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The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey


Last year saw this book appearing in everyone’s top read of the year and it has been compared to The Night Circus, which I thought was ok but not my cup of tea, but The Snow Child was said to be better than The Night Circus. With  Claire (Word by Word)‘s opinion whom I trust, I resolved to read this in the wintry days.

The book begins with a melancholic mood. Mabel is contemplating suicide.

“Mabel had known there would be silence. That was the point, after all. No infants cooing or wailing. No neighbour children playfully hollering down the lane.”

Jack and Mabel have staked everything on making a fresh start for themselves in homestead ‘at the world’s edge’ in Alaska. The location is near Wolverine River, the year is 1920. They were driven to this frontier to get away from the grief that happens since Mabel lost her baby many years before.

When the first snow falls, their mood unaccountably changes. In a moment of tenderness, the two built a snow girl and dressed her with a red scarf and blue tunic; and Jack has intricately carved a girl’s face onto the snow girl. The next morning, all traces of the snow girl disappeared and Jack sees a small figure of a young child running through the spruce trees, always with a red fox.

Mabel is convinced that the little girl came alive from the snow girl and for many years after that strive to make that little girl hers. Is she real or is she not?

No matter how she turned it over in her mind, Mabel always traced the child’s footsteps back to the night she and Jack had shaped her from snow. Jack had etched her lips and eyes. Mabel had given her mittens and reddened her lips. That night the child was born to them of ice and snow and longings. – page 210

Mystical and chilling….

Snow has a magical and mystical effect on me and I observe without fail that Alaskan writers, Ivey and including David Vann, have a way of sucking the readers into the vast and chilling wilderness of the Alaskan frontier and made me feel chill in my spine and haunted by their novels. Besides the harsh nature of surviving in this part of the world, this book added a little more of heart to have friendly neighbours like George, Esther and their three sons, Garrett who help Jack and Mabel through the winters until they could cultivate their land again in warmer months.

“You did not have to understand miracles to believe in them and in fact Mabel had come to suspect the opposite. To believe, perhaps you had to cease looking for explanations and instead hold the little thing in your hands as long as you were able before it slipped like water between your fingers.” – Mabel, page 210

The little snow girl has a name. Faina. I thought it was unusual and a beautiful name.

red foxAt the beginning of the story, Faina seems like a figment of Jack’s and Mabel’s imagination. As all conversations with all the other characters of the book were in quotation marks (“..”), Jack and Mabel conversations with Faina is without quotation marks, creating an effect of surrealism which makes me wonder if Faina is real or an apparition.

Strangely as the story progresses, things became more grounded, and the dreams and fantasies explained, I became more satisfied with the way things are unfolding. I am not great with fantasies and magical surrealism, so I found myself welcoming new twists of events that confirmed my suspicions.

Truly haunting….

More than a magical story about a snow girl who seems be made of snow and insists of being out there in the wild, I read it to mean a human spirit that longed to be free and could not be tamed; and trying to tame it would inevitably be futile and lead to pain. Even as happy events happened as the story progresses, the readers knew that the happiness is fleeting.

This haunts me. It haunts me that the institution of our world tends to shackle and extinguish the feeling of being alive and the boundless beauty of what life could potentially offer. While Mabel chose to see having a child as the ultimate determinant of happiness and fulfillment there are others who see it differently. It is dichotomous, yet not contradictory. As the two are different paths that lead to the same aim of seeking meaning in our lives.

I am afraid it is my intention to appear enigmatic in my conclusion about this book, as I do not wish to spoil the novel for you. I start the book with the need to suppress my feeling of disbelief of how far people would go to wallow in their grief yet coming out feeling totally haunted for days about a snow girl that appears in winter and the superstition of crossing her red fox.

We all longed for the unattainable sometimes and when we do attain it and subsequently lost it, it remains as the most memorable and beautiful moment of our lives.

Rating: four and a half stars

Claire (Word by Word)Jackie (Farmlane Book Blog) and Jill (Rhapsody in Books) love this book very much. Read For Winter nights, Interview with Eowyn Ivey


Hardback. Publisher: Headline Review 2012; Length: 423 pages; Setting: Alaska, USA. Source: Reading Battle Library. Finished reading on: 6th January 2013.

About the writer:

Eowyn LeMay Ivey works at an independent bookstore in Palmer, Alaska, where she lives with her husband and two daughters.

The tale draws its inspiration from a Russian fairy tale (which appear as “The Little Daughter of the Snow” at the end of the hardback edition).

About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


40 thoughts on “The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

  1. This book has been at the top of my Must Read books of last year but I never quite got to it. Having read your review, I suppose it’s high time that I picked it up. It sounds very much like something I’d enjoy reading. Thank you for sharing 🙂

    Posted by Joanna | January 12, 2013, 1:06 am
  2. Lovely review. I read this last year and enjoyed it.

