Published by Philomel on November 10th, 2011
Genres: coming of age, fantasy, middle grade, retellings
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With her black hair, red lips, and lily-white skin, Summer is as beautiful as her father's garden. And her life in the mountains of West Virginia seems like a fairy tale; her parents sing and dance with her, Cousin Nancy dotes on her, and she is about to get a new baby brother. But when the baby dies soon after he's born, taking Summer's mama with him, Summer's fairy-tale life turns grim. Things get even worse when her father marries a woman who brings poisons and magical mirrors into Summer's world. Stepmama puts up a pretty face, but Summer suspects she's up to no good - and is afraid she's powerless to stop her.
This Snow White tale filled with magic and intrigue during the early twentieth century in Appalachia will be hard to forget.
Despite the title, it took me a little while to realize that this was a Snow White retelling. I was focused on the cover and the author. I always love a retelling, and this story seemed to click well. Sad to say, I did find some major issues with the entire feel of the storyline.
What Was Good
I did enjoy the relationship blooming between family members. The idea strayed from romantic love and shifted the focus instead on the importance and the appreciation for caregivers.
I have only read Jane Yolen picture books, and I have always loved them. Her novel writing is just as lovely as her picture books. Side note: my personal recommendation is Where Have the Unicorns Gone? Wonderful, lovely book.
The setting was distinctive and surprising. This retelling is set in the Appalachia region of the United States, a region more known for drunken moonshine stories and religion than fairy tales. Fear not, religious sanctity dodgers. The author gives a balanced view on the culture without dragging in a preaching, judgmental tone into the story arc. There is mention of religion, God, and snake churches, but it doesn’t sour the story.
The dwarves are so adorable, and absolutely my favorite part of the book. Reading their dialog in their accent was clever and charming.
What Were the Issues?
The best part of the book, the introduction to the shorter heroes of the story, makes an appearance towards the end of the book, and their section had an overall rushing and slightly crammed right into the sudden climax of the plot. I understand the real focus was on the female family unit, but I do not see the necessity of mutilating a key aspect of the fairy tale theme for the sake of another theme.
The ending, with the sudden romance, was FORCED. The entire resolution was beautifully tied together, but the sudden last-minute-shove of a major life event really cheapened the entire plot.
The plot never seemed to really reach into the depths of the character. It wasn’t a flat-out surface skimming, but this book had a good chance to go darker, and the story is very serious for the given material.
Overall, I was enchanted by Yolen’s flowing and charming writing, but some of the elements seemed forced and cobbled. Just like an old Disney film, some of the devices felt contractual and obligated instead of welcomed. However, it is a wonderful book for those who want a little bit of Disney and Grim mixed together.