Published February 2012 by Little, Brown and Company
Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart — he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season's first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone — but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.
This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.
I think I may have owned this book since 2012 so when one of my book club's selections for 2021 was a fairy tale book, I opted to go with this fairy tale retelling. And why had I put it off for almost 10 years? Because it has "snow" in its title and in the winter I don't want to read about snow and cold and when summer arrives I don't want to read about snow and cold. Yeah, I know, a silly reason to put off a reading a book I clearly had wanted to read because I'd paid actually money for it.
"It was beautiful, Mabel knew, but it was a beauty that ripped you open and scoured you clean so that you were left helpless and exposed if you lived at all."
Now I'm finding myself wondering which other books on my shelves have I put off reading for equally silly reasons, depriving myself of enjoyable reading experiences. Because, despite my fears, especially when this book began, that this was going to be dreary, depressing book, it was very much an enjoyable reading experience.
Author Robert Goolrick said of The Snow Child, "If Willa Cather and Gabriel Garcia Marquez had collaborated on a book, THE SNOW CHILD would be it. It is a remarkable accomplishment -- a combination of the most delicate, ethereal, fairytale magic and the harsh realities of homesteading in the Alaskan wilderness in 1918." It's a perfect description of this book but there is also so much more to The Snow Child. It's also a book about marriage, communication, friendship, love, what it means to be a parent, and what family means.
Jack and Martha are both grieving the loss of their stillborn child but they have never talked to each other about their pain and it's the coldness that has developed in their marriage that I felt almost as much as the coldness of the setting. When winter, new friendships, and Faina arrive, things begin to change between them. When an injury sidelines Jack and Martha must step up to help save what they have built, they finally become a partnership that might be able to survive life in Alaska. I like them both and so wanted them to find each other and what they wanted so desperately.
Here is another book where an element of magical realism is at play, a thing you know I've struggled with in the past, but again it was done just perfectly for me. Maybe because throughout the book we're never really sure whether magic is at play or if the truth of Faina lies in reality.
"We never know what's going to happen, do we? Life is always thrown 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 most alive?"
And that is what this book is about at its core - the adventure, the mystery of knowing how things will end up for its characters. For me, this book ended up just perfectly.