Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Snowflake, AZ

Rate this book
Ash gets on a Greyhound bus to the place Bly was last seen: Snowflake, Arizona. Six thousand feet up in the wide red desert, Ash meets Mona; her goat, Socrates; her dog, Cooper; and finds stepbrother Bly, too.

In their ramshackle homes, the walls lined with tinfoil, Mona and her neighbors are all sick. But this isn’t any ordinary sickness: modern life has poisoned them, and when Ash too falls ill, the doctor’s response is, “It’s all in your mind.” Meanwhile, as Ash lives through a cycle of illness and recovery and loss, the world beyond is succumbing to its own affliction: a breakdown of civilization only distantly perceived by Ash and the isolated residents of Snowflake, from which there may or may not be a chance for recovery. This humane and thoughtful novel is about resilience, trust, family, and love, when all seems lost.

303 pages, Hardcover

First published September 5, 2019

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Marcus Sedgwick

109 books1,545 followers
Marcus Sedgwick was born in Kent, England. Marcus is a British author and illustrator as well as a musician. He is the author of several books, including Witch Hill and The Book of Dead Days, both of which were nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award. The most recent of these nominations rekindled a fascination with Poe that has borne fruit here in (in The Restless Dead, 2007) the form of "The Heart of Another" - inspired by Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart." Of his story, Sedgwick says, "This was one of those stories that I thought might be a novel originally but actually was much better suited to the tight form of the short story. I had the initial idea some years ago but was just waiting for the right ingredient to come along. Poe's story, as well as his own fascination with technique, provided that final piece of the puzzle."

He used to play for two bands namely playing the drums for Garrett and as the guitarist in an ABBA tribute group. He has published novels such as Floodland (winner of the Branford Boase Award in 2001) and The Dark Horse (shortlisted for The Guardian Children's Book Award 2002).

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
30 (11%)
4 stars
51 (19%)
3 stars
103 (38%)
2 stars
54 (20%)
1 star
29 (10%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 88 reviews
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,401 reviews11.7k followers
July 26, 2019
2.5 stars

I don't know. This one just didn't add up to a cohesive whole for me. As much as I like Sedgwick's work, as much as I was taken by most of the ideas in this story, Snowflake, AZ doesn't strike me as a novel that is successful at what it tried to accomplish.

The novel starts with Ash arriving at Snowflake, AZ (a real place). He is looking for his older step brother, and he finds him in a small community of people who suffer from medically unrecognized maladies, such as MCS (multiple chemical sensitivities) and EI (environmental illness). These illnesses make people extremely susceptible to most of the products of modern world – electromagnetic waves, cell phones, medicines, chemicals of any kind. They deal with these illnesses by withdrawing as far from civilization as they can, up to AZ mountains. They build houses cleansed of the chemicals, they try to live “clean.” They call themselves “canaries” and think they are the first sufferers of the illnesses that are sure to overtake the whole humankind sooner or later. Almost as soon as Ash gets into Snowflake, he falls ill himself, and the local doctor can diagnose him of nothing more than “it’s all in your head.” Ash stays in Snowflakes and, supported by other ailing Snowflake residents, remains largely bedridden, spending most of his time reading and talking about various ills of humankind.

I feel reluctant to be harsh, because the story is based on Sedgwick's personal experience with an untreatable/unidentifiable illness (he talks about it in the letter at the beginning of the arc) and on real facts (you can listen to a podcast about Snowflake residents). And yet, a big portion of Snowflake, AZ read to me as a kind of a relentless anti-vaxx/anti-Pharma manifesto. The book asks interesting questions: are the illnesses made up or real? are these people real "canaries"? or are they just conspiracy theorists who encourage each other's hypochondrias? The novel never answers them though, and instead ends with a short, but impactful “bang” and introduces a radical way of making people finally care about the future of our planet. The transition is exciting, but jarring, and it comes a little too late, preceded by 300 pages of often tedious narrative.

Snowflake, AZ is a story about human health and environment. I wish it came in a better conceived package.
Profile Image for Jacqueline Allan.
519 reviews4 followers
July 23, 2019
I had great hopes for this book and love the author however I gave up 60% into it. I was truly bored with it. The language was strange and the storyline was just odd. I thought it would be similar to 1984 in a way but no. I hate giving up on a book but this was probably one of the worst books I’ve ever read.
Profile Image for Shannon (It Starts At Midnight).
1,144 reviews1,009 followers
October 15, 2019
You can find the full review and all the fancy and/or randomness that accompanies it at It Starts at Midnight

Marcus Sedgwick sure writes some unique stuff. I won't pretend that this was my favorite of his per se, but it definitely had some thought provoking moments. In the book, Ash sets out to find stepbrother Bly, who's disappeared into this remote community in Arizona (ironically named Snowflake). When Ash arrives, they find that it's a community of people living primarily off the grid, but the reason is surprising. As it turns out, it's because they all have chronic, mostly undiagnosed illnesses and seem to find some respite in this way of life.

