Eowyn Ivey’s novel The Snow Child is part fairy tale, part fable, and part magical realist fun. I picked it up while I was in Anchorage, Alaska this winter because Ivey is from the state…and because a book about a child made of snow, set in the Alaskan wilderness of the 1920s, really appealed to my sense of romance as I left the state after my short visit.
Regardless of the biographical reasons I selected this novel, it was an interesting read. Ivey’s descriptions are beautiful, her characters are complex, and the plot was compelling. Was I disappointed with the ending? Of course — it’s a fairly traditional ending for a children’s tale (i.e. a lot of misery and tragedy with a silver lining), and I was kind of hoping that Ivey would break the mold a little bit there. That being said, it made sense with the story.
I also liked that the author didn’t explain away all the magic. There was no paragraph-long summation at the end that went through the details of exactly how the snow child came to exist, what happened to her “original” parents, how she managed to survive a warm summer, and [spoiler alert!!] why she had to disappear at the end. Instead, Ivey trusts her readers enough to provide them with interesting and subtle details and allow them to weave together their own understanding of the tale.
I’m not familiar with any of the older iterations of this tale, so I can’t comment on how much creative license Ivey took…but she does provide some quotes here and there from older versions and translations of the snow child story, which makes the novel just that much more interesting. I really enjoyed this one, and even though it’s magical realism (at least, I’m classifying it as such) it’s different from the kinds of texts I typically read from that genre. So sum up, The Snow Child is an intriguing read.
GOOD FOR: fans of literary interventions into folklore, people who like wilderness narratives but want something a little different, and anyone dreaming of the snow.
BAD FOR: those looking for a more focused accounting of life in the Alaskan wilderness, anyone who’s just sick of the cold and doesn’t want to even THINK about snow!, and readers seeking a light read with a happy ending.