Valerie's Reviews > Light on Snow

Light on Snow by Anita Shreve
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Jul 16, 12

really liked it
Recommended to Valerie by: Nadine Perry
Recommended for: People dealing with grief, coming of age
Read from July 13 to 15, 2012 — I own a copy, read count: 1

I am glad I didn't base whether to read this book on the reviews here because I think a lot of people didn't "get it," and maybe that's Shreve's failing, but I've observed that, by and large, people don't really understand grief until they experience it first hand, unfortunately. I know that I did not. So I think that people who have experienced the kind of grief that keeps you from getting out of bed will really appreciate this book, and those who have had blissfully uneventful lives will miss a lot of the subtlety in it.

On the second page of the story, the narrator, Nicky, tells us she's 30 but the events she's relating occur when she is 12. Telling the story in the present tense rather than the past affirms that the Nicky is, at core, the same person she was back when, and yet the events brought on momentous change in her life.

The cover copy tells us the main kernel of the story---Nicky and her dad, who live on the outskirts of a small New Hampshire town, find an abandoned baby in the woods. They rescue her and a couple of weeks later the mother shows up at their house to deal with what happened. We read that Nicky wonders what makes a family. What the cover copy doesn't go into is that the Nicky and her father are walking wounded, like the mother of the abandoned baby. They had lost half their family---Nicky's mother and her baby sister---two years prior to finding the abandoned baby. She and her father are coexisting in an emotionally frozen state, but she is just beginning her life and cannot stay frozen. Finding the baby awakens a fire within both of them because they have control over making something right, after having experienced the total chaos of unexpectedly losing half their family and being hurled into the unknown.

The title of the book is an apt symbol of the main characters' situations. Light causes snow to melt or evaporate, eventually. The light is refracted and the energy spreads through the snow, warming and melting it. Light on snow can also blind you. You can be blinded by grief, too. But it's the snow, not the light, that's blinding. Our own frozen emotional states can cause us to see things harshly and keep us isolated from life-affirming experiences. But the light of truth makes everything right, eventually. Light on snow signals that the bad weather will eventually end. You need to persevere; things work out as they should, and though sometimes the process is more painful than you think you can stand, the spring and summer will come.

Nicky, although grieving the loss of her mother and baby sister, is clearly ready to move on with her twelve-year-old life. We don't know where the father is at; we can only guess from the Nicky's observations, wherein she herself acknowledges there's a lot about her father she doesn't know. Connecting with the baby and the mother stirs a sense of family within her. She becomes an antagonist to her father and challenges his frozen way of seeing the world.

I love how Shreve captured the mysteriousness of womanhood and childbirth to a prepubescent girl. How many of us women remember that state before our hormones took over and we were blissfully ignorant of the power within our bodies? Right at the threshold of her own womanhood, Nicky is imprinted with this woman's story of an unplanned pregnancy. At 12 years old, we are very morally black-and-white (often Nicky has fits about what's right or wrong), and yet Nicky was more ready than her father to consider the idea the mother might not have been at fault for the baby's abandonment, and to show the mother compassion as she tries to face her bad choices. Nicky's need to love and understand her world brings the mother's story to light where the wounds of injustice can begin to heal.

Although I could see where the story was going, it didn't stop me from reading, or dull my pleasure, because Shreve went beyond the story line and captured the moment when grief changes, along with a girl's coming of age in an imperfect world. If I had a daughter, I'd make this required reading for her. It's a book I wish I could have read when I was a teenager.
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