The story opens with two sisters building a den together in the woods. They feel invincible – they are the perfect team with a perfect shelter – surely their special bond of friendship will last forever? But this is before the storm comes, the ‘river of rain’, and the lightning strike that destroys their refuge and shakes the foundations of everything they once relied upon. The older sister becomes seriously ill (cancer is implied but not specified) and is admitted to hospital. The family are knocked for six: our small protagonist is worried, angry, confused and lonely. Nothing feels right without her sister by her side. Time passes, rain makes way for a blanket of snow, and the older sister is ‘stronger and brighter’. She has energy to play and smile again, and with the loving support of the whole family, the sisters find the strength and hope to think about the future and to plan for their eagerly anticipated return to the woods.
Clare Helen Walsh is an author who does not shy away from challenging topics, but she handles them with skill and sensitivity, never losing sight of the fact that these are compelling stories as well as being a source of guidance, acknowledgement and comfort. Asa Gilland’s illustrations are exquisite. Known for her delicious colour palettes, balanced compositions and graceful figure drawing, she’s elegantly captured the close family bond, the change of emotions and the seasons, and the natural environments so important to the girls in the story.