Not the usual setting for a book of magic realism, but it works. Based on a Russian fairy tale, The Snow Child, begs the question of what is reality. Jack and Mabel have left their eastern home for the wilderness of Alaska after the stillbirth of their child. They need to start a new life and decide that it will be as different as they can make it. Needing to depend on one another is critical and with those thoughts in mind they opt for a homestead in the Alaskan territory.
Life is as harsh as the winters and survival is dependent on strong minds, bodies, and good neighbors. One night after a cathartic snowball fight, Jack builds a snowman who is actually a snow girl. The creation is dressed and the two are proud of their craft. The next morning, however, the snow girl has melted and is gone. But is she? From the cabin window, Mabel has a fleeting glimpse of a child outside with the same attributes as the snow girl. Jack also sees her in the woods. How can this happen? As the story progresses the girl does come to life and is known to them as Faina. Mabel makes her clothes, they feed her, and create a life for her. Never sure when she will appear at their door, they long for her company as she seems to create for them the family that they have longed for.
Adding to the stirring and emotional story is a bit of comic relief provided by their good neighbors, Esther and George Benson and their son Garrett. With the Benson's help, Jack and Mabel plant the land, and learn survival techniques. Esther is a take-charge woman and helps Mabel see what are the important issues in life. As the snow child intertwines herself in the novel and in the lives of the Alaskans, the reader grasps to identify what is really real Her transforming powers effect all in most mysterious ways.
Ivey's debut novel is beautifully written. The descriptions of Alaska are alluring and enchanting. They are written by an author who is obviously in awe of the splendor of her home stae. In the end it is really up to the reader to decide how real the child is and if the changes that she seemingly brought about would have happened in any event.