Christine's Reviews > The Snow Child

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
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's review
Mar 24, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: historical-fiction, favorites

Generally, I dislike books about pioneers (it's all so relentlessly grim), and I also don't usually care for riffs on fairy tales. This novel is about Alaskan homesteaders in the 1920s and their relationship with a little girl who bears an uncanny resemblance to a character in a Russian folk tale. But...I loved it! It is so beautifully written--the descriptions of Jack and Mabel's lives transported me to that place and time, and the plot was constantly surprising but never felt gimmicky or unearned. At its heart, this is the story of Mabel, whose longing for a child has led her into some dark places: indeed, in the very first scene of the novel, she ventures out on the frozen river, crossing it with the intention of falling through the ice. It is a breathtaking opening, not least because she does not fall through but returns home to the pedestrian task of preparing dinner for her husband. Over the course of the novel, Mabel is transformed from a closed-off, depressed, bitter woman into a self-confident person who learns that her suffering, real and truly painful as it was and is, does not define her. At the beginning of the third book, Mabel watches a river otter leaping and splashing in a creek on a November day: "She told no one of the otter. Garrett would want to trap it; Faina would ask her to draw it. She refused to confine it by any means because, in some strange way, she knew it was her heart. Living, twisting muscle beneath bristly damp fur. Breaking through thin ice, splashing in the cold creek water, sliding belly-down across the snow. Joyful, though it should have known better" (270). Ivey handles the character of Faina, the titular "Snow Child," very deftly, mostly keeping the focus on the other characters. The other absolutely wonderful character in this novel is Esther, whose friendship with Mabel brought me to tears more than once. Great book--I'll be thinking about these characters for a long time.

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