Ash was a character who I had some trouble connecting with, especially in the beginning. We're given a precious few details about Ash, and I do wonder if perhaps that was the point? That Ash could (and in a way is) any of us? Regardless, I think I might have felt a bigger pull if I knew anything about Ash pre-Snowflake. But the story of the townsfolk, Ash's relationship with Bly, the illnesses that overwhelm the community, they were all quite compelling.

There's definitely a big element of mental health in comorbidity with chronic illness, which is something Beth's post touches upon. The best part of this book for me was how honest it is about the difficulty of living with a chronic illness. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. The exhausting toll it takes, how doctors brush it off, how the outside world reacts. Even more devastating is the next bit, which needs both a trigger warning and a spoiler warning: I do wish that this particular piece was explored further, though. I think that while we can understand it all from a surface-level perspective, it could have been followed through with a bit more.

Toward the end of the book, I did feel a better connection with Ash, especially in the relationship they formed with Mona and other members of the community. And while the ending did leave questions unanswered, I thought it did so in an understandable and appropriate way that didn't leave me frustrated.

Bottom Line: Absolutely thought provoking and relevant, but missing a bit of the human connection.
Profile Image for Isla.
127 reviews24 followers
August 10, 2019
The premise of this book is based on a real life event that happened to the author, Marcus Sedgwick. After returning from a trip to Asia he started getting sick. Doctors could not give him a reason for this illness, and were inclined to suggest that it was all in his head.
On the back of this diagnosis, Marcus discovered a real-life community living in Snowflake, Az who claim to suffer from illnesses born (among other things) from chemicals used in the modern world.

The book explores this concept. Part of it focuses on a ecological message, pointing out the flaws in how the world deals with chemicals we know next to nothing about, and that could potentially be extremely harmful to both the planet and the human race, and part of it focuses on the question of undiagnosable illnesses. The whole book is a giant question mark, bringing up many intriguing arguments, but never really presenting any real answers.

However, as much as I found the book interesting to read, there’s definitely some problems from a story point of view. The pacing isn’t great, and the book seems to feel so much longer than its modest 300-ish pages. There’s whole chapters where not a whole lot happens, but we are lead on to believe that it’s all leading to something and that there’s some big event at the end that’s groundbreaking. And while something of this nature does happen (-ish), it’s only spoken of in very vague terms.
I was left feeling that the story I really wanted to read, the story that was hinted out throughout the novel, wasn’t within the authors capacity to create. Which is fine, but don’t tease it if you can’t deliver.
In short, I think the book could have been improved if Sedgwick had pushed the whole concept a lot further and given it higher stakes.
It’s definitely not a bad book, but just a mildly disappointing one.
Profile Image for Jayne  Downes.
225 reviews2 followers
August 27, 2020
I found this book slow moving and strange nearly giving up on it. The characters were not engaging and it dragged on with a lot of odd philosophical writing. It was a shame because the ideas were interesting; it is a warning about how modern life and products are poisoning people and the environment.
11 reviews
August 31, 2019
I don’t think I could sum up in a nutshell what this book is all about any better than the synopsis that came with the book from the publisher: ‘A timely, contemporary novel challenging ideas around health – our own and our planet's – and the stigma that persists around illness’, so I am not going to try.
My first brief response on Twitter when I finished reading the book was that quite simply: ‘This is an incredibly powerful book for anyone who manages a long-term chronic illness such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), cares deeply and worries about the health of our planet and loves a good story. To say I love it & you should read it doesn’t cover it but I did and you should’. I know Marcus Sedgwick has been diagnosed with CFS/ME and his understanding of and managing long-term illness adds to the power and heart behind the book. I read it in virtually one sitting. For me it was powerful as I too live with CFS and I also love a good story. And this was one great story. I say powerful rather than enjoyed because I won’t lie, I felt wrung out by the end.
The story centres around the character of Ash and the community of Snowflake Arizona that Ash travels to on a greyhound bus, in search of his stepbrother Bly, who he finds there. He also meets Mona; her goat, Socrates; her dog, Cooper and the rest of the community living six thousand feet up in the big red desert apart from the rest of society. Ash finds them all living in homemade homes, with the walls lined with tinfoil. He finds out that they are living there because they are sick, not with an ordinary sickness but one caused by modern life and the chemicals that surround us every day: household chemicals, pesticides, radiation, static electricity, fabrics and more. Living outside of the real world is their only way to stay well. They call themselves canaries as a warning of what is to come to society that they have retreated from.
Ash becomes part of this community and as he falls ill and as each finds that their suffering is not addressed or treated by the medical establishment, the Snowflake community becomes the place for them all to survive. And from this come friendships, support, resilience, love and kindness that are at the heart of this story. They are friendships that feel vulnerable and at the same time incredibly deep and there is much humour amongst the sadness. This story and these friendships are two of the strengths and reasons I love this book. Another is that it explores so vividly and in incredible depth what it is like to live with a long-term illness, especially ones that are not yet fully recognised within the medical profession and society. For anyone living with long-term illness this is a long awaited. For anyone who isn’t then it really allows the reader to see how everyone’s illness is similar and yet so different and hopefully to more fully understand.
Throughout the novel, there are many discussions between the characters about facts and ideas around illness and how we are made up. I learnt so much and was left at the end, wanting to discuss so many things that came up in the book and with a need to pull up a red plastic chair like the Snowflake community to talk it all through and also sit and think alone for a long time too.
The style of the novel, is very different from any other style of Marcus Sedgwick’s other books, so I suggest going into the book with no expectation and I hope, like me, you will enjoy the voice of Ash, through which the story is told. This book is a very relevant, contemporary story and, I’ll say it again, powerful. It is one I will be reading again.
September 8, 2019
Thanks to Netgalley for the complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review.

