three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
58-May-June-2012
By: 
Eowyn Ivey
user_rating: 
0

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737050.pngEowyn Ivey lives in Alaska, the setting of The Snow Child. This debut novel was inspired by the Russian folk tale "Snegurochka" ("The Snow Maiden").

The Story: In an old Russian folktale, a childless couple builds a snow girl who comes to life. Ivey has changed the setting to 1920s Alaska, but the story is nonetheless familiar. In 1920, Mabel and Jack decide to leave Pennsylvania to homestead 160 acres in Alaska Territory. Isolated, lonely, and devastated by a stillborn child, they struggle to merely survive. One day, in a rare moment of joy, they build a child out of snow. The next day, the snow child is gone. In her place they find a young blonde girl they name Faina, a child of the woods that soon bewitches them. As Jack and Mabel struggle to tame this child—is she real, or a fairy of their own creation?—and come to love her as their own, they find renewed hope—and despair—in life.
Reagan Arthur Books. 400 pages. $24.99. ISBN: 9780316175678

A.V. Club 4 of 5 Stars
"The Snow Child is coy about the girl’s nature. Her dialogue never features quotation marks, as if to imply conversations with her are less real than those with other characters. … The mystery feels less important than Ivey’s character portraits." Samantha Nelson

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"The cold and remoteness are deliciously rendered, the imagery fantastic. … Darkness and light take a physical and mental hold, weaving together great hope and great sadness. In Ivey’s capable hands, The Snow Child will keep you frozen in its spell until the very last word." Sarah Willis

Spectator (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"Although The Snow Child is a debut Eowyn Ivey has written about her own life in the Alaskan woods and is confident when she treads home ground: scampering about in the wild with her pen she is sure-footed; the mechanics of survival in this frozen wilderness are described with a keen, clear eye and a competent voice. But it is the magic and not the realism that will sell a million copies of this book." Olivia Glazebrook

Denver Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Ivey’s writing captures an Alaska that is at least as strong as any of the characters challenging the wilderness. She writes lyrically and lovingly of hardship, friendships and the bond between neighbors." Robin Vidimos

Minneapolis Star Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Ivey’s intimate knowledge of the Alaskan wilderness—she was raised there and lives there with her family—infuses her novel with an intangible beauty. Despite the thick desperation of her characters, Ivey focuses on the bright, yet fleeting light that enters their lives, and as one character urges, chooses ‘joy over sorrow.’" Meganne Fabrega

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The plot isn’t really complex enough and Ivey’s style isn’t rich enough to support 400 pages. … That said, when I was wiping my eyes at the end—must have been snow blowing in my face—I felt sorry to see these kind people go. Sad as the story often is, with its haunting fairy-tale ending, what I remember best are the scenes of unabashed joy." Ron Charles

Slate.com 2 of 5 Stars
"As a fairy tale, ‘Snegurochka’ is already kind of wispy and subtle and sad. Its retelling needs either transcendent prose, great characters, or thrilling set pieces, and The Snow Child fails to bring it on any of these counts." Lydia Kiesling

Critical Summary

Time will tell whether The Snow Child, backed by Oprah Magazine and the recipient of ample advance praise, will live up to the hype. Certainly, it tells a classic tale of magic, love, and loss, with a compelling central mystery. Yet even readers familiar with the original Russian tale will find some surprises: "The real magic of this story is that it’s never as simple as it seems, never moves exactly in the direction you think it must," notes the Washington Post. Ivey’s characters are beautifully drawn, for the most part, but her descriptions of the harsh, unforgiving Alaskan landscape are perhaps the novel’s main strength. The novel may be a little too long, given its rather simple plot, and it may not offer "a revelation of content or style or form" (Slate). But few will be disappointed in this lovely tale retold.