Jenny's Reviews > The Snow Child

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
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's review
Mar 05, 2013

really liked it
Recommended to Jenny by: Linda Dyndiuk

The Snow Child treads the line between fairy tale/magical realism and reality, and it does so perfectly. Mabel and Jack move to a remote homestead in Alaska to escape their childlessness and make a new start with just each other. One night, they build a child out of snow, and the next day, their sculpture is gone, but they begin to see a girl in the woods.

At first, Mabel believes a fantastical explanation, while Jack believes a realistic one, but Mabel is often more realistic when it comes to the child, Faina, herself.

Because of the isolation of the homestead, the novel has a limited cast of characters: Jack and Mabel and Faina and their neighbors. It is a unique and beautiful book, a blend of fantasy and reality set in the Alaskan countryside.


All her life she had believed in something more, in the mystery that shape-shifted at the edge 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. (5)

It was beautiful, Mabel knew, but it was a beauty that ripped you open and scoured you clean so that you were left helpless and exposed, if you lived at all. (9)

And there lay the real problem. Not the nervous horse, but the tired old man. The truth squirmed in the pit of his stomach like a thing done wrong. (13)

What a tragic tale! Why these stories for children always have to turn out so dreadfully is beyond me. I think if I ever tell it to my grandchildren, I will change the ending and have everyone live happily ever after. We are allowed to do that, are we not Mabel? To invent our own endings and choose joy over sorrow? (letter from Ada, 129)

...and she would wonder if one can truly stop the inevitable. Was it as Ada had suggested, that we can choose our own endings, joy over sorrow? Or does the cruel world just give and take, give and take, while we flounder through the wilderness? (155)

...and Mabel's heart was a hole in her chest filling like a well with icy, sweet water. (157)

You did not have to understand miracles to believe in them, and in fact Mabel had come to expect the opposite. To believe, perhaps you had to cease looking for explanations and instead hold the little thing in your hands as long as you were able before it slipped like water between your fingers. (204)

It came back to her the way grief does, slowly. (229)

But this longing did not blind him. Like a rainbow trout in a stream, the girl sometimes flashed her true self to him. A wild thing glittering in dark water. (236)

She tried to remember it all and think of it as home. Maybe here on the page she could reduce it to line and curve, and at last understand it. (248)

In my old age, I see that life itself is often more fantastic and terrible than the stories we believed as children, and that perhaps there is no harm in finding magic among the trees. (Ada to Mabel, 251)

"We never know what is going to happen, do we? Life is always throwing us this way and that. That's where the adventure is. Not knowing where you'll end up or how you'll fare. It's all a mystery, and when we say any different, we're just lying to ourselves. Tell me, when have you felt most alive?" (Esther to Mabel, 258)

"Life doesn't go the way we plan or hope, but we don't have to be so angry, do we?" (Mabel to Jack, 330)

Love and devotion, the devastating hope and fear contained in in a woman's swelling womb - these were left unspoken. (338)

Grief swept over Mabel with such force that her sobs had no sound or words. It was a shuddering, quaking anguish, and she only knew that she would survive because she had once before. (376)

It happened like this, the grief. Years wore away the cutting edges, but sometimes it still took him by surprise. (380)


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