Author: Jane Yolen
Genre: Historical, Fairytale, Young Adult
Publication date: November 10th 2011
Hardcover: 256 pages
With her black hair, red lips, and lily-white skin, Summer is as beautiful as her father’s garden. And her life in the mountains of West Virginia seems like a fairy tale; her parents sing and dance with her, Cousin Nancy dotes on her, and she is about to get a new baby brother. But when the baby dies soon after he’s born, taking Summer’s mama with him, Summer’s fairy-tale life turns grim. Things get even worse when her father marries a woman who brings poisons and magical mirrors into Summer’s world. Stepmama puts up a pretty face, but Summer suspects she’s up to no good – and is afraid she’s powerless to stop her.
This Snow White tale filled with magic and intrigue during the early twentieth century in Appalachia will be hard to forget.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Bought
Why did I read this book: I always wanted to read a Jane Yolen book and I saw this on Amazon and I loved the cover so I bought it on a whim and read it. Not sure this was the best place to start with her books though. Read on.
I’ve always wanted to read a Jane Yolen novel (I KNOW) so when I came across Snow in Summer, a retelling of Snow White, I thought it would be a perfect place to start.
The story is set in a small town in West Virginia in the 40s and it follows the story of Snow in Summer, a child who is 7 years old when her mother dies. After her death, Summer’s father, Lemuel, is grief-stricken: he barely acknowledges Summer’s existence and spends most of his nights at his wife’s graveside, fading away little by little. Their Cousin Nancy, out of love and devotion for Summer and her father, is the one who brings Summer up – helping as much as she can. Until the one day when Lemuel comes back home accompanied by a beautiful stranger, who is to be his new wife. Both Nancy and Summer know that Lemuel is besotted – magically so – but neither can do much and thus Summer’s life with her stepmother begins. At first, Summer is thankful for the attention she gets, even if that attention comes in increments and followed by orders. But soon it becomes clear that the stepmother is not only consuming Lemuel’s vitality but she also has an evil plan for Summer.
Snow in Summer is kind of a book of parts:
The first two thirds of the novel are slow paced, developing the story beautifully, but the final third is a fast-paced mess. Summer’s childhood and the first years of her life with her stepmother make up for the best part of the novel. The biggest chunk of the novel is devoted to her relationship with her father (and his lack of fathering) and with Cousin Nancy. Those were beautifully done; I felt Lemuel’s grief for the loss of his mother, as I felt Summer’s grief and frustration at having a living father who simply did not care enough for her. Cousin Nancy was also an interesting character with her unrequited love for Lemuel and her attempt to help Summer as much as she could. When the Stepmother comes into the story and becomes Summer’s guardian there is a shift in the story as Summer is submitted to horrible abuse. I felt the emotional toll was well explored: she is kept apart from Nancy and everything she knows and there is certainly an element of Stockholm Syndrome here as Summer is at first, grateful for any morsel of attention she gets.
This is also where an element of magic is introduced: the stepmother is an adept of the “craft” and has a magic speaking mirror; the Stepmother had used her magic to ensnare Lemuel’s and she also hopes to have Summer becoming an adept as well. When she realises that is not going to happen, the events following the stepmother’s attempt to kill Summer catapult the story into its last part. Whereas up to that point we had a story that had been slowly developed, all of a sudden events happen furiously fast: Summer is taken by the hunter, she manages to escape and join these people living in the forest and the story progresses as we all know. There are a few minor differences though especially with regards to the “prince” who is just thrown in there at the last minute to save Summer. The real “romance” though comes only as an epilogue in which Summer just tells us that theirs is One True Love and that’s it.
The similarities with the original Snow White story are glaring and the strange thing is how Summer knows about fairytales and even mentions Snow White but it never occurs to her that she is living the same story – not even when she sees the magic mirror. This mixture of awareness and lack of awareness was kind of strange and not quite well explained. The setting is interesting but not really fully incorporated in the novel to a point where I felt this could have been a story set anywhere, any time – the setting never really came alive for me.
Although I loved the prose and Summer’s voice, I was kind of disappointed in the story and how it progressed. There was something that just didn’t jibe with me – even though I loved parts of the story, and despite its fast-paced ending, the story proved to be kind of dull, actually. So, all things considered, this first foray into the words of Jane Yolen was not a successful one. But given how her books are so well-praised, I am pretty sure I just picked the wrong one to start with. Oh, well, maybe next time?
Notable Quotes/ Parts: I truly loved the writing throughout – such beautiful prose. I wish I had enjoyed the story more.
Rating: 5 – Meh
Reading Next: Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda
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