    Posted by Gavin | January 12, 2013, 1:53 am
  3. I haven’t read this novel but the more I hear about it the more I’m tempted to!

    Posted by jessicabookworm | January 12, 2013, 10:45 am
  4. As you know I just loved this, and was so impressed by the author’s young age!

    Posted by rhapsodyinbooks | January 12, 2013, 12:06 pm
  5. Ah this book. It definitely did seem like every other book blogger was reading this or blogging about it last year! Guess it’s time to pick it up

    Posted by olduvai | January 12, 2013, 4:06 pm
  6. You liked this one more than I did. I wanted to love it, I wanted it to be really magical, but it just didn’t work for me. I’m glad you enjoyed it so much though 🙂

    Posted by Sam (Tiny Library) | January 12, 2013, 7:26 pm
  7. The premise of this doesn’t really appeal to me but it seems to have received almost unanimous praise from all my favourite blogs so I am half-tempted to give it a go anyway. The Night Circus, on the other hand, I adored!

    Posted by Marie | January 13, 2013, 12:35 am
  8. What a lovely review. I have this and The Night Circus still to read. After reading your review I feel I will love this more. It really sounds very haunting and beautiful.

    Posted by Caroline | January 13, 2013, 11:17 am
  9. I wasn’t as intrigued by this one when I saw this book everywhere last year, but now I want to check it out. I loved Night Circus but I don’t usually enjoy books about magical realism. Still, I may give this a try.

    Posted by Athira | January 13, 2013, 10:47 pm
  10. I enjoyed this one and agree it is better than The Night Circus. I also normally struggle with magical realism, but ended up loving the ambiguity of this one. Glad you enjoyed it!

    Posted by farmlanebooks | January 14, 2013, 1:59 pm
    • Jackie,
      I can’t believe that there is no comment on your post about this book Jackie. Is there a system error? 😀 I am linking your review back to mine and I am so glad you gave it 4.5 stars too! I read 80% this book in one sitting.

      Posted by JoV | January 14, 2013, 8:58 pm
  11. It sounds like a charming book with an incentive storyline. I enjoyed reading your review. What a lovely photograph of a fox

    Posted by acommonreaderuk | January 14, 2013, 7:16 pm
  12. Beautiful review, Jo! This book looks quite fascinating. I will add this to my ‘TBR’ list. I love the author’s first name Eowyn. How is that pronounced? It sounds very Irish 🙂

    Posted by Vishy | January 15, 2013, 10:00 am
  13. Haunting is good. I need to read this one.

    Posted by Ti | January 15, 2013, 9:08 pm
  14. yes I ve seen this on a few list maybe it deserved the hype it got at the time it came out ,all the best stu

    Posted by winstonsdad | January 17, 2013, 4:38 pm
  15. I purchased the EBook a while ago, and really need to get to to it. I love the sound of this one and glad it was a hit with you as well.

    Posted by Diane@BibliophilebytheSea | January 18, 2013, 12:14 pm
  16. This is one of the books from last year that I really wanted to read but didn’t get to. It sounds so wonderful and I do love stories set in Alaska and how evocative they can be in the hands of authors like David Vann. I must try to read this before too long.

    Posted by inspringthedawn | January 21, 2013, 7:20 am
  17. Wow! What a review! I didn’t know this book was so famous. Actually, hadn’t heard of it. But I do love snow. And winter. I don’t get much of either back here, and that is perhaps what makes me wish for it. I would put this on my wish list – such a review from you, I know I can’t be disappointed!

    Posted by Soul Muser | January 26, 2013, 12:24 pm
    • Soul,
      I hope I don’t disappoint you Soul! It may be because of all the snow that fuel the romanticism of the novel… but I leave it to you to decide if you would like it. 😉
      The snow has melted over in the UK…

      Posted by JoV | January 26, 2013, 12:29 pm
      • I am buying this book now, Jo! 🙂 And on the Kindle. I am sure I won’t be disappointed ———-:-)

        Posted by SM | May 31, 2013, 4:22 pm
        • Soul,
          Hurray Soul! I hope you like it. 😉

          Posted by JoV | May 31, 2013, 5:27 pm
          • I finished it! And I loved loved it! I think my rating of it is pretty close to yours. The sun was beating down while I read it, and it made a difference to just sink back into this world of snow and cold…thanks a lot for guiding me to this book!

            Posted by Soul Muser | October 16, 2013, 6:31 am
          • Soul Muser,
            So glad you like it. I must admit the Snow Child brings me to another realm or another world though. There is something magical about it! 🙂

            Posted by JoV | October 21, 2013, 7:52 pm
  18. Eowyn..I first remember seeing as a female character in the LOTR books/movies..is it the author’s pen name I wonder?

    Posted by Jennifer manning | December 4, 2013, 3:35 am

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

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Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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