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 from 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.
Frequent readers know that I have no problem with expressing why I dislike a book, and even the good-but-not-great ones are easy enough to discuss. But when I run across those rare books that are something more, I struggle. I want so badly to tell every one of you why this book is one of "those" - the books that you don't want to end; the books that change how you think; the books that ring a bell somewhere in your memory; the books that are now part of those memories. I want to shout, "I love this book and you should, too." But I have found - usually after I bought up a dozen copies and distributed them to everyone on my Christmas list, even non-readers - that what I love isn't always what everyone else loves. So I'm trying to temper myself.
This story "resonates" (to use the current catch-phrase) with me for several reasons. First, and foremost, it's about a woman who couldn't have a child. (If you aren't aware of our battle with infertility, you can read about it here.) Of course Mabel touches my heart, I know her pain. Secondly, it has a magical element to it, without going over the top. And third, it's set in Alaska (it's on my bucket list). I was especially touched by Mabel's change of attitude about her surroundings and her lot in life. The Alaskan wilderness changes from a place of fear and loneliness to a place of beauty and comfort - and spot where she belongs. She learns to accept people as they are, whether it's a brash, overall-wearing woman who doesn't suit Mabel's genteel ideas, or a wisp of a girl who dances through the snow. She learns to allow people to make their own place in her life, rather than trying to fit them into assigned slots. The story of Faina is based on a fairy tale and left me with the same sense of enchantment as Cinderella or Snow White, but without the singing mice and dwarfs. It left me wondering what really happened. Can it be rationalized and proven? Or is it a bit of the unexplainable?