Author: Eowyn Ivey.
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. (Goodreads Summary)
Think fantasy x Jack London. I loved it. The description and the characters’ perception both bring out the harsh beauty of the wilderness, but that beauty morphs here and there into something even more alien, just a few seconds, just long enough for you to wonder if you imagined it…
Mabel and Jack, two of the main characters, are struggling to carve a place for themselves in this new, unforgiving place. At the same time there is a hint of tension in their own relationship – a tension that becomes part of their character arcs as they grow closer together through work and survival. The narrative does an excellent job of showing their feeling through thought, perception, and action rather than telling – and how they’re influenced by their surroundings.
I really appreciated Mabel’s awareness of the fairy-tale connections. It’s always aggravating when all the signs are there and characters refuse to read them, but she was thinking of The Snow Child from the start. And, speaking of The Snow Child, how often do we get fairy-tale retellings of these less common tales? Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast – there are plenty of reimaginings of these childhood stories, but not so many for the other Grimm stories. The Snow Child always fascinated me, and this retelling did not disappoint. It’s not a straight forward retelling, leaving some grey areas for the reader to mull over on their own, but that only adds to the interest. The book is neither blatant fantasy, nor, quite, straight forward realistic fiction. It walks the line, stepping over it just enough (I think) to whisper yes, there’s something we don’t understand going on here, but never destroys that slight mystery by explaining everything.
Sexual Content: Married couple engage in sexual intercourse together (several times): described in one or two sentences at most. Unmarried (high end of teenage) girl and boy have sexual intercourse – this is never described, but we see them undressing together once, and then see through another character’s reaction: “He watched through the trees only long enough to understand what he was seeing, and then he looked away and was so overtaken by shame and rage that he could barely see to find his way home again.” This is not portrayed as an honorable thing – and it’s taken as given, when the girl proves to be pregnant, that they will marry. Same couple lie together again after marriage, non-descriptive (“as they made love beneath the summer night sky”).
Language: 13 d***, 5 hell, some instances of swearing by God’s name
Violence: Woman decides to commit suicide by drowning. (She does not end up hurt.) One character sees another holding a headless turkey, still flapping. Character sees a fox eating a bird. Man shoots an elk. Child leads a man to a dead body in the snow; tells him that it was her father, but she couldn’t keep him from freezing to death. Horse drags a man for some way, bruising him up and injuring his back. Boy shoots a fox. Girl fights a swan with her bare hands for a minute, then cuts its throat with a knife. SPOILERS: Girl grows sick, and when she vanishes one night it’s fairly clear she’s dead.