Debut novelist Eowyn ivey’s experience living in the Alaskan wilderness brings a palpable authenticity to The Snow Child. Alaska in the 1920s is a difficult place for Jack and Mabel. Drifting apart, the childless couple discover Faina, a young girl living alone in the wilderness. Soon, Jack and Mabel come to love Faina as their own. But when they learn a surprising truth about the girl, their lives change in profound ways.
©2012 Eowyn Ivey (P)2012 Recorded Books, LLC
Mother, knitter, reader, lifelong learner, technical writer, former library assistant & hematologist.
I’ve always loved fairy tale adaptations (Jane Yolen, Robin McKinley, Patricia Wrede) and The Snow Child is among the best, perhaps in a class by itself. The Snow Child is a retelling of a Russian fairy tale set in the wild and isolated Alaskan frontier in the 1920s. Ivey stunningly describes the land, the snow and the extreme hardships of trying to make a life there. Mabel and Jack have settled in Alaska to try and escape the sadness and grief of their life in Pennsylvania. One night they create a child out of snow, and the next morning ethereal child Faina enters their lives. Is she an orphan fending for herself in the forest or the creation of Mabel and Jack? I had a little trouble at this point, constantly wondering, "Is she real?" but I eventually stopped questioning and just enjoyed the story.
For me, this book was mainly about parenthood (biologic or not), with all its multiple joys and heartbreaks. Particularly poignant is Mabel's intense longing for a child, with her heavy and heartbreaking feelings and actions. Mabel's and Jack's recognition of their motherhood and fatherhood, the mistakes they may have made and experiences they may have missed in truly becoming parents are also beautifully written. There are some achingly wonderful and sad moments when Jack in particular sees Faina as the person she truly is and no longer the image of a child he has held in his mind. This book is magical, realistic, harsh, beautiful and well worth listening to.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey is an extraordinary work of art and is a major contribution to the literature of the American West.
Its description and visual imagery of the natural world of Alaska is the equal of Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Its portrayal of the marriage tensions of Jack and Mabel is the equal of Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose. Lively Esther is the equal to the strong western woman in an Ivan Doig novel.
Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It ends with "I am haunted by waters."
I am haunted by The Snow Child.
And I am haunted by Faina's voice as performed by Debra Monk.
I should probably begin this review by stating that I am not a fan of fantasy, and this novel is a hybrid of fantasy and historical fiction. It takes place in Alaska in the 1920s. Jack and Mabel, an aging childless couple, are newly arrived homesteaders. It was Mabel's idea to move to the northwest: she had lost a baby years earlier and was finding it increasingly difficult to be around their extended families. Rather than finding the wilderness lonely, she cherished the solitude and is rather surprised to find herself befriending their nearest neighbors, the Bensons.
The book gives a pretty good portrait of the hard life of homesteaders . . . but then it takes off towards fantasy. One night, following a playful snowball fight, Jack and Mabel make a little girl out of snow. Mabel is touched by the beautiful face that Jack has carved, and she provides mittens and a scarf to finish their snow child. When Jack rises the next morning, the mittens and scarf are gone, and he thinks he sees a little girl with a red fox at the edge of the tree.
At this point, Ivey's novel becomes a riff on a Russian folk tale, one that Mabel remembers hearing as a child, and the reader--like Mabel and Jack--can't quite determine if the girl is a real child or some kind of mystical being. Signs point in both directions.
I started out liking the homesteading story, and the descriptions of the landscape were quite lovely. But after awhile, Mabel got on my nerves. I can't quite explain why, except that she seemed at times to be naïve, bordering on stupid. And several of the other characters--like Esther, the resourceful, hearty, trousers-wearing Mrs. Benson--seemed like stereotypes to me. Since I am not fond of fantasy, I found that element more irritating than charming. Put me in the camp of those who did not care for the ambiguous ending.
I fell under the spell of this book within the first few sentences. The author creates a magical setting in the Alaskan wilderness where the northern lights, snow-covered meadows, frozen rivers and wild animals seem perfect and beautiful. When you live with Jake and Mabel, you live in this land, and you get to know it as they do -- living fully within it and accepting its harshness as well as its beauty. In this setting, a child who seems to come to life from snow seems almost logical -- and although Jack and Mabel wonder about Faina, they come to accept her as their own, just as they accept the rest of Alaska's mysteries.
