The Snow Child
by Eowyn Ivey
A Reagan Arthur Book
Little, Brown and Company
“Dear, sweet Mabel,’ she said. ‘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 more alive?'” (pg. 258)
I had no intentions of reading this book. NONE. As soon as I heard that it was about a childless couple grieving the loss of their stillborn child, I thought: NO. THANK. YOU. Hell to the no.
And set amidst the tundra of Alaska, in the dead of winter, to boot? Yeah, good times. I mean, I like my depressing literary shit as much as the next person, but this sounded like a bit too much even for my threshold.
But then blogger after blogger started raving about this, and then I realized it was based on a fairy tale, and you have to have a heart made out of an icicle in order to be able to resist a fairy tale.
(Although, I will say this: if you are a current infertility patient or grieving the loss of a child, this is likely to not be the book for you. I’m a decade out of that world, of which I still sometimes feel like I still have one foot in, and The Snow Child still managed to dredge up a well of emotions from our infertility days. There’s no way in hell I would have been able to read this during our journey. I’m just saying.)
That disclaimer being said, The Snow Child is an absolutely amazing book. It’s the story of Jack and Mabel, a childless couple who have been married for many years. In their individual ways, they are each still grieving the loss of their only child who was stillborn a number of years prior.
They decide to make a new life for themselves by moving to Alaska. This is in 1920, and could not be further from their Pennsylvania homes. Jack is from western Pennsylvania – there’s a reference to the Allegheny, so perhaps he’s a yinzer – and Mabel is a Philly girl, two details of the book that I happened to particularly enjoy.)
Even though they are far from home and despite their efforts to make a new life, Jack and Mabel’s grief over the loss of the baby travels with them and is a constant companion through the years, along with the despair and desperation that they feel amid the barren wilderness. On the night of the first snow of the season, however, Jack and Mabel allow themselves to have a few brief moments of fun by playing in the snow. Like kids, they build a little snow person … a snow child. They are stunned when, the next morning, their snow creation is gone, replaced by an actual little girl who they will soon discover is named Faina.
How Faina becomes intertwined with Jack and Mabel’s lives is absolutely enchanting, and Eowyn Ivey’s writing is nothing short of magical. She has the ability to take what is an otherwise unbelievable tale and turn it into something that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
You know how the cold winter’s air takes your breath away? That’s this book.
“She could not fathom the hexagonal miracle of snowflakes formed from cloud, crystallized fern and feather that tumble down to light on a coat sleeve, white stars melting even as they strike. How did such force and beauty come to be in something so small and fleeting and unknowable? ….
You did not have to understand miracles to believe in them, and in fact Mabel had come to suspect 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.” (pg. 204)
For a book that I had no intentions of reading, this one landed on my list of Best Books I Read in 2012.
5 stars out of 5.
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