The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
I’m a sap, I know. But I really liked The Snow Child, and there is only one sappy word that pops into my head when I try to describe why: beautiful. The story, the players, the message, the relationships, the emotion, the setting, the sweet ending. All beautiful.
The Story: We first meet Jack and Mabel at the beginning of their second winter in 1920’s Alaska. They left their comfortable life in Pennsylvania to try and escape the heartbreak of losing their unborn child, thinking that taming the wild frontier of that barely populated U.S. Territory would fill the voids. Instead, Mabel finds herself without purpose, lonely, friendless, depressed . . . and still childless. Jack feels frustration and despair at not being able to provide because the harsh Alaskan wilderness proves much more untamable than they anticipated. As they both succumb to their individual despair, the emotional chasm between them widens. But soon Jack and Mabel make some friends. Their burdens begin to lighten just a bit; just enough that during one evening of spontaneous frivolity, they make a little girl out of snow. And then the sweet magic begins. . . . Beautiful.
The Players: One of the things I loved most about The Snow Child is how quickly and firmly Jack and Mabel got stuck in my head. I loved them and I was rooting for their success and happiness early on. Their friends—George, Esther, and their son Garrett—define friendship, and in fact before long they cross that blurry line that sometimes separates friends and family. Faina is a literary gem. Is she real or is she magical? Is she both? I’ve closed the cover and I still honestly can’t say for sure. I loved how the author presents Faina in the book: whenever she speaks there are no quotation marks—not for her or the person she is talking with. The dialogue happens within the body of normal paragraphs. It creates a surreal feeling I’ve never experienced while reading before, and it adds tremendous depth to the mystery of Faina. Brilliant. Beautiful.
The Message: For me, it’s that love between and husband and a wife is the most important and meaningful love in the world. All other love must be shared. The love of a husband and wife does not. Beautiful.
The Emotion: There is a lot in this book. The way Jack feels about Mabel but doesn’t know how to show it. The way Mabel feels about herself. Faina and Jack. Faina and Mabel. Faina and . . . oh, wait, can’t say too much! But trust me. It’s beautiful.
The Setting: I’ve read many epic fantasies, set in faraway lands and in far distant times. But none of those books come close to working the setting so tightly into the threads of the story as The Snow Child. Picture the untamed Alaskan wilderness. Snow? Check. Cold? Check. Wild animals? Check. Hunting for your own food? Check. Terrifying? Check. Beautiful? Check.
The Sweet Ending: If you read my reviews before, you know how important the ending of the story is to me. I like it happy. Anything else is a deal breaker for me. Why read a book that makes you feel sad in the end? Of course I’m not going to share the ending, except to say that it ends just like you expect it will. Beautifully.
Sappy or not, The Snow Child is a beautiful story. I am so glad I read it. I recommend it to adults and thoughtful teenagers, not because of inappropriate content, but because the themes are powerful and I fear they would be lost on the young.
I’m putting this one on my best-ever shelf. I’ll be revisiting this one again someday.