Author: Eowyn Ivey
Publisher: Reagan Arthur Books
Source: Personal purchase
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.
You know how there are books that you randomly pick up at the bookstore, make them wait on your shelf for quite a while, and when you finally do read them, you get mad at yourself for having waited that long? Alaskan Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child was one of those books for me. I feel I’ve already read this year’s surprise, and in January of all months.
The Snow Child takes place in Alaska, in the 1920s. Jack and Mabel are an old couple (although their exact ages aren’t given, I’m guessing they’re somewhere between 50 and 60) without a kid. Mabel had a miscarriage back in the day, and the couple just couldn’t get over it because they want children so badly. They move to Alaska to start a new home, a new life together. However, I got the feeling they didn’t fully take into account what a menace Alaskan weather can be.
One day, a little girl shows up on their land out of nowhere. In the beginning, she doesn’t really get close to them, but then she becomes part of family. She mostly refuses to stay with them at their house, and she can very well take care of herself despite the bad weather conditions. The girl, Faina, is the child that Jack and Mabel have always wanted but couldn’t have. Faina doesn’t show up for anyone other than the couple for a while, but then she wins the hearts of the couple’s friends as well, especially the young boy Garrett.
We can’t tell for sure if Faina is real or if she’s a product of the characters’ imagination. For example, the author doesn’t use quotation marks in any of the characters’ speeches whenever Faina is around, which I thought was a very clever touch. Therefore, we can’t tell whether they’re really talking to the girl or if it’s in their imagination.
The book includes the short story “Little Daughter of the Snow by Arthur Ransome, which inspired Ivey to write The Snow Child. My favorite part about the book was that even though the people look like its main characters, the actual one is Alaska itself with its climate and wonderful landscape. The Snow Child is definitely a good example of magical realism, and I recommend it to everyone who love a bit of magic mixed in with their reality.
I should also mention that this book was among the 3 Pulitzer finalists in 2013.