I usually adore this author and was excited for an opportunity to read this. Unfortunately, this book was a little slow for me. It feels important and has many ideas that are interesting, but not much happens. This book is more one of ideas than events.
Profile Image for Becky.
828 reviews12 followers
February 10, 2020
It felt like this book was meant to be sympathetic to people who suffer from undiagnosed illnesses, but at the same time it made all of the people seem foolish. Ash is just thrown into this environment and doesn't really give us an understanding of what is good or bad for people and which people and how they figure it out. Like one guy makes a wooden piece to wire his phone through because he can't use the plastic reciever, but then he eats twinkies as a staple food, and they are packaged individually in plastic. Also Ash doesn't get sick until he gets to Snowflake and everyone tells him he's sick. But if I only got sick when I went somewhere, I'd think that place was what made me sick not "detoxing." Especially since it seems to begin with altitude sickness. Maybe we are supposed to be in a position as a reader where we wonder the whole time whether Ash is really sick? And his relationship with his brother was also weird. I'm not sure why it went there. And then just when the promised Something that happened that's been teased for the whole book happens the book is just over and we don't get to know anything about it. I don't know. This book felt like a long incomplete thought. Much like this review.
Profile Image for Vanne.
325 reviews8 followers
January 22, 2020
Several times I revised this review before even posting it. Because I have so much I want to write about this book. I had to stop myself and get back to the core of it all.

I feel the intention was to make the reader think about certain topics, and in that extent, the story about Ash falling ill is mostly a means to present different cases and subjects to the reader. Interesting if they are new ideas that you haven't thought of in that way. A bit boring if you already considered the ideas presented from different angles.

To me, the subjects presented didn't really show any new insights and I was more eager to find out answers to questions that were raised by the plot itself. Unfortunately, those answers were never given. However, the story's atmosphere and philosophical questions raised kept lingering in my mind for many days after. Which certainly gives the story a bit more body and more stars than I would have given it immediately after reading.

Would fit perfectly on the kind of literature lists we had in high school, which isn't necesarrily a compliment, but means that, even if it doesn't deliver plotwise or gives a sense of accomplishment, it still manages to leave the reader pondering about it. Which is, in itself, an accomplishment as well.
Profile Image for Hillary.
870 reviews14 followers
June 29, 2019
This is difficult. I think Marcus Sedgwick is a genius and I wanted, rather badly, to enjoy this book. The fact is that I didn't, not even a little. That said, the last page, kind of like the last story in Dubliners, made the slog of the rest of it worth it, more than, perhaps.
Profile Image for Elysa.
1,502 reviews16 followers
August 30, 2019
This book frustrated me. I wasn't sure what it would be based on the description. I thought maybe dystopia, which it is in a weird way. Then I read the author's note in the beginning that said the book is based on his experience of being told that his unseen disease is all in his head. This book could have been a great thing for people with unseen diseases (mental illnesses, chronic pain, etc) that have faced disbelief and even anger from other people. Instead, we have a group of people who have walled themselves off from the world. The book is unbelievably vague. The world does end in some dramatic fashion, but he doesn't even make it that clear. The volcano thing could be what actually happened or a metaphor. Something happens between Ash and Bly, but we don't know what. Something happened to Ash when she (or he. Honestly couldn't figure out the gender) was younger, but that's not revealed either. The story lacks cohesion and a strong voice.
146 reviews3 followers
January 13, 2020
Read this while I was sick with an "undiagnosis"...so is very relevant and timely. Also, having moved to AZ from another City for health reasons and knowing that our state does have people that indeed live on the outskirts of society and societal norms, found it particularly plausible. All in all, we humans just don't know what we don't know.
Profile Image for Karen.
21 reviews4 followers
April 10, 2020
DNF at 40%-ish

Once I got to the discussion of Dr Ray (a very thinly veiled reference to Dr William Rae) I just couldn't do it anymore.

