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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Review: The Snow Child

Title: The Snow Child
Author: Eowyn Ivey
 Little Brown and Company
Publication Date: 
 February 1, 2012
Reviewer: Ethan

Summary: 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.

Review: Facing the unimaginable grief that comes with the loss of a newborn child, married couple Jack and Mabel have moved to the rugged wilderness of 1920's Alaska. Upon their arrival, they realize that despite their best efforts to escape, grief has followed them to their new home, bringing even more troubles bare. Not the strong young man he once was, Jack struggles to keep up with the heavy labor of maintaining a farm. Left to the solitude of the cabin and a husband who can barely look her in the eye, Mabel has nothing to do but wallow in her loneliness. 

But there is hope. Jack, who has to take several trips into town, befriends a local man who invites him and Mabel to have dinner with his wife and sons. Although Mabel would rather stay in the quiet of their cabin, she agrees to go to the dinner. After that evening, the couple leaves the neighbors place with their spirits slightly lifted. Upon their arrival home, a frivolous snowball fight ensues, culminating with the construction of a small snow child. 

In the night, Jack awakes, startled to see that the snow child is gone. He sees small footprints leaving the site where the child stood, and as he looks out into the woods, he glimpses a young, fair-haired girl running through the trees. The next day, Jack attempts to keep what he saw to himself, but soon, Mabel notices the tracks as well. When she too sees the girl running amongst the trees, the couple is truly puzzled. Is this child the answer to their prayers, or simply the "cabin fever" effect of their grief?

This debut novel by author Eowyn Ivey is a modern day fairy tale filled with a powerful emotional presence. Ivey's simple portrayal of this grief stricken couple leaps off of the pages and stays with you for a long time. I really enjoyed the way that the setting/tone seemed to reflect the main character's emotions. The opening, when the couple is overcome with the grief of their lost child, is written in a way that I could almost feel the coolness of the landscape. This tale of love, loss, and moving forward combines the fantastic with the harsh realities of the world, providing an extremely satisfying read. 

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