by Eowyn Ivey
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
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.
The Snow Child is Eowyn Ivey debut novel and it is absolutely breathtaking. Set in 1920’s Alaska, and based on a Russian fairytale this lyrical tale stole my heart. Ivey expertly crafts characters and paints a world that immediately draws you in. Set against the harsh and beautiful landscape of Alaska and laced with magic, hope, and fairy dust; I will never look at snow the same way again.
Jack and Mabel have tried unsuccessfully to have children. After Mabel delivers a stillborn, she is eager to get away, and in their early forty’s they decide to accept a government issued homestead in Alaska. Life is hard as Jack builds their home and then clears the land for farming. Mabel cooks, cleans and sews but this isn’t the life she imagined. She pictures herself helping Jack farm, but he cannot fathom his wife working in the fields. Mabel is uncomfortable around people and especially children, but Jack takes her to meet some of their closets neighbors. They arrive at the home of George, Esther, and their three sons. Mabel quickly finds them to be delightful, generous and experienced homesteaders. Ester is a true woman of wild Alaska. She wears woman’s britches and can cook a moose. Ester is able to draw Mabel out, and the two chat like hens in a coup. Mabel is feeling renewed and hopeful, when the first snow fall occurs. She heads out into the yard and when she sees Jack she lobs a snowball at him. A snowball fight quickly follows and they are soon laughing like children. Mabel feeling young and giddy, asks Jack to build a snowman with her. Despite some reluctance he falls into helping and even carves a beautiful face on the snowman. They realize it looks like a girl, and slowly add a dress of snow, some straw for hair and a pair of red mittens. After, they go inside, for the first time in a long time, they lay together as man and wife. When they awake, the snowman is gone and so are the mittens. Around the base and leading into the woods are a child’s footprints. They see glimpses of a child watching them in the woods, but she runs off when they pursue her. Jack leaves things for her on a log. Winter’s in Alaska can be bleak and dark and sometimes play tricks on the mind. When Mabel tries to tell Ester about the child, she is met with skepticism, even Jack won’t omit what he is seeing. Mabel remembers a tale about a snow child that her father told her and quickly writes to her sister asking her to check the attic for the book. When the book arrives, Mabel becomes even more convinced that they created a snow child. Jack believes otherwise, but knows, despite how crazy it seems, that the child belongs to the woods.
The snow child known as Faina befriends them and the tale that unfolds is magical, touching and at times heartbreaking. Ivey surrounds Faina’s existence in doubt, even using punctuation to cast mystery. When Faina speaks there are no quotation marks. The tale spans over many years and shares the hardships and joys of the Alaskan frontier. Ivey’s pen paints images and brings nature to life, while weaving magic throughout. The characters have such depth, and I connected with each of them. I came to love them and Faina. At one point I set the book down, unsure if I could handle an unhappy ending. My curiosity won out, and I was soon swept back to Alaska, soaking up every word. I can tell you that I am glad that I did and that this is a book I will reread again and again.
I highly recommend The Snow Child to everyone. Fans of historical fiction and fairy tale retellings are sure to delight in this novel. This is the type of book that you will want to share and gift to others. The Snow Child is available in paper and eBook formats. I have added Ivey to my list of must read authors.
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