This one didn't live up to the hype for me. It's a retelling of the old fairy tale about an old childless couple who create a child out of snow who then comes to life for them. The book is set in 1920s Alaska, where middle-aged Mabel and Jack have moved to get away from the crushing sadness after their only child is stillborn. As in the fairy tale, an unexpectedly playful evening in the snow leads to a mysterious young girl, always shadowed by a red fox, who shows up at unexpected times and doesn't cope well with sitting by the fire. In the summer, she disappears, only to return with the next snowfall.
I love the concept. I like retelling of fairy tales, when they're done well. I think of The True Story of Hansel and Gretel as a wonderful example, where the dark roots of the tale reappear in the newer version.
That didn't happen for me with The Snow Child. It's a pretty conventionally told story, with conventional characters (Mabel's best friend is Esther, wife of a neighbor, mother of boys, who wears--gasp!--trousers while she works around the farm and could well be played by Kathy Bates as Bates played Molly Brown in Titanic). The scenes of Alaska are wonderfully depicted, the deep forests and the intense silence, the loneliness, the difficulty of farming in such a short season (especially with the implements to be had in the 1920s). But, the fairy tale itself is not just a construct for the story, it's shoved in our face time and again. Mabel has a childhood collection of stories with this tale in it that she returns to again and again.
There's also not enough at stake. The best fairy tales are scary for reasons both supernatural and otherwise. This one tries to make a big mystery out of "where does she go every summer??" and after a while, the answer is, who cares?
It seemed like the author was uncomfortable with working with magical realism, because it felt forced and melodramatic (especially the ending) in a way that stronger writers of this type (Kelly Link comes to mind) don't succumb to. I couldn't help but think this would have been a stronger book if it had focused on Mabel and Jack's relationship and the struggle to rebuild a life in century-old Alaska and skipped over the fairy tale altogether.
Also in the forced department: dialogue among the humans had quotation marks; dialogue involving the snow child did not.
By the end, even the cover, which I liked at the beginning, began to grate on me; it seemed like the snow child was another South Park character.
Well. Screw you, Snow Child, I'm goin' home.