Let me first say that I know first hand what it's like to be chronically ill, especially with an invisible illness. I also know people with chemical sensitivities, and I have no doubt that some people can be extremely allergic to certain chemicals, pollutants, molds, and other things - including in ways we don't understand yet. I also have no doubt that the folks who claim to have MCS are suffering in very real, very devastating ways.

However, there are many reasons why MCS is not recognised as a condition by the wider medical community, and it is most certainly not due to some kind of big conspiracy, or a stubborn refusal to listen (as this book suggests).

Normally I like Marcus Sedgwick. I enjoy his prose and his stories. That said, this one rubbed me wrong from the start. This book was written with a very obvious agenda.

Sedgwick has had his own health struggles, which led him into the world of MCS, but the problem is that he presents a lot of the unverified, pseudoscientific theories of the MCS/EI community as raw fact. These things are never challenged. The only character to challenge the concept of MCS is a mainstream doctor who is written off as cold and uncaring.

Again, I get the frustration of not being listened to by doctors. As a chronically ill disabled person, I have absolutely been there. But to dilute all of the medical community's issues with MCS into this one character - who is quickly dismissed - is unfair and inaccurate.

Did I mention that some of this stuff is dangerous, too? The Dr Rae I mentioned above, who in the book is praised in glowing terms, got sanctioned for experimenting with potentially dangerous, unproven treatments on his patients. Several characters also link chemical poisoning to autism and ADHD, an incredibly dangerous idea that is closely linked to the antivax crowd. Again, these ideas are presented as facts and are not challenged when they come up.

The characters have very little personality of their own. They are basically all mouthpieces for different ideas in the MCS community. Their conversations almost all revolve around illnesses, psychosomatic symptoms, chemicals, and conspiracies. What little resistance the main character has to the ideas can be summed up as "this all sounds rather far fetched," which is then quickly brushed aside by a new deluge of "facts."

This would be bad enough in a fiction book for adults, but this book is marketed towards teens.

I have long enjoyed Sedgwick as a writer, but this was just too much. I am incredibly disappointed - in more ways than one. I sincerely hope that he gets the treatment he needs for whatever is causing his own health issues, and I empathise with his suffering, but I cannot excuse the frankly dangerous quackery that has leaked into the pages of this book. As it is, I can't read any more of this.
Profile Image for Pamela.
869 reviews19 followers
February 1, 2023
This book is hard to rate. There is such oddness in the book, and it isn't the main topic of the type of illness either, it's the way the book is written.

First of all the narrator, Ash, calls him/her self a kid. (It is never firmly stated if Ash is a boy or girl, I'm going with girl for pronouns sake.) Early on Ash says she is 18, but the way Ash thinks is more like aged 12. It's way off, the age and the writing level and the extreme immaturity. So I found myself continually asking, how old is Ash?

Another weird thing was the relationship with the step-brother. I get the closeness, but there's a point where it seems like it's going beyond that, maybe. It's just odd. Or written different than intended.

And there's this repetition, particularly in the beginning, of certain phrasing gets old very quick. But I understand this is a young adult book and maybe it plays better there, for the younger side of YA. There are other little things as well, in the writing style, it just didn't work for me.

Not to persuade that the book is all awful, because it isn't. For instance the main topic of the book is something that is not talked about, or very little, about these illnesses that affect people and doctor's don't know much about them. I'm certain there is truth in the book about the various illness and things that affect the people making them sick or not, such as products that exude toxins. It's not that new either (see below). People have different sensitivities. I have some sensitivities for some smells, mostly with laundry such as soaps, dryer sheets and fabric softeners. Also "air freshener" sprays. UGH! Anyway, people can get illness that are hard for doctors to determine what is going on. Just think about all the chemical spills into the water supply that takes a while to be discovered, (like Flint, MI) and what that might be doing people's health.

In any case, the main issue addressed in the book is a good one. The delivery, the writing style, it was more difficult. The main protagonist, Ash, is written in an odd way. Maybe younger people will connect more with the book than I did. I also have to say that I absolutely hated the ending.

Book rating: 2.5 stars, rounded up.

Also, for anyone who many be interested in another fictional take on the environmental illness side there was a movie called Safe that came out in 1995. It's a bit odd too, but in a completely different way.

Thanks to W.W. Norton/Norton Young Readers and NetGalley for an uncorrected electronic advance review copy of this book.
Profile Image for Adam Murphy.
431 reviews7 followers
March 31, 2021
The story and atmosphere of Snowflake, AZ by Marcus Sedgwick embeds itself in your brain! Aside from the gripping story to go along with it, its sense of the landscape and environment is very vivid that’ll make your eyes open from beginning to end.

