November 26, 2013

Book Review Column: Let It Snow, By Lissa Sloan (Breadcrumbs and The Snow Child)

Editor's note: Lissa kicks off five new posts here at EC, just in time for Thanksgiving. And she's brought us some reading treats!

Let It Snow: In which I review two books full of cold weather and warm hearts.
 
Fifth graders Hazel and Jack are best friends. Together they are knights, dragons, superheroes, or anything else they can read about or dream up. Imaginative Hazel doesn’t fit in well in her new school, and Jack’s friendship is what makes it bearable for her. But one day, Jack gets something in his eye and stops speaking to Hazel. Then he follows a mysterious woman into the woods and disappears. Hazel may be ill-equipped to deal with the everyday world of her broken family, the unkindness of her classmates, and the disapproval of her teacher, but there is no one better prepared to undertake the perilous journey through the woods and the snow to the white witch’s palace to rescue Jack.
 
While Anne Ursu’s Breadcrumbs is a mainly a re-telling of The Snow Queen, she also sprinkles elements of other Hans Christian Andersen tales through her story. When Hazel enters the woods, she discovers not an ordinary wood, but a fairy tale wood which does not wish her well. She encounters red shoes, a match girl, and a crone with a stolen swan skin. Hazel also meets others, ordinary people like her, who have lost things and wandered away from the real world, losing themselves in the process.
 
"Winter," by Margaret MacDonald
Ursu is especially strong at characterization. I felt for Hazel immediately, and rooted for her through the entire story. Her devastation at Jack’s defection is so accurate, so familiar it is almost painful to read. In fact, Hazel’s story seemed so grounded in reality I found it jarring when the elements of fantasy were introduced. However, fairy tales exist to help us meet our real world challenges, and this holds true in Breadcrumbs. Ursu successfully digs deep into her chosen themes. I was intrigued with the way she balanced Hazel’s devotion to Jack with her emerging sense of independence, her motives progressing from selfish to selfless in the course of her quest. While in many ways Breadcrumbs sticks quite closely to The Snow Queen, it effectively stands alone as a touching tale of two friends, struggling to grow older without growing apart.
 
Eowyn Ivey’s debut novel The Snow Child is the story of Mabel and Jack, a middle-aged couple homesteading in Alaska in the 1920s. They have left their home and family on the east coast, but there is one thing they cannot flee—their grief at being childless. One night they build a child out of snow. They give her a face, hair, and a red scarf and mittens. The next morning the snow child is gone, but Jack and Mabel begin seeing a mysterious girl in the woods around their house, a girl who wears a red scarf and mittens. As Mabel and Jack attempt to tame the girl, they find their romance rekindled as they are unexpectedly drawn into the joys and sorrows of parenting.
 
The Snow Child is based on the Russian tale The Snow Maiden. Ivey’s story is a poignant exploration of parenthood, and the ways in which parents should not, perhaps cannot, stifle their children’s true nature. This idea is reinforced by the story’s untamed setting. Ivey’s Alaska is a land of extremes, with midnight sun and cruel dark winter. It is also a land of savage beauty which Mabel comes to love and accept in all its harshness. In addition to being a thought-provoking book, The Snow Child is full of heart, and reading it is a cathartic experience. Ivey’s style, while simple and unsentimental, skillfully draws the reader so deeply into the hearts and minds of her characters it is easy to become immersed. At times their story is heart-rending, but Mabel and Jack are good company on this tender journey of losing and finding, of embracing and letting go.
 
Which fairy tales would you like to see re-told, or do you prefer to stick to the traditional versions? Join the Enchanted Conversation and tell us what you think. Happy reading!

Lissa's avatar, by Lissa Sloan
Lissa Sloan has contributed stories, poems, and guest posts to Enchanted Conversation, but she also writes and illustrates for younger readers. Visit her online at her website, lissasloan.com, or on Twitter, @LissaSloan.

4 comments

  1. The Snow Child has been on my to-read list for quite some time. I think I will now be moving it to the top of that list! Thanks, as always, for your insightful reviews.

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  2. Me too, ~T~! It's a beautiful book.

    Hope you enjoy, Christina. I think you will:)

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  3. I haven't read the Snow Child for years and I think it's time for a re-reading. I think all fairy and folk tales are enriched by being adapted. What a wonderful column.

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