Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
A barren couple moves to Alaska to have a fresh start. The wilderness, they believe, will suit them. When they get there, they find conditions harsher than they expected. Instead of growing closer, the wilderness draws them apart, until they fashion a snowman. Instead of a traditional snowman, they make one that looks like a little girl. Mysteriously, a child appears in the woods wearing the mittens and scarf they had placed on their “snow child.”
Will this child be exactly what the lonely couple has always wished for or is this girl a product of their exhaustion and cabin fever?
Their only neighbor, Esther, explains how this can happen in remote places like Alaska:
“…this isn’t an easy place to get along. The winters are long, and sometimes it starts to get to you. Around here, they call it cabin fever. You get down in the dumps, everything’s off kilter and sometimes your mind starts playing tricks on you…You start seeing things that you’re afraid of…or things you’ve always wished for…Maybe it was an animal, or the wind. All sorts of explanations.”
Mabel is certain, however, that she saw a child who can run quickly on the snow. The couple finds small boot prints that further convinces them of the child’s existence.
Not wanting to get his wife’s hopes up, Jack secretly leaves trinkets on a stump. He had baited deer in this way and perhaps he can get the child to reappear.
Ivey adds just the right touch of mystery when describing this elusive child.
This lyrical novel is beautifully written. Though the child’s terms are hard to accept, Mabel and Jack learn to let Faina live her life as she pleases.
Thought-provoking, this novel also is incredibly poignant. The childless couple discover that they have had a child afterall — the wild sprite, Faina, is their child. In the same moment, though, they realize that they have lost her.
The novel which mirrors and amplifies the Russian fairytale, the Snow Child, ends sorrowfully, yet there is room for joy.
The Snow Child raises many questions and lends itself well to book discussions. What is a parent and to what extent must we let a child find his/her own way in the world? Are we controlled by fate or can we turn sorrow into joy as Mabel’s sister indicates in her letter?