Ash has lived in eight states in as many years. Mom has gone walkabout, but stepdad Jack is like a father, and stepbrother Bly the best anyone could wish for. When Bly goes missing too, Ash sets off to search for him – and finds something much bigger: the sickness of the world. Arriving in Snowflake, Arizona, Ash discovers Bly living with a community 6000 feet high in the wide red desert. They call themselves the Canaries and all suffer from some kind of environmental illness. They are ostracised by modern society, as it continues to ignore climate change, global warming and so much more of our self-inflicted poisoning of the planet. When Ash takes ill, the doctor's response is, 'it's all in your mind'. In a story spanning seven years with triumphs and tragedies, Ash learns how to live as the world is pushed to a point of no return. This humane and deeply thoughtful novel is about resilience, trust, family and love.

It took a while for the characters to get used to the characters, but the distinct voice Sedgwick offers the reader a glimpse into the psychological drama & the isolated world of the mentally ill. I find it quite hard to believe that it’s labelled as a YA novel because it doesn’t feel like one at all! It feels like a story for all audiences and they can imagine it in whatever genre or age group it’s suited for. Through triumphs and tragedies, illness and health, Snowflake, AZ is about the resilience of love and our planet in crisis. The perfect read for our lock-downed world.
Profile Image for Eli.
535 reviews40 followers
April 30, 2020
I don't really know how to rate this? It was way too preachy, but in a way that deviated completely from anything Marcus Sedgwick has written before. Like, this was another level of preachy, and I just ended up being confused-- was he trying to make a point? Is the preachiness supposed to be sarcastic? I've read many, many Sedgwick books, and some are better than others, but none of them are moralistic like this, which leads me to believe that he was either actually trying to subvert what the characters were saying, but failing to do so effectively, or he was too close to this particular topic to write about it. Also, I've read lots of reviews of this, and why is no one talking about how
Profile Image for Samantha Fondriest.
585 reviews226 followers
August 20, 2019
The writing is probably a 3, the plot is a 1.5, but the conspiratorial way medicine is treated - especially in an age of anti-vaxxers - is downright dangerous and problematic. And I’m not someone who usually finds things “problematic,” so that’s saying something from me. This book is full of tin-foil levels of crazy. I couldn’t get past how absolutely batshit crazy the first 2/3 of the book, despite some interesting-but-not-fully-developed points the author tries to make in the back third. Hence 1 star. Full review to come.
Profile Image for Amy.
844 reviews44 followers
October 13, 2019
Enjoyed the premise and the voice, but I felt "stuck" in a story Sedgwick wanted to tell as a memoir but decided to disguise as fiction. I would have rather have had the memoir.
25 reviews1 follower
May 11, 2020
I would never have picked up this book if it had not been required for a class, but I am glad it was. I enjoyed it very much, and I liked what it had to say. It resonated with me on a pretty personal level, because I, and members of my family, have been through the same or very similar health situations as described in the book. As a family, we discuss the same issues of environmental responsibility, the impact of man made toxicities on health, the incompetence and willful ignorance of some (not all) medical professionals, and our duty/resolve to "tend our gardens" for the betterment of our environment to the benefit of all living things. This book rang true to me in many ways, and I was profoundly glad that an author had the courage to approach such unpopular, misunderstood issues. Although this is a young adult novel, and I think that young adults should read it, I would actually recommend this book to members of the older generations and to medical professionals. From my personal experience, I think that many of them could use new insight into truths they would not otherwise consider.

I think that this text would be very valuable in a classroom setting! The narration and point-of-view is unique, and the text itself has a way of using very simple questions and statements to make you think about the deeper meaning and implications of what is being said and done in real life as well as the book. I would say that it can be a very valuable teaching tool. That said, some may find the writing disjointed or vague at times, but you'll have to decide on whether that's intentional or just sub-par craftsmanship for yourself.

DRUGS-not really, it's up to your discretion, as they are prescribed.
SEX-yes, though it's implied and not too graphic. I'd say it's easy enough to skip if you want, as it's not an essential part of the book in my opinion.
LANGUAGE-yes, but mild for the most part
ROCK AND ROLL-incest between half-siblings, and possibly some homosexual behavior, as it is unclear whether the main character is a boy or a girl. (There are no gender pronouns or any evidence to one side or the other in the entire book.)

