“‘There,’ he said. He stepped back. Sculpted in the white snow were perfect, lovely eyes, a nose, and small, white lips. She even thought she could see cheekbones and a little chin. . . . As they stood together, the snow fell heavier and faster, making it difficult to see more than a few feet. ‘She needs some hair,’ he said. ‘Oh, I’ve thought of something, too.’ Jack went toward the barn, Mabel to the cabin. ‘Here they are,’ she called from across the yard when she came back out. ‘Mittens and a scarf for the little girl.’ He returned with a bundle of yellow grass from near the barn. He stuck individual strands into the snow, creating wild, yellow hair, and she wrapped the scarf around its neck and placed the mittens on the ends of the birch branches. . . .”
Nestled in among the many wonderful books I had lined up for this month was a title that seemed ideal for Christmastime and those blustery winter days: The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey. (Side note: I’m obsessed with the author’s name. It’s so lyrical and marvelous! Good job, parents.) It’s been years since we’ve had a white Christmas in Kansas — truly, I can’t remember the last — and I was craving the magic of snow one way or another. This novel did not disappoint.
Mabel and Jack are newcomers to the Alaskan frontier in the 1920s. Middle-aged and devastated by their inability to have a child, they decide to move from all they know “Back East” and start anew without the burden of neighbors, family, and friends whose lives are rich with children. Alaska seems the perfect place to isolate themselves, and it is; at least, until Mabel realizes that her winters will be one long darkness after another for days on end, and her summers filled with an unceasing sunshine that seems to mock her quiet unhappiness. Although the couple is no stranger to struggle, Jack quickly finds his farming skills are no match for the unforgiving Alaskan wilderness and the couple is faced with a bleak predicament: they must clear the land and produce a bountiful crop in the coming summer, or tuck tail and head home. As winter looms closer and money runs out, Jack and Mabel realize fears they hadn’t even considered possible before.
While the two face increasingly dire circumstances, their relationship (unsurprisingly) grows more and more strained. But with the first snow of winter, the magic of fresh beginnings also descends, leading Mabel and Jack to build a snow child that somehow seems to hold all the hopes and tenderness they’ve reserved for their own child throughout the many years. In the morning, the snow child is gone — but a mysterious little girl and her fox roam the woods nearby, and Mabel is inclined to entertain some very fantastic possibilities.
Based on the Russian fairytale “Snegurochka,” The Snow Child is a luminous story of hope, magic, and the unfailing nature of parental love. I adored the characters developed by Ivey, particularly Faina, whose being remained pure and otherworldly throughout the story’s unraveling.
Good Great: The storyline is tight, with no gaping plot holes or aimless ramblings. Characters are attentively crafted and unique — no overlap in this novel! A prevailing sense of wonder hovers throughout the novel. There’s truly no other way to put it: this book was magical. Not in a fantasy/Harry Potter sort of way; rather, in the subtly wonderful way of children’s dreams about woodland fairies and Santa’s elves.
The Bad: No complaints on my end. At times, I felt like the build up was becoming tedious — I wanted to know, dammit — but by the end of the novel, I was convinced the entire thing was flawless.
The Verdict: 5 stars! The Snow Child is officially one of my new favorites of all time, and I wholly intend to reread this beauty in winters to come. I can’t recommend this sweet, endearing tale enough.