I loved the gentle tone of the narrator, and loved the beautiful, magical story. This one will stay with me for a long time.
Rating scale: 5=Loved it, 4=Liked it, 3=Ok, 2=Disappointed, 1=Hated it. I look for well developed characters, compelling stories.
To me, the book that comes closest in mood and tone to this one is "The Orchardist". I suspect that readers who enjoyed that book will enjoy this one, and those who did not, will not enjoy it. In both books, the sense of time and the land is beautifully evoked through the eloquently descriptive writing. Successfully conveying the space, the cold and the isolation of the vast landscape allows understanding of the fear, awe and ultimately commitment to the land that the main characters, Mabel and Jack, experience. For them, the sorrow of an earlier loss has left them lonely and distanced from each other. But the mysterious appearance of a child who they need as much as she needs them, opens up their hearts and teaches them how to live again, another theme similar to "The Orchardist". The mystery of the girl - is she real or not - adds a touch of magic for the reader as it does for Mabel and Jack. That said, I would advise readers hoping that this is a magical fairy tale to think twice before downloading. As in "The Orchardist", the story is told with little sentimentality. The life and death struggle of surviving in the Alaskan wilderness through trapping and hunting, freezing and starving, makes it clear that this is an unforgiving life for the unprepared. Detailed discussions of animals being hunted are included and are not for those tender hearted towards the animals.
Some readers are dissatisfied with the ending, but I was ok with it. I don't see any other way it could have ended, and found it consistent with what came before. The supporting characters are somewhat shallowly written, but overall I did not find it a major distraction.
English major. Love to read
Maybe it's because I needed to just fall into a book that the premise of this book appealed to me. And fall into it I did. It is magical, well-written and lyrical. I am not one to give a plot summary - if you choose this, you will find out soon enough. But I will tell you that you probably won't enjoy this book if you can't let yourself be taken away by some elements of fairy tale. The plot is not completely improbable, it just stretches you to let go of the realism of your own life and step into another place and not judge how you got there. A truly wonderful winter read.
Karen of Northern Michigan
I loved the characters in this story, the story line, the description of the environment and homes and the narration..it was all very good.. What I didn't like was the detailed description of the slaughtering of animals.. I understand that this is set in the 1920's when people had to hunt for their food, but I didn't enjoy hearing how the animals were slaughtered, and then a very detailed description of how they were gutted, cut up and served.. Being an animal lover, I found it very disturbing. It took me weeks to get through this book because of that. Once the slaughtering began, I'd turn it off. Eventually, I'd start wondering what happened with the characters, so I'd start to listen again, only to eventually have another descriptive slaughter roll around.. There's even a part where a swan is slaughtered..
To be honest, though, I did feel like the story moved rather slowly and only picked up near the end of the story.. I started to get really interested in it towards the end where it turns into a sweet love story, only to have it take a drastic turn that seemed kind of stupid to me. Kind of seemed like the author was in a hurry to get it done so the ending was rushed...
I wouldn't recommend it to anyone and have mixed feelings about having finally listened to the entire story...
Dale A Boyd
I found the book interesting but lacking. At the end of the first part, i thought the book was finished. It would have been better if it were. It seemed to ramble on looking for a purpose. The contradictions were never resolved such as when the snow child could not be indoors in the depths of winter unless the door was cracked. Suddenly she was able to live through the summer and indoors with a warm wood stove the following winter. I was looking for more.
I saw this book recommended in several places, but I didn’t think a snow-girl that comes to life would keep my attention. I’m glad I gave it a try! Beautiful writing and imagery, and a very good character study. This book did such a respectful job of creating a story from an old Russian fairy tale. I loved the friendship between the two Alaskan couples. Highly recommend.
The first half of the story was intriguing but it turns into a sappy romance novel for the entire second half which is not what the description implied. It was also poorly edited and the author could have told the same story in half the time/words.
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