Profile Image for Sydney Smith.
26 reviews
May 17, 2020
I am going to be completely honest here. I hated this book with a passion. If I was able to figure out how to give this book no stars I would! If this book wasn't required for my English 356 class there is no way I would have wasted my time on it. I really wanted to like this book since Sedgwick's other books are so amazing but Snowflake AZ was the worst book I have ever read! This book was only 300 pages or so but it felt like 1000 pages of dry nonsense that didn't relate to the plot at all. I could not connect to the characters at all! There was no background given at all and I was very confused about why I was supose to care about the characters. Anyway, the people of Snowflake AZ, in my opinion, are certifiably crazy. They have this disease called MCS that prohibits them from living normal lives and no one knows what is the cause and if there is a cure for it. I would not recommend this book at all and I would not use it in a classroom because the book was very hard to understand. But if I were to use it in a classroom I would teach that we shouldn't discriminate against people and try to understand what is going on with them. I would also use this book to educate my students on the lifestyle of the people in Snowflake. Overall this book didn't have that many warnings the only things I would be worried about are:
-drug use
-no violence but death/mentions of suicide
I feel like this review is brutally honest but I will give Sedgwick credit it was interesting to read how these people live day today. But I would not read it again!
Profile Image for Maurynne  Maxwell.
680 reviews21 followers
February 12, 2020
This could have been a five star book, so I'll say the good stuff first. This is a novel meant to produce questions instead of answers; philosophy is a major theme. Is it ironic homage to Candide? It certainly fits the modern psyche better. I loved the plot and most of the writing. I, too am a canary, having developed MCS though so far not CFS. The book clearly echoes the rage of realizing that modernity is killing us. Also acknowledges the gift of illness as teacher. I like the quest for kindness. The loss of star is due to the sense of place, or rather, the sense of the people in the place; he does a fine job with the high desert itself. I am a native Californian and Arizonan, living in both states before and after my birth. There are a bunch of these little enclaves all over Arizona, whether religious, philosophical, or survivalist, and I've lived in one and visited others. They do have a lot of incomers and a range of personal histories. What threw me out of the story most is that Sedgwick chooses to have his female professor of Linguistics and Philosophy at UCLA speak with the same bad grammar as the uneducated teen protagonist. Doesn't have the male professor suffer the same loss of grammar when recounting conversations. I can assure you that a woman of her supposed age would not have gotten tenure at UCLA if she spoke using that vernacular. Once again a foreigner makes hay of the West. Thanks.
Profile Image for Marije Gordijn.
108 reviews1 follower
March 15, 2023
Wat een heftig boek om te lezen als je zelf worstelt met ziek zijn, met een vage klachten, zoals ik nu. Ik heb heel veel quotes opgeslagen, want Marcus Sedgwick weet goed te omschrijven hoe dat voelt. Toch heb ik heel lang gewacht met het schrijven van een recensie, want wat zeg je over een boek dat aan de ene kant beter kan omschrijven wat je voelt dan je zelf kan, maar aan de andere kant zo weinig verhaallijn heeft, zo weinig plot, zo'n onbevredigend einde....Twee maanden later weet ik het nog steeds niet. Wil je lezen over hoe het is als je leven plotseling stil komt te staan, op een originele manier, in een vervreemdende setting? Of over hoe het leven na er uit kan gaan zien als de klimaatverandering doorzet? Dan is dit echt wel een uniek boek. Sta je wat verder van dit onderwerp af, en wil je een plot-driven boek? Dan even verder zoeken.


'No one wants to be sick, Snowflake. No one. Don't let anyone ever tell different.' (46)

'You know, Ash,' she said, 'never mind a straw. It only takes a snowflake to show which way the wind is blowing,' and never had I felt lighter and lonelier in my whole life than sitting on that porch in the darkness with the whole dang desert in front of me than when I realized that both my names, my real name and my nickname, meant almost nothing. Nothing but something light, something so light and so fragile as to almost not exist. (64)

'And when I looked at the photos, somehow I knew they belonged to a different life, and a different world, and I knew that something had changed'. (99)

'Like I said, I couldn't believe a doctor could be like that. Just tell you you're crazy, and the more you try to tell her you ain't crazy, the more she purses her lips and the higher her eyebrows raise and the more she stabs her fingers on her computer keyboard, right in front of you.

I felt I must've missed something. I know I was missing a lot right then, because a) I couldn't think straight and b) I was in shock, like I said. Something felt different. But I kept thinking, well, I'll be better in a day or two. And then I made that a week. And then the weeks started to go by and started to become months, and they didn't care whether I was better or not, and I wasn't. (113)

'Other folks got problems too, Ash' (119)

When I wasn't staring, and I wasn't moaning, I was frowning, and trying to figure stuff out. The fact that Dr. B had told me that this was all in my head? Well, I could not get that out of my head. And I would say that out loud sometimes, and Mona would say, yeah, but what does that even mean?

'All in your head,' she said. 'All in your mind. What does that mean? Because it's all in your mind, it's not real? Even if it is all in your mind, you're still suffering the same. And one day, doctors are gonna finally realize that there ain't no god-dang difference between the body and the mind anyhow. There ain't no mind without a body, right? And without a mind, a body is nothing. Right again?' (119)

'What it says is that at the level of our genes, they want to survive, and they'll do anything to make that happen. But here's the thing: in order to survive the best, it turns out that the selfish little gene worked out that the best way to survive isn't to be selfish at all. It's to cooperate.'

And Mona said, 'Crazy, huh? What the book says is that being kind to each other was invented by genes acting selfishly.'

