January 19, 2012

The Snow Child

by Eowyn Ivey
ages: adult
First sentence: "Mabel had known there would be silence."
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Review copy provided by publisher through my place of employment.
Release date: February 1, 2012

I have sat down several times since I finished this quiet and lovely book last week, trying to figure out what to say about it, coming up short every time. I'm not sure I have the words in me to write this, but I'm going to try.

It's the Alaskan frontier in 1920, and Mabel and Jack -- an older, childless couple, from "Back East" in Pennsylvania -- are giving the whole frontier experience a try. They've been at it for a couple of years, and it's not going well: Jack can't seem to make the land work for him, and Mabel is becoming desperately helpless in the face of the cold, the dark, and the silence. Then, in the first snowfall of the year, a bit of whimsey overtakes them, and they build a snow child. It doesn't seem like much, but the next morning, the snow child is gone, and in its place is a little girl, half-wild and almost unwilling to be tamed.

Mabel and Jack take to the girl -- who may or may not be a fairy child; in many ways that question is irrelevant to purpose the book. For whatever the jacket copy may say, this is not a fantasy --  whose name is Faina, and slowly adopt her into their family, even though she never lives with them. Even though she disappears each spring, returning with each snowfall. By knowing Faina -- and for us, by following hers, and Mabel's and Jack's stories -- Mabel and Jack come to know and appreciate and love the wildness of Alaska, with all its joys and pains.

In many ways this is two books in one: yes, it's a story about a childless couple coming to terms with both the hardship of a new life (which they chose), but also the hardship of the loss of their only child as an infant. But, perhaps more importantly, it's a love story to the wilderness; from the breathtaking descriptions of the snow-covered landscape, to the brutal way in which the animals are hunted for food, Ivey captures life in the Alaskan outback with meticulous detail. I almost wanted to go see it for myself.

It was a soft and poetic book, something substantial enough to curl up with and enjoy on a cold winter's night and yet magical enough to provide an escape from everyday life.


Amanda said...

I saw this come through my library's system awhile back and I hadnt' seen any reviews of it at the time, but it sounded so interesting that I put it on hold. That was early December. The book is still on order, but hopefully I will be able to read it in the next month or so! I'm very much looking forward to it, especially after I've started ot see some really good reviews pop up.

Annette said...

Interesting review. I've not seen this one, but it sounds good. Thanks!

Charlotte said...

I'm awfully curious--why do you say it isn't fantasy? Is it the doubt about whether she is a fairy child or not?

Either way, it sounds like a good one!

Tracy Edward Wymer said...

I like a good wilderness story with heart. Soft and poetic, I'm sold. Thanks for the reviews here!

Lisa Song said...

This sounds amazing...there's been such a lack of winter weather in the northeast that I'm itching to experience snow in literary form. Looks like I just found it.

MsCFaith said...

I'm guessing they were both having hallucinations that Faina is a real child which came from the snow child they made out of the stress of wanting a child, especially Mabel.

Correct me if I'm wrong. This is quite interesting, though.

Mrs. Silverstein said...

I love the idea of this--I know the folktale this is based on, so I'm really intrigued by how it might be expanded into a story for adults!

Sally said...

Sounds like a lovely book, something to curl up with on a rainy day

Russ Cox said...

Just the cover alone makes me want to look for this book!

Kailana said...

I have this book pre-ordered... Now if it would just arrive!