Thursday 24 January 2019

The Snow Child

The Snow Child
The Snow Child
By Eowyn Ivey

Jack and Mabel are struggling with their relationship and their inability to have children.  Seeking a new start, they travel north to become homesteaders on the Alaskan frontier.  

1920’s Alaska can be a brutal place.  Jack must manually clear his land for farming.  Mabel is expected to keep the home fires burning, although she wants nothing more than to get her hands dirty and share in the labour of farming.  Mabel begins to feel so isolated that she takes a stroll on the thin river ice, knowing full well the dangers. 

Then one day, a young girl appears at the edge of the forest.  Concerned for her safety, Jack and Mabel take her in and offer her food and shelter.  But the girl does not need their protection and quickly disappears.  Lovely and captivating, this girl flits in and out of the couple’s life as they fall hopelessly in love with her.

They begin to take on the role of caregivers and parents, but have no idea where she comes from.  It takes months, in fact, to even learn her name: Faina (Fah-EE-nah).

As months turn into years, Faina becomes a fixture at the homestead during the winter season.  Each year as the snow melts, Faina disappears into the mountains.  Her story is revealed slowly as both Jack and Mabel pursue her through the forest to learn more about her life. But the idea that she may be a magical creature always hovers on the periphery. This idea is reinforced by Mabel’s Russian picture book about a fairy child in the snow.

Yet neighbours Esther and George, who become close friends of Jack and Mabel, believe Faina to be the product of imagination – a kind of madness that sets in during the darkness of Alaskan winter.  But soon both families will become intricately tied to the otherworldly Faina.

Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child is magical realism at its best.  There is physical proof that Faina is a flesh and blood girl, and her life in the forest can be explained.  But how is it that she never feels the cold?  Why is she able to so easily move through the deep snow?  Magical or not, Faina’s presence unites Jack and Mabel, helping to heal their marriage.  A mesmerizing, haunting tale of joy and tragedy.  

Highly recommended!

Friday 18 January 2019

The Best Kind of People

Avalon Hills, a privileged town in Connecticut, is the picture of respectability. Their renowned prep school is a place where young people go to learn, grow, and get accepted into Ivy League colleges. George Woodbury is a highly respected teacher at this school, winning teacher of the year every year for the past 10 years after stopping an armed gunman roaming the school hall. His daughter is in the top classes at this same school, his son a respected lawyer in New York, and his wife a triage nurse awarded a medal of service by the mayor himself. These are truly the best kind of people, which is why it comes as such a shock when the police barge into their home and arrest George on charges of sexual misconduct with multiple minors. 

This book follows the lives of George’s wife Joan, his daughter Sadie, and his son Andrew as they await the trial. Joan endures endless external condemnation while also trying to process the possibility that her husband is a sexual predator, all while continuing to be a mother, wife, and trying to remain a functioning human being.  Sadie and Andrew have their own demons to face, from endless questions about their own childhoods with an alleged sexual offender, to loss of friends and respect in their community. Each perspective is unique and thought-provoking.

I found it interesting that the book started with the pinnacle of George’s heroism, when he stopped the armed gunman roaming the school halls. This really set the reader up to see George as everyone else sees him: charming, affable, and heroic. As a result, it’s all the more shocking and confusing when he is accused of these heinous crimes. Like his family members, the reader has to work through what they thought they knew of this character versus the allegations he faces.

The Best Kind of People reminded me of Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng.  They both have a similar white suburbia setting and center on an issue without a clear black and white answer.