Based on an old Russian fairy tale, The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey is a beautiful story about Mabel and Jack, a childless elderly couple living on a farm in Alaska, and the young, mysterious snow child they come to love and adopt as their own.
The story unfolds slowly and quietly with a decidedly nostalgic, almost melancholy tone permeating the novel. The Alaskan wilderness in all its seasons is described in such vivid detail and luscious imagery that it forms an essential backdrop to the story. One can almost feel the bitterly cold winds lashing against the body; see the vistas of unrelenting snow; hear the sound of feet squelching into the mud-soaked earth of spring; smell the crisp, clean winter air; and relish in the bountiful harvests of summer. Our senses are treated to the touch, sound, sight, and scent of pine forests, mountain herbs, and wild animals.
Mabel and Jack brave the difficulties of eking a living in Alaska’s unforgiving climate. They live and work in virtual isolation until they befriend their neighbors George, Esther, and their boys. Their life takes an unexpected turn when a snowman they craft disappears and a young girl mysteriously and intermittently flickers in the woods wearing the same scarf and mittens Mabel and Jack had used to dress their snowman. Eventually this snow child, Faina, turns up on their doorstep and befriends them. They adopt her as the child they always wanted even though they suspect there is something strange about her mysterious appearances and disappearances into the Alaskan wilderness. They learn to accept the girl, allowing her to enter and exit their lives on her own terms.
The tender love Mabel and Jack have for each other is in evidence throughout the novel, especially during challenging times. We witness their growing love for Faina as they anxiously await her return each time she ventures out into the snowy wilderness. Ivey successfully portrays the characters as well-developed individuals who support each other and who gain our sympathy and admiration for their work ethic and determination to persevere. Esther is particularly colorful and manifests the undaunted spirit of pioneering women. The only character that remains elusive is Faina. Although she is more fully developed in the second half of the novel, she remains an enigma from start to finish. She seldom speaks and only rarely are we allowed access to her thoughts, all of which contribute to her mystique.
The Snow Child immerses us in a magical place with a magical young girl as its focal point. But it is also a celebration of what is important in life: family; community; friendship; selfless love; the freedom to live as one chooses; adjusting to the rhythms of nature; and, above all, a willingness to accept the inexplicable as part of the mystery of life.