For a couple of days, I went back and forth with The Snow Child stuck in my ears (which the inimitable Debra Monk – one of my favorite stage actors ever! – happens to narrate, oh wow!) and reading Ruta Sepetys’ between shades of gray on the page – NOT to be confused with that other Shades of Grey, egads, although I did actually feel a bit self-conscious carrying the gorgeous book around for fear others might mistake it for what it’s not! I didn’t intend to pair the two, but wrenchingly overlapping they certainly turned out to be: both are gasp-inducing debut novels, both are filled with snowy cold, both more-than-mention Russia and the Russian language, both have protagonists for whom drawing is a hugely important part of their identities … and their survival. Stay tuned for shades of gray.
Jack and Mabel have suffered a terrible loss they can’t get over: the death of their only child even before it had a chance to live. A decade later, in spite of all the drastic changes they’ve made in their lives – moving to homestead in frozen Wolverine, Alaska in 1920, far far away from everything they knew in family-surrounded Pennsylvania – the empty ache is enough for Mabel to consider suicide.
The couple’s cocoon of loneliness is tight, until two events begin to peel away the layers: their self-imposed isolation ends when they tentatively begin a relationship with another homestead family, the Bensons, with their three rambunctious sons and their hearty warmth; and their childless home begins to transform when they build a small snow girl one evening and find themselves enthralled in unexpected utter joy. As Esther and George Benson, and their youngest son Garrett, become more entwined in Jack and Mabel’s lives, so enters a little girl named Faina, who seems to have walked out of the snow and into their mourning hearts …
Mabel recalls a Russian fairy tale from her youth, about a childless old couple who built a little girl of snow who came to life … When Faina appears, Mabel and Jack are both mesmerized and afraid, hopeful and frightened, both for different reasons. She’s a magical secret, a chimerical creature, and yet she’s also a soothing bond, a precious gift … and maybe even the child for whom they’ve always been waiting. One day, she will softly share one of the most longed-for sentences a mother could ever hope to hear: “I wish to be the mother you are to me …”
Ah, but perhaps I’ve already said too much. Just know that Eowyn Ivey‘s first novel is an astonishing read, so quiet and controlled, and yet so resonating with raw emotion and forever love … most of all, Child is an unforgettable reminder that families can come together every which way – mixing tragedy, magic, and everything in between.
Tidbit: The book’s trailer, too, is gorgeously haunting … so simple, and yet so effecting. One tiny gripe: the only bit of color amidst the line drawings is a blue scarf, but it’s supposed to be RED! “Her sister had knitted them [scarf and mittens] in red wool …” Artistic interpretation gone awry??!!