Eowyn Ivey’s novel plays out a traditional Russian tale (the Snow Maiden, or Snegurochka) in the harsh yet beautiful world of 1920s Alaska.
In his review for the Washington Post, Ron Charles posits that Faina, the Snow Girl of the title, is “another in the growing crowd of fiercely independent girls we’ve seen in recent fiction including Karen Russell’s “Swamplandia!,” Bonnie Jo Campbell’s “Once Upon a River” and Jesmyn Ward’s “Salvage the Bones.””
We reviewed all of three titles on AB4T, and his comparison prompted me to pick up The Snow Child myself, at last. (Swamplandia! and Once Upon a River were among my personal favorites last year.) What a gorgeous read, and so accessible! Just as The Snow Child is a difficult novel to pigeon-hole (and really, why would we want to?), so is its ideal teen reader. Certainly, a good recommendation for teens who read Once Upon a River and Swamplandia! (where more than one character willfully lives in a sort of fantasy haze, like the couple in The Snow Child). Those who enjoyed The Little Bride by Anna Solomon (another of our best titles of 2011) for its depiction of survival in a pioneering/farming setting should also be encouraged to give this one a try, as should readers who enjoy alternate versions of traditional fairy tales.
As often as teens want the familiarity of a series world, there are teens who want something new. Just yesterday a student came up to my desk raving about Deathless by Catherynne Valente for just that reason. It was unlike anything she had experienced before. (She found it randomly browsing in a bookstore in Canada over spring break and was sure that nothing so different could possible exist in the U.S.!) Strange coincidence — that one also involves Russian folklore.
Finally, I can’t resist sharing two links. First, a lovely book trailer on the author’s website. Second, BBC’s Book at Bedtime has produced an adaptation of The Snow Child narrated by Miranda Richardson. The first of 10 episodes is available on their website, with the others to be added as they air.
IVEY, Eowyn. The Snow Child. 400p. Little, Brown. 2012. Tr $24.99. ISBN 978-0-316-17567-8. LC 2011024937.
Adult/High School–The Alaskan territory seems an unlikely haven for Mabel and Jack. Mabel hopes that the peaceful quiet and beauty of nature will offer solitude and solace. She and Jack have never talked about the stillborn baby, their only child. But the middle-aged couple is utterly unprepared for the challenges of homesteading in the harsh wilderness. In a rare moment of playfulness, Mabel and Jack build a snow girl from winter’s first snowfall. Late that night, Jack ventures outside their cabin and catches a glimpse of what appears to be a lost child, darting through the trees. Ivey weaves a rich story built on a yearning so strong that it suddenly becomes palpable. The child, Faina, is a lithe young huntress, a mercurial girl who comes and goes as she pleases. Mabel looks forward to the rare moments spent in her company, offering food, clothing, and a place to rest. But Faina prefers to be out in the cold on the trail of rabbits, marten, and ermine. Meanwhile, Jack befriends George Benson, a miles-away neighbor. Mabel has never met a woman like his wife, Esther, so practical, outspoken, and unladylike. The Bensons offer camaraderie, advice, and connection to the real world. Mabel accepts their friendship cautiously, but when Jack is horribly injured out in the fields, the Bensons send long term help in the form of their son, Garrett. As time goes on, Faina continues to visit, maturing into a beautiful, enigmatic teen. Garrett becomes enchanted by her, introducing a different kind of love and longing. Ivey’s poetically descriptive blend of period realism and classic folk tale will find an audience with sophisticated teen readers.–Paula J. Gallagher, Baltimore County Public Library, MD