Carolyn Hill's Reviews > The Snow Child

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
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's review
Mar 15, 2012

really liked it
Read in March, 2012

Simply a lovely book, 4.5 stars. I'm not usually drawn to books about homesteading, or pioneers, or hardscrabble lives, whether on the prairie or the wilds of Alaska, where this story is set. But this one held the promise of something magical, and so I was lured into a world as crystalline bright as sun on new-fallen snow and dark as the endless winter days of the far north. Ivey's writing is lyrical and evocative, and she excels at creating a setting that is not only beautifully and convincingly depicted, but intrinsic to the story. She does not give much backstory for the characters, and sometimes I want to have them filled in a bit more, but despite her spare approach to characterization, I felt I understood them. The story centers on the lives of Mabel and Jack, who are past child-bearing age and childless, whose one child was stillborn. They move to Alaska for a new life and for Mabel, grieving, educated, and sensitive, to escape the reminders of her failings as a childless woman in the eyes of her husband's farming family. It is Mabel's longing that drives the story and grants its own wish in the snow child, the wild mysterious young girl who appears in the woods outside their cabin with the first real snow. Ivey's characterization of Mabel, who as a child had tried to trap a fairy to prove her belief to others, won my sympathy immediately. I love this description: All her life she had believed in something more, in the mystery that shape-shifted at the edges of her senses. It was the flutter of moth wings on glass and the promise of river nymphs in the dappled creek beds. It was the smell of oak trees on the summer evening she fell in love, and the way dawn threw itself across the cow pond and turned the water to light. (p.5)

Mabel remembers the Russian fairy tale about the snow child her father had told her as a young girl and the vivid illustrations from the book he had held. The picture of the old childless couple kneeling before the child formed from snow seemed to mimic their own experiences with this fey creature who appeared after they had fashioned a snow girl in a spirit of fun and whimsy. When no one seems to know of any lost child, Mabel begins to wonder whether the child is a spirit of the snow or a real young girl. After all, how could she survive on her own in the brutal winter? While Mabel is ready to believe the fantasy, Jack is not. He knows that if Mabel believes she's a real girl, she must be sheltered, cared for, educated, and confined, not left to roam in the wilderness. I won't give anything away here how Ivey gently unfolds the tale, but the reader, whether a wistful believer in magic or a staunch realist is never disappointed.
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