'Ain't that kinda depressing?'

'I don't think so. I think if even Selfish decided that Kind was better, well, that says a lot about the power of Kind, don't it? ' (238)

'What do you learn from health? Nothing, that's what you learn. You stay in your smug little world where you can stand for more'n three minutes and never even have to think about it. But make a body sick and, boy, does life get interesting quick. And when I say interesting, I do mean it. Though I also mean it's a real pain in the ass.' (247)

And what had I learned?

A lot, too much. Not enough. But I had learned about getting sick and I had started to learn about dealing with that. I had learned that those folks who think that you can just 'pull yourself together' and those folks who think 'it's all in your head' and those folks who think that getting sick is for weak-minded people who don't wanna be well, heck, they all have no darned clue what they're talking about.

In the fight between the body and the mind, I had learned this: the body wins, always. Just think about Bly. And those fine folks who teach that the body should obey the mind have got a surprise coming for 'em, sooner or later, even if that's on the day they meet their Maker.

But I had also learned this: that the body and the mind are interconnected, for sure. And I know this sounds weird, but it's only when one of 'em breaks down that you realize they are two separate things.

Up until then, I mean the day I arrived in Snowflake, in my eager little scouting through the world's adventures, it had never occurred to me to feel there was any difference between my mind and my body. They was both just ME. And then my body broke down, and yet my mind kept on running, so for the first time I could see they was separate things. And yet interconnected. You cannot have the one without the other. That's the funny part. And it was sickness that made me see both how separated and how connected they are. At one and the same time. And I was thinking, god-darn it, life is truly weird and confusing too, at times. And I started to think that the old-time folks in Stephanie's PhD was right. Only when things go wrong do you learn anything. (255)
Profile Image for Betsy.
774 reviews
November 19, 2019
I picked up this book because of the title: my great-grandparents lived in Snowflake, and I still have cousins there. I may have visited as a child, but don't have memories of it.

This novel is a cautionary tale about life in the modern world, topped off with an unspecified climate crises, mentioned retrospectively, like we all know what happened. Looking for his stepbrother Bly, Ash joins a community of people who are made sick by the chemicals and electricity of normal life, and realizes that he is sick, too. Doctors tell them it's all in their heads and they take care of each other as they try to find their way in the world.

Although I tend to believe in the basic tenets behind this novel--that climate change is looming and that we are exposed to too many substances that we don't understand fully--I found the book didactic, slow-moving, and dark. In addition, my science background makes me skeptical about one major plot point near the end. (No spoilers!) However, I thought Ash's voice was well written and consistently characterized.

To sum up, I didn't really enjoy reading Snowflake, AZ and can't recommend it. But I'm puzzled by it, and might appreciate it more after a discussion with others who've read it. Maybe. I don't know.

By way of a trigger warning, the book contains a violent suicide.
Profile Image for Dan Thompson.
Author 8 books140 followers
October 6, 2020
Many describe this latest YA novel by Marcus Sedgwick as dystopian and that conjures up an assumption of what the book will be about. And thrill seekers of the genre will find very little of any dystopia in here. At least the type of dystopia we assume we’ll find. Instead Snowflake, AZ is more a contemporary, coming of age novel with medical and philosophical themes.

I really enjoyed this book. It was insightful, clever, and made you think. I loved the lack of action, which isn’t for everyone, but the slow pace was needed to help build the picture of what it must be like to live with MCS or EI.

Now Ash takes a while to get used to, but I found myself at some point completely in tune with the narrative and forgot about how weird the text seemed at first to be written. And the whole community of Snowflake, AZ have a part to play - I did feel connected to them once I had finished the book, which took me by surprise.

I’ve read a lot of criticism about this book: pushing anti-vax agendas, the kooky way the community is portrayed, the struggle to discover whether Ash is male or female ...

For me, this novel presented a view of the world and never really said anything about how we ‘should’ live our lives. This book educated me and made me think more about the choices I make, or specifically why I choose them.

I think this is one of Sedgwick’s best novels for some time.
Profile Image for Fleur.
34 reviews
July 14, 2019
Ash (nickname Snowflake) visits his step-brother Bly who lives in Snowflake, Arizona. It’s a middle-of-nowhere town where all the residents suffer from illnesses which can’t be explained, or often aren’t even believed, by medical science. The residents believe their illnesses are brought on by the chemicals and electricity of the modern world.

And there’s a Tennessee Fainting Goat. Don’t entirely know why there’s a goat. But he’s called Socrates.

There were lots of interesting facts and ideas, some of which I was familiar with and some of which were new to me (Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, for one). The way facty stuff is woven into the characters’ experiences reminds me of John Green.

While it feels like Sedgwick’s other novels – something easy to read with deeper meaning if you go looking for it – it doesn’t quite live up to his other works. There’s still lots of poignant moments and smart moments and “untelligent” moments to be found, though.

