The Snow Child
By Eowyn Ivey
Reagan Arthur/Little Brown, 2011
Alaska, the 1920s. After giving birth to a stillborn baby, Jack and Mabel leave the comfort of Pennsylvania to become homesteaders near the Wolverine River, Alaska, where their lives turn to the magical. The book begins with the arrival of winter and at the same time, the hotel in the closest town, which has been buying pies from Mabel, cuts off their order, leaving them to survive off the land. As the Wolverine River starts to freeze over, and Jack and Mabel wonder if they have enough food for the long winter, they meet a young girl in the woods—their snow child.
This book is exquisitely rendered. The story is small, with most of the action happening near or around Jack and Mabel’s cabin. The only other characters are the snow child, Faina, and the Benson family, who live a few miles up the road, but the story is expansive and moving. Jack and Mabel are a middle-aged couple who, after living through tragedy, reinvent themselves and their love for each other in this new world. The first 200 pages cover their first winter in Alaska, when they struggle to make ends meet. But then the abundance of summer arrives and they see the land where they have relocated anew.
This book is as much an homage to life in an Alaskan cabin as it is to the story it tells. Ivey lives a subsistence life with her husband and children. They haul water to their home weekly. I felt her closeness to the land in every page.
I can’t say I would love to live in an Alaskan cabin, but I loved this book.