Saturday, March 31, 2012

Book Review: The Snow Child

Our library has recently begun sending out e-mails with information about their recent book purchases. I love this feature. You can discover a book you might like to read and then put your name on the hold list. It didn't take long for me to get my turn with this recently released book by Eowyn Ivey, The Snow Child. I can see why the hold list is quickly vanishing. This book was hard to put down.

Set on the Alaskan frontier in the early 1900s, this magical tale tells the story of a couple, Jack and Mabel, who have moved to this isolated area to get away from the constant reminders of their childlessness. Still grieving a stillbirth, they begin the hard life of homesteading, often barely making ends meet. To lighten his wife's depression one night, Jack helps his wife craft a snow child. Jack carves a delicate face. Mabel provides a red hat and mittens. They adorn her with yellow straw hair. Mysteriously the next morning, the snow child is gone, with only a trail of footprints leading away from the mound of snow.

When Jack and Mabel both begin seeing a small blond girl out in the woods, they don't know what to think. Mabel remembers a Russian fairy tale her father had told of a childless couple who craft a snow child that comes to life. Neighbors believe the couple is merely suffering from delusions of cabin fever. The question remains: who is this child and how does she survive life in the wilderness and often leave blizzards in her wake?

This book will plunge you into the realistic world of Alaskan life alongside the fantastical world of magical longings and hopes. Eowyn Ivey's writing is beautifully lyrical. Here are two examples:

"All her life she had believed in something more, in the mystery that shape-shifted at the edge of her senses. It was the flutter of moth wings on glass and the promise of river nymphs in the dappled creek beds. It was the smell of oak trees on the summer evening she fell in love, and the way dawn threw itself across the cow pond and turned the water to light. Mabel could not remember the last time she caught such a flicker."

"No matter how she turned it over in her mind, Mabel always traced the child's footsteps back to the night she and Jack had shaped her from snow. Jack had etched her lips and eyes. Mabel had given her mittens and reddened her lips. That night the child was born to them of ice and snow and longing.

"What happened in that cold dark, when frost formed a halo in the child's straw hair and snowflake turned to flesh and bone? Was it the way the children's book showed, warmth spreading down through the cold, brow then cheeks, throat then lungs, warm flesh separating from snow and frozen earth? The exact science of one molecule transformed into another - that Mabel could not explain, but then again she couldn't explain how a fetus formed in the womb, cells becoming beating heart and hoping soul. She could not fathom the hexagonal miracle of snowflakes formed from clouds, crystallized fern and feather that tumble down to light on a coat sleeve, white stars melting even as they strike. How did such force and beauty come to be in something so small and fleeting and unknowable?

"You did not have to understand miracles to believe in them, and in fact Mabel had come to suspect the opposite. To believe, perhaps you had to cease looking for explanations and instead hold the little thing in your hands as long as you were able before it slipped away like water between your fingers."

This is just an example of the beauty of this novel. By the end, I was moved to tears. If you have ever longed for a child or lost a child, this novel is sure to move you, as well. It will transport you to a time and place you've never been.


Lucy said...

I just finished this yesterday and agree with everything you said except, I hate that I felt a bit disappointed with the ending. The reality of it felt heavy to me.

AmySo said...

Skimming your review (and Lucy's!) because I am not on the top of the hold list yet...but I can't wait to read this one!