There isn’t much of a plot so much as a series of stuff that happens. The main character does little more than watch life pass him by. Which is likely Sedgwick’s intention since his main character comments it must be hard to write a novel where nothing happens. But I expected a plot and was a bit disappointed.
25 reviews
May 15, 2020
This was one of nine class assigned books. I’d recommend it to someone I knew didn’t mind swearing or enjoyed that kind of flavor in a contemporary read. If I knew someone who didn’t believe in mental illnesses it would be an interesting discussion point and perhaps the story would be enough to open their minds to the possibility of common or less known mental illnesses at least- I don’t know anyone believing or unbelieving who hasn’t been told at some point a personal problem was “in their head”.

I think how the book addressed the concepts of being misunderstood or unheard would make it a popular discussion point for a high school class because those are common feelings at that age. It’s also a point where many students are able to articulate the frustrations of being unheard and relating it to Ash’s experience with the doctor and his family- even if the students haven’t experienced mental illness for themselves. I think this would best be done in small groups because larger groups make it difficult for opposing ideas to be heard. Small group discussions of the readings can also cultivate a variety of responses and ideas depending on the students’ backgrounds (like where they’ve lived, social status, home dynamics).

Content Disclaimers (Some of these weren’t a big issue personally but other readers should know about them)
-Prevalent swearing
-Potentially uncomfortable situation with nudity
-Siblings sleeping together
-Religious stigma (References to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by name or nicknames)
-Suicide (depending on sensitivity, suicide by gun might be enough to avoid the book)
Profile Image for Zachary B Jones.
30 reviews
May 9, 2020
I read Snowflake, AZ by Marcus Sedgwick because it was assigned in class. At first, the book was very offputting, but the more I read the more I wanted to read. It covers complex ideas about sickness and mental health, and how our society often rejects people and ideas that we cannot understand.

There are many discussions that could benefit students if this book was read in class. First, there is a discussion to be had about how we treat and stigmatize mental health. Are people with mental health "making-up" what they are experiencing, or is what they're going through real? Another discussion to be had is the difference between physiological illness and psychological illness. Does the cause of the pain really matter? Do we treat people as crazy when in reality they are sane? Should different belief systems be rejected out of hand, or should they be studied and understood? These are all questions that would benefit students as they strive to understand the world that they live in. Snowflake, AZ by Marcus Sedgwick would be an excellent book to read in class because it opens up pathways to discuss complex issues within American culture.

Content Warnings:
24 reviews
May 14, 2020
I loved this book. I like that Sedgwick writes it in a way that you feel like you are the main character. he includes twists and turns that no one would expect, I certainly didn't. One of my favorite things about this book is that it leaves you with more questions than you begin with. After reading Snowflake, AZ I felt the need to look up EI and MCS and try to understand it more. And I like that he wrote it based off of personal life experiences, it made it easier to connect with the main character Ash and to understand the people living in Snowflake. I felt like I could really relate to Ash and understand his/her confusion, anger, and pain.
I would recommend this book to everyone. While it is a young adult novel, I believe it is a useful tool in understanding the difficulties that those with hidden illnesses face - including mental illness. In a classroom, this is an excellent way of showing how precise language and reader-response analysis benefit towards further understanding the book.
I issue a warning about some language and sensitive topics including suicide and mental illness.
24 reviews
May 7, 2020
I read this book for my young adult literature class. If I had stumbled upon it in the library I might have picked it up because I had a sister that lived in Snowflake, AZ for a while. I visited her once but never saw the people that make up the community described in this book. If I hadn't had to read this for my class, I would not have finished it. The book did not engage me personally, but I can see how it would be appealing to a student in middle school or lower high school who has an interest in apocalyptic books.

I might use this book in a high school setting to discuss mental health and sympathy. A huge theme of this book is recognizing that how a person presents themselves outwardly is not always an indication of what is happening internally. It might be helpful to read this as a class on a unit exploring human connection and relationships.

Content warnings:
- mild language
- violence: one of the main characters shoots himself in the head to kill himself
-- not violence, but a trigger warning: death and suicide are commonly mentioned throughout the book.

Profile Image for Janet.
31 reviews
May 6, 2020
I read this book solely because it was a requirement for my class this semester. Having to read this book for class did not make it any easier to push through. However, I'd recommend this book for anyone who enjoys reading about dystopian worlds, pandemics, and odd societies. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who needs books to move at a quicker pace, as this one is a slow burn.

Honestly, I don't see this book being beneficial in a classroom setting. I think that there are a lot of other very interesting books that cover some of the same themes and topics. This book isn't one that I think would be engaging enough for students to really relate to or feeling compelled to talk about. It's not that there is anything that would prevent this book for being safe content for students, it just would be my last choice if I were teaching.

Content advisory:
-Language 2/10
-Other (Suicide, depression) 7/10
Displaying 1 - 30 of 88 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.