The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

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I picked up this book for many reasons. One being that the book jacket blurb sounded great.

Homesteaders Jack and Mable have carved out a quiet life of hard work and routine for themselves in the wilderness that is 1920s Alaska, both still deeply longing for the child it’s now impossible for them to have. Yet their love for each other is strong, and in a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they play together, building a child out of snow. The next morning, the snow child is gone—but a trail of tiny footsteps remains. For weeks following, they both catch glimpses of a blond little girl alone in the woods, but neither dares to mention it to the other, afraid that long-buried hopes have overruled common sense.

Then the little girl, who calls herself Faina (fah-EE-nah), shows up on the doorstep. Small and fair, she seems truly magical: she hunts with a red fox at her side, she leaves blizzards in her wake, and somehow she manages to survive alone in the harsh Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mable struggle to understand Faina, they come to love her as their own…

Another reason I picked up this book is because my husband and I have become obsessed with the “Alaska” shows on TV. Alaska State Troopers. Mountain Men. Alaska: The Last Frontier. Ultimate Survival Alaska. We harbor secret ambitions of being survivalists and throwing aside all the BS that comes with participating in modern society. But then I think I might go crazy if I have to eat months and months of smoked salmon and moose jerky.  I also wonder what we would do when we get too old to live that way anymore. Arthritis and polar temperatures are not compatible and I’m ultimately a creature of comfort.

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Ideal Alaska*: Oooh, ahhh, pretty
*this image was taken just before a swarm of pterodactyl mosquitos drained this lady dry.

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Survival Alaska: Asking your Christmas dinner to, “Hold real still, now”.

I think one reason I liked The Snow Child so much is that the magic is subtle. Alaska is still such an enigmatic place; it doesn’t need bold splashes of magic to add to its enchantment. In this story, the magic is more like a subtle fragrance in your perfume. It’s a quiet refrain, played in the back ground. It floats away and makes you question whether it was there in the first place. That treatment works well with the character of Faina who is a wild creature who blips in and out of Jack and Mabel’s life in such a way that they often wonder, each time she leaves, if they’ll ever see her again.  Or was she just a byproduct of cabin fever?

Even when Faina becomes more substantial as a character, she’s never tamed and the reader is never sure if the things that happen are explainable coincidence, or magic.  Jack and Mabel are concrete characters who so nicely contrast Faina’s feral nature. They embody hard work, routine, foundation and steadfastness while Faina is winter incarnate: Moody, unpredictable, beautiful, sometimes cold, sometimes passionate like storm. They complement each other and make a believable family.

Mabel is the main character. The story comes most from her point of view, although we dip into the thoughts of others from time to time.  Ideally, a character driven book such as this one, the author strives for her characters to change and grow over the course of the story. Mabel begins the tale by considering suicide and after the trials and errors of eeking out a life in the harsh Alaska frontier, she becomes a formidable woman. At first I thought I wouldn’t like her, but I grew to have a deep respect for her.

It’s unlikely I’ll ever give up my addiction to Target, reliable utilities, and corner grocery stores. Thankfully there are books like The Snow Child through which I can vicariously live my survivalist, frontier fantasies. All of the fun, none of the frostbite.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. kimtastic7878
    Sep 27, 2013 @ 11:38:34

    I’m glad you reviewed this. I’ve been interested in reading this one for a while. I assume you will be watching the Dating in Alaska show that’s coming on TLC.

    Reply

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