In Eowyn Ivey’s magical debut novel The Snow Child, a couple creates a child out of snow. When she appears on their doorstep as a little girl, wild and secretive, their lives are changed forever.
Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for a couple who have never been able to conceive. Jack and Mabel 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 catch sight of an elusive, 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 leaves blizzards in her wake. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who seems to have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in the Alaska wilderness, life and death are inextricable, and what they eventually learn about Faina changes their lives forever.
I first read this wonderful novel at the beginning of 2013. I very much read to both my mood and the seasons, so being in Canada, in January – it seemed like the ideal time to read a book about a ‘snow child’, set in the Alaskan wilderness! While it was the first book I read in 2013, it stuck with me throughout the entire year, and was one of my favourite reads.
Here we are now, in 2014. I find myself in a fairly pervasive reading slump. But, given my work, and involvement in a few online book groups, a reading slump can be a problematic situation. Two of my book groups have chosen to read The Snow Child in 2014. One group is reading it now (CBC Books, on Goodreads), and I am leading the read/discussion). The other group will be reading it in March. So…I really had to get going on the re-read of this book.
Luckily, the second time reading The Snow Child was just was great as the first. Ivey, using inspiration from classic Russian fable (The Little Daughter of the Snow), has created a truly wonderful fairy tale for adults. Don’t let that description scare you or cause you to turn up your nose. Fairy tales, while beautiful and magical, often tell hard truths and share dark realities.
It is very easy to become swept up in the world Ivey has created in The Snow Child – it all seems so bleak, remote, challenging and nearly impossible. And yet, her characters are so full of life, as is the setting of the story. So much of human survival hinges on the natural world. And the natural world is a marvel. Some may even think mother nature magical. And here is where Ivey really shines as she balances her story between naturalism and the mythical.
There is an sadness that anchors The Snow Child, and Ivey certainly does not romanticize the Alaskan frontier. But the hopes and dreams that have long lured people to Alaska, the mystery of the place, are very present in Ivey’s characters. There is such a life force in this story – I really hope it will capture your imagination and heart, as it has captured mine.