The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey, is the mysterious tale of a childless middle-aged couple homesteading in Alaska. Mabel and Jack lost their baby years previously and were unable to have another child. Moving to the Alaskan wilderness to farm gave them the solitude to grieve. Ivey poetically described Mabel’s feeling about the wilderness as beauty that “ripped you open and scoured you clean so that you were left helpless and exposed, if you lived at all.”
Life in the Alaskan wilderness is harder than Jack and Mabel expect. When Mabel’s homemade pies are no longer needed for sale at the nearest town’s store in Alpine, Jack seriously considers working in the mines, at least temporarily, to Mabel’s distress. Neighbors foist their company and assistance on Jack and Mabel, sharing their supplies and hospitality. Although Mabel is resistant at first, she begins to rely on their neighborliness.
But readers question Mabel and Jack’s grounding in reality when the couple begins to see a figure flitting through the woods that seems to be a little girl. When she appears to them in person after they build a “snow girl” from the first snowfall, the similarities between her appearance and a childhood fairy tale make Jack and Mabel question their own sanity and each other’s. Over time, the parallels between the fairy tale and the girl’s existence weave in and out of Ivey’s story, so that the book’s conclusion leaves readers wondering about the mysterious girl and what was and wasn’t real.
The Snow Child is an entertaining story to read. Although it is often a sad tale, the fairy tale quality of the story makes it a bit more palatable. Mabel and Jack’s life together is enriched by the book’s other characters, and readers are left with the sense that although there is sadness, there is also joy.
The Snow Child was published by Little, Brown and Company in 2012.