Am I the last person on earth to read The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, the best-selling and highly acclaimed novel published last year? It’s quite possible, but the important thing is that I did finally get to it. This is one of those cases when I am grateful for book buzz because I don’t think I would have chosen this book on my own, and I would have missed out on an amazing reading experience.
In Alaska in 1920, Mabel and Jack are trying to eke out an existence with their small farm and the significant challenge of the long Alaskan winter. They moved away from their families on the East Coast after Mabel gave birth to a stillborn child and they were both mired in despair, hoping to make a fresh start in the new frontier. However, they are both still reeling from their loss and each trapped in his or her own loneliness and misery.
The first beautiful snowfall of winter inspires them, and they play together in the snow and forget their sorrows for one evening. They even build a small snowman in the early snow; because of its size, it reminds them of a child, so they carefully mold it to look like a little girl and add a scarf and mittens. The next morning, their snowchild is gone, but they spot a little girl running through the woods near their secluded cabin.
Though Jack takes a more logical approach to the child who runs wild through the trees and snow, Mabel is reminded of a Russian fairy tale her father used to read to her called The Snow Child, about a girl made out of snow who comes to life. Wherever she came from, the girl, named Faina, gradually becomes more comfortable around Mabel and Jack and spends more time at their cabin, until they come to think of her as a daughter.
I am not normally a fan of magical realism and probably wouldn’t have even picked this book up, if I hadn’t heard so many rave reviews of it. Despite its hints of magic (though logical explanations are often offered), it is also a very real story about struggling to survive in a beautiful yet violent environment and about a couple learning to love again after incomparable loss. It is about life, with all of its joys and sorrows, and about family and friendship. All of that is told against a backdrop of gorgeous, dangerous wilderness. I devoured this magical, engrossing story in big, hungry gulps of reading pleasure and never wanted it to end.