Saturday, December 10, 2011

Snow in Summer: Fairest of Them All Book Review

 Author: Jane Yolen. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Philomel. ISBN: 9780399256639.
Annotation:  Snow-in-Summer Morton was seven when she lost her mother, and her father has been inconsolable ever since. After years of grieving, Summer’s father meets and quickly weds a mysterious woman who Summer can only call “Stepmama.” At first, Summer is hopeful that she will finally be able to have a normal family like in the fairy tales, but soon realizes that what she has gotten instead is a wicked Stepmother.
Personal thoughts:  I picked this novel up by chance after seeing that Jane Yolen was the author (I am very familiar with her books for younger children.) I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this quiet but intriguing version of Snow White! One of my favorite parts of the novel was the setting. It is clear that Yolen has a passion for the area, it being the home of her husband’s family, and I thought that all of the local names for plants, customs of the people of Addison, and the time period were very charming. I would highly recommend this novel to tweens, teens, or adults. It is short but excellent!   
Plot summary: Snow-in-Summer Morton’s life changed forever at age seven when her mother died in childbirth, leaving her alone and her father, Lemuel, with a broken heart. Cousin Nancy, the widow of Summer’s father’s favorite cousin who was recently killed in World War II, helps to care for Summer after her father slips into a deep, dark grief unable to cope with the death of his beloved wife.  One day, four years later, now eleven-year old Summer is shocked when Lemuel returns with a mysterious but beautiful woman. Cousin Nancy and the rest of the townsfolk in Addison, West Virginia fear that Lemuel has become bewitched by the enchanting woman. When Lemuel quickly marries her, Summer hopes that she, her father and her new Stepmama will be able to form the family she’s longed for. As the years pass, however, Summer begins to realize that Stepmama is far from loving. Stepmama seems to have Lemuel in some kind of spell causing him to become withdrawn and unaware. In the meantime, Summer is subjected to abuse and eerie behavior at the hands of the woman, while Cousin Nancy can only look on in worry about her goddaughter. One day, Summer happens into Stepmama’s room where she encounters a strange mirror that seems to speak to her. The mirror warns of danger, danger that threatens to end in Summer’s death. Will Summer ever be able to escape the clutches of the woman that has appears to have bewitched the entire town and save her father’s life?
Review:  From award-winning author Jane Yolen comes this enchanting re-telling of the classic Snow White story set in 1940s Appalachia. The author is clearly a masterful storyteller as Snow in Summer flows easily and quickly from start to finish. Although it is relatively short, the characters are well-thought out and effective in allowing the reader to venture into the world of Addison, West Virginia. Yolen’s enthusiasm for the town, which she states in the beginning was the birthplace of her late husband’s family, is evident throughout the book. The rolling mountains, lush greens, and simple way of life all play an important role in setting the tone of the novel. Although Summer’s story is based on a very well-known tale, Yolen’s interpretations make for a fresh take on the classic. Summer’s creepy Stepmama as well as her kindly Cousin Nancy help narrate the plot, allowing the reader to see exactly what is going on inside the mind of the “wicked stepmother.” Overall, an excellent novel for tweens, teens or anyone who is a fan of Snow White or the American south.
Genre: Fairy Tale/Historical Fiction
Reading level: Grade 6+
Similar titles: Sweetly and Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce, Entwined by Heather Dixon.   
Themes:  Snow White, fairy tales, West Virginia, 1940s, death, grief, stepmothers, magic, witches.
Awards/Reviews:  Positive review from Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus.
Series Information: N/A
Discussion questions: 
- How does Snow in Summer compare with the classic fairy tale Snow White written by the Brothers Grimm? How about the Disney movie version?
- Why was Lemuel unable to sing to the plants after his wife’s death? Do you think people change after someone they love dies? Why or why not?
- What do you think Stepmama was referring to when she said “the Craft”?
-  How did Summer’s knowledge of plants help her in the novel?
- Were you happy with the ending of the novel? Why or why not?

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