Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart – he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone – but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.
This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped off the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place, things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.
“We are allowed to do that are we not Mabel? To invent our own endings and choose joy over sorrow.”
I was instantly drawn in by this beautiful, magical and haunting book. From the start it felt like I was reading an old story, a fairytale, which added to the enchanting atmosphere of the book.
Jack and Mabel are facing their second winter on their farm in Alaska. Things haven’t been what they imagined when they made the move from Pennsylvania and they’re slowly drifting apart. The childless couple are still struggling to deal with the loss of their stillborn child a decade ago, and with never having had the family they longed for. Mabel hoped the move would help with their heartbreak and bring them closer together, instead she’s lonelier than ever and the two hardly speak. One evening, Mabel is taken with an rare urge to be playful and starts a snowball fight. The couple laugh and chase each other around the cabin until they’re out of breath. That’s when she suggests they make a snowman. As they start to build it is decided they’ll make it a snow girl, and Jack carves the delicate facial features and uses yellow grass for her hair, while Mabel shapes the snow into a skirt and adorns the girl with her scarf and mittens. There is such bittersweet joy in this rare moment as you see the love between them, the happiness they once had and the dreams for a child that never came.
The next day the snow child is gone, the hat and mittens missing, and there are tracks into the woods. Jack think he sees a flicker of blue and red with long white hair, a girl running between the trees. But there is no one near them for miles, and certainly no one living in the woods, so he decides he is imagining the girl and the tracks must be from a fox. But then Mabel sees her the next day and they know she’s real. The child is ethereal and mysterious, yet also feral and wild. You aren’t quite sure if she is real or a manifestation of their imagination born of years of desperation. From then on the girl, who says her name is Faina, comes and goes as she wishes and becomes a surrogate daughter to the couple, who delight in their new-found family. But no one else has seen this curious child that lives in the woods as she only appears when Jack and Mabel are alone and their friends think they’ve gone mad with cabin fever. Whatever the truth, Faina is a light in the darkness of the long Alaskan winter for Mabel and Jack and helps bring them closer together again.
This timeless book was mesmerising, heartwarming,and simply breathtaking. It is written with such charm that I can’t imagine anyone not falling in love with this story. Whether or not Faina is real remains ambiguous for the most part, a detail that I loved. I would have preferred it if the last part of the book remained that way too instead of taking away some of the fairytale aspect, but it didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment of the book. The Snow Child has captured my heart and soul and is one of my top reads of 2018.