In her debut, The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey presents her own twist on a Russian fairy tale. It’s 1920, and Jack and Mabel have left the comfort and familiarity of their friends and family to homestead in Alaska. The two are looking for a fresh start: their years of yearning for a child only resulted in a the devastating experience of having a stillborn baby. Though years have passed and the two are now well into middle age, Mabel especially feels stifled by their environment and the pitying, judgmental whispers of her peers. When she hears that homesteaders are wanted in the Alaskan wilderness, she jumps at the chance to start over.
The realities of life in Alaska are far from what Mabel had imagined; instead of growing closer in their isolation from the outside world, she and Jack are drifting further apart. Daylight never ends during the summer, and the darkness and cold are never-ending throughout dead of winter. Mabel starts sinking deep into depression, and Jack doesn’t know how to help her. But one night, during a rare moment of lighthearted joy, the two build a little girl out of snow, ending their evening on a happy note.
Nothing is left of their snow child the next day but a pile of toppled snow. Soon after, the Jack and Mabel begin seeing a little girl hanging around their cabin, darting playfully in and out of their everyday routines, then disappearing without a trace. Nearby homesteaders that Jack and Mabel befriend chalk it up to cabin fever, since there are no families living nearby with little girls who match the description. However, Jack and Mabel are positive the girl is real and continue to reach out to her.
As it turns out, the mysterious little girl’s name is Faina. Jack and Mabel grow close to the girl as winter progresses, but never get the full story. Even more alarming, the little girl has a habit of going off on her own no matter what the weather is like; she’ll take off at night in snowstorms that would kill the average person, only to return happily to her new friends the next day as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. But Mabel has her own suspicions about Faina: she remembers an ominous Russian fairy tale her father used to tell her when she was younger, about a childless old couple who builds a girl out of snow, and the similarities between child in the fairy tale and Faina are eerily similar. The very thought of it fills her with simultaneous wonder and dread.
I wish I could properly convey how much I loved this book. It’s magical, haunting, ethereal, emotional, beautiful. Ivey is an amazing writer, and her masterful use of settings, metaphors, tone constantly blew me away. The line between fantasy and reality is constantly blurred, and even as you reach the last page, you’re left with a sense of wonder. If The Snow Child doesn’t make my Best of 2012 list I will be shocked, because this will be a hard one to top. I positively adored it.
The Snow Child was released on February 1, 2012 by Reagan Arthur Books, an imprint of Hachette Book Group.