This book was not what I expected it to be. It was lighter on magic, heavier on Alaskan frontier hardship, but once I adjusted my expectations, I ended up enjoying the book a lot.
It is one of those stories that you need to let yourself really sink into slowly. The hardship and isolation of settling the Alaskan frontier is palpable, as is the grief Mabel feels over her inability to have children, and the tension that all this elicits in her long-time marriage. Over the course of the novel, Mabel and Jack, intentionally reclusive at the start, begin to connect with their neighbors and form a small but tight community.
And in the center of this historical pioneer drama is just a touch of magic and mystery, when Mabel and Jack discover a nine-year-old girl who seems to live in the woods after they build a snow child. Faina flits in and out of the families’ lives over the next eight years, growing into womanhood without ever becoming less elusive. Is she a real girl, or a product of Mabel and Jack’s hopes and dreams? Either way, she is captivating, and the ambiguity of her sat well with me. It’s a beautiful story about a harsh time and place, and even harsher heartbreak.