The book, The Snow Child was one that I had almost purchased three or four different times. It did not come recommended and I had not read any reviews or heard anything about it. I was simply drawn to it every time I noticed it on the shelf at the bookstore. I finally purchased the book at Costco for a discount and was not disappointed.
The Snow Child is set in Alaska in 1920. It is about Jack and Mabel, a married couple who have been unable to bear children. They moved to the Alaskan wilderness to homestead and for Mabel especially to be isolated from all of the motherhood and families that surrounded her at home on the East Coast. She hopes that she and Jack can find joy in the labors of farming and find community in the tight knit settlements of the last wild place in America. But farm work is difficult for Jack and he can barely keep food on the table for the two of them. Mabel finds solace in cooking, sewing and sketching but neither one has found real happiness. The memories of their dead infant haunt Mabel’s quiet moments and Jack finds excuses to be as far from Mabel’s grief as he can.
On the evening first snowfall of the winter Mabel, in a rare moment of joy flings a snowball at Jack who is returning from the barn. Overjoyed by his wife’s enthusiasm he joins her. They chase each other around the house until they fall into a snowbank laughing. In this magical moment Mabel wants to build a snowman. Despite the cold, they build a snowman that ends up looking like a little girl. Mabel puts her red scarf around the snow child’s neck. It is a beautiful testament to their longing for a child and the knowledge of the ache that still lives in both of their hearts. Mysteriously, the next morning the snow child has disappeared, red scarf and all. On separate occasions both Jack and Mabel get glimpses of a little girl with blonde wearing Mabel’s red scarf.
Eventually the two of them lure the child to their home but she seems surreal and almost magical living and hunting in the wild and disappearing from their lives each spring. She returns every winter but only Jack and Mabel have ever seen the girl. The neighbors question Mabel and Jacks story of the little snow girl and worry that loneliness and desperation have caused especially Mabel, to be hallucinating or dreaming it up. But for Jack and Mabel they are certain of the girl’s existence.
I won’t give away the book but even if I did the gorgeous writing more than makes up for it. Eowyn Ivey has captured all the wild beauty of Alaska without dismissing its dangers and the struggle homesteaders had making a go of it in such an extreme environment. She also demonstrated the value of neighbors and how far a kind word or deed could be felt in times of need. I loved the magical quality of the book, it was like reading a fairy tale come to life. It was thought provoking because it challenges the idea that as parents we own our children. I give The Snow Child five stars. Absolutely captivating.