Book Review: The Snow Child

Posted November 21, 2014 by Lyn Kaye in book review, Lyn / 2 Comments

Book Review: The Snow ChildThe Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Published by Reagan Arthur on January 1st 2011
Genres: adult, historical
Pages: 386
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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five-stars

Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart--he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season's first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone--but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees. This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.

The Snow Child was an impulse buy during a book scouting trip last year.  I spotted the beautiful cover on the featured shelf, and the name of the book and the art really spoke to me.  It looked like the perfect cold-day comfort novel.

This pick was our next choice for Forgotten Fridays, but for now, the feature will be on hold until the first of the year. I plowed ahead with the reading, since I am always so impatient for winter weather. We just do not get a long break from the warmth in Texas.

I have always found Alaska fascinating, almost like it is outer space on earth.  It was a pleasant discovery to find that the book was a retelling (instant attraction there!)

I don’t read too much adult fiction, because I personally find that it is lacking in all the areas I seem to adore. I am finding more and more general fiction mostly whining about losing youth, or how unfair adult life can treat a person, or about infidelity. Reading is an escape for me, and I don’t want my books to reflect the qualities to I avoid in my real life. I’m sure that there is general or adult fiction that contains something more. I’m just bogged down with YA, and I find it tedious to have to search for the gems in another genre.

However, The Snow Child delivered everything that I love in reading: realism in manageable doses, beautiful scenery, loving touches of magic, and two people who attempt to find their way after wandering off the path of life.

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We Are Family: I was very concerned about the characters at first, since I didn’t seem to enjoy them at the start. However, the two central subjects, Jack and Mabel, revealed little bits and pieces of their personality over the course of the entire book, and each time that we were able to catch those little moments, it honestly just made me fall more in love with the two of them.  For a book that I really hold so beautiful, it does have a fair amount of raw pain. It was very difficult and agonizing to read about two aging souls that found their existence just as barren and stark as the setting of the novel. Their thoughts were studded with mystery and self-hatred. The heart-break of the two main characters was almost tangible.  The story of the two does eventually blossom and thrive after a large dose of kindness and self-discovery. It was one of the qualities that helped endear me to The Snow Child.

As for the little title character herself, I appreciated her much more by the end of the book.  She seemed so untouchable by the narration and the story, since the main focus was more about her as a force than a person.  However, the entire mysterious stranger approach helped drive the wonder and magic of the plot.

The secondary lover character inside of me wasn’t left without anything as well.  The entire cast of the George family brought the perfect balance of humor and reason to the book.  The overall-wearing poor housekeeper mother was wonderful, and I really felt a twinge of envy that I couldn’t directly interact with her. I love a person who isn’t afraid that housekeeping is a terrible chore that should be done only when necessary. Using her as a catalyst for Mabel’s character helped create a good balance of women that were different, but not polar opposites .  The two women bonded over the things that were alike, and helped them discover something new about who they were.

The son was wonderful, and provided a band-aide to the bleeding storyline. The hurt that he healed by the smallest and mostly overlooked actions felt like natural healing.

The Cold Never Bothered Me Anyways – Recapping about a hundred conversations I have on Twitter: I love the cold. I adore cold weather. The colder, the better. Cold cold cold. Reading about frigid places and snow deserts really appeals to my romantic side.  If I see anything about ice or snow or freezing tundras,  it turns into a sales pitch.

Retro Storytelling – Another attention-grabber is retellings. I love to see how one core theme speaks to different people in different regions and walks of life.  I have heard of the story of the Snow Child, but only in passing.  Directly using the story it was modeled after in the book not only aided the author to sell the magic aspect, but also informed readers about the inspiration of the novel without alienating those who had never read the story. Also, I just love old books in novels. Yo dawg, I heard you liked books!

Lusty Lust – I just love that cover.

Unconventional Solutions FTW – Creative solutions for dilemmas will certainly guarantee some love from me.  I suppose that is slightly misleading, since the solution to the family issue faced by Jack and Mabel wasn’t anything new. However, I like how everything came together.  The resolution was more along the lines of “Make it work.” The book heavily centers on passing the torch to the next generation, and the diversity of the two main family units certainly cannot be overlooked. One family is all natural born, and the other is a family that takes in those in need. Family can come from either birth, or friendship, marriage or just a common ground. I usually would think about family unit diversity in middle grade and young adult, but putting an adult twist on the concept was actually a very pleasant surprise.

I think I am going to use this book next time someone asks me about my future plans, sans marriage. I suppose I will nab wandering waifs and lost souls from the forests and families. Problem solved.

The ending – …the hell? I am still mulling over this one. Outside of that, the conclusion was all at once touching and tragic. A little bit of “Be thankful for what you have” and “Be careful for what you wish for.”

Conclusion

Wonderful, sweet, and beautifully tragic, this is a good novel for the YA burnouts and transitioners to general fiction. Dicing together the genres of historical, contemporary and fantasy produces a novel that is very hard to categorize. It will speak to your heart, then stab it, then give you kisses for the owies it caused.

 

lyn

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