mi’kmaq family who was the last to see his younger sister, Ruthie, before she tragically disappeared one summer in the berry fields of Maine, and (2) Norma, a young girl in Maine who is navigating family secrets of her own with her mother and father.
The side characters are mostly family members. I personally loved Joe’s older sister, who was a constant and tough love sibling. Norma’s aunt also played a big role in her life.
RELATED: Book Review: Pony by R. J. Palacio
Book Club Discussion Questions for The Berry Pickers
- Ice breaker question: What’s your favorite summer fruit?
- When you realized how the two POV storylines were connected, how did that change how you felt about the characters?
- Joe has many demons he’s running from throughout the book. Did you believe he deserved redemption and/or forgiveness? Did he get it?
- How did Norma’s recurring dreams add to the story? What did you think about them and the way they were received by her other family members?
- Whose POV did you connect with most? Which characters, if any, did you want to see more from?
- How did Joe and Norma individually handle the weight of secrets they were carrying?
- What did you think about the setting of Maine in the 1960s? Did anything surprise you?
- Ruthie’s story reflects a collective trauma for many Indigenous families. How has your understanding of Indigenous history grown or changed since reading The Berry Pickers?
Similar Books to The Berry Pickers
These books explore similar themes or are reminiscent of The Berry Pickers in some way:
- The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
- Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
- This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
- Let Us Descend by Jesmyn Ward
- Pony by R. J. Palacio
Buy the Book
I recommend The Berry Pickers if you love beautiful prose, family drama and secrets, and flawed but lovable characters you root for the whole way through.
The Berry Pickers is a moving historical fiction book full of heart, hope, forgiveness, and love—despite the extremely upsetting plot. Even so, sensitive readers should take care.