The Author’s Craft

• How does the title set the tone for the book? How does it relate to the story told?

• How does the author, Eowyn Ivey, inform the reader about the initial setting of the narrative? What does the novel tell us about the people and culture of that region and that era?

• How does the author inform the reader about the landscape her characters are exploring?

• How are the personalities (and emotions) of the various characters revealed through small details?

• How does the author exhibit empathy in her writing?

• In what ways can this story be considered magical?

• Discuss Ivey’s writing style, including sentence structure, diction, tone, setting, narrative structure, and use of imagery and figurative language such as metaphors.

• The Snow Child is evocative, is very much a sensual book. For example, the book begins with sound and how silence is not what Mabel expected. In what other examples can readers see such close attention paid to the senses?

• How does the lack of quotation marks when Faina speaks affect how readers experience her character?

• Explore how Ivey’s writing is visual. In what ways is it cinematic?

• What portions or aspects of the writing did you find most artful and/or enjoyable to read?

Characters & Motivations

• Who is the main character/protagonist in the novel?

• How are Mabel and Jack initially described (both physical and emotional characteristics)? What brings them to such a remote and challenging location?

• Explore the differences in how Mabel and Jack believe (in Faina, in their potential success as homesteaders, etc.).

• Why is it important that Mabel is an outsider in Alaska?

• In what ways does Mabel fulfill the role of heroine? Does she remind you of other literary heroines?

• What differing circumstances bring each of the main characters into the story?

• Mabel and Esther are quite different personalities. What brings them together? How is Mabel changed by their friendship?

• What other relationships blossom and change over the course of the story?

• How does each of the main characters change over the course of the novel? What lessons do they learn? How does each reconsider their lives, their choices, their conception of family, their future? Track their emotional and psychological shifts.

• How does the reality of homesteading in Alaska match, or differ from, Mabel and Jack’s expectations?

• The name Faina is Russian for “light” and has Slavic origins meaning “crown.” How does this relate to the girl’s character and her story?

• How is Faina like the wilderness herself?

• Why doesn’t Faina name her baby or her dog?

• Faina is related to several literary character tropes such as the orphan, the wild child, the changeling. How do we see each of these come into play in the narrative?

• How does each character see himself or herself before Faina appears? Do they see themselves differently as the story ends?

• How is each character changed by knowing Faina? Who is changed most fundamentally?

• How might Mabel’s affinity for fairytales affect her reaction to meeting Faina?

• How might the fact that Mabel lost a child lead her to be more accepting of a snow child?

• What do you admire or dislike about each main character? Does this opinion change over the course of the novel?

• Narratives such as this ask readers to gain insight into and empathize with characters who might on the surface seem very unlike us; indeed part of the pleasure we get derives from feeling that we are getting inside others’ heads and lives and satisfying our curiosity. Therefore it is pertinent to ask: How do these characters show curiosity about, insight into or empathy for other characters? Where is lack of such traits an issue?

Issues and Themes

•How are various gender relations portrayed?

• What different kinds of friendships are evident?

• How are different types of “family” and nurturing portrayed and understood? How do they change over time? How do different family structures or relationships parallel one another?

• In what ways are the concepts of family and home expressed by the different characters?

• How does the rural Alaska landscape become a character in the novel? How does the landscape interact with the human characters and vice versa?

• How does the book differ from the fairytales on which it was based?

• How do the elements of magic realism function in the novel?

• The coat that Mabel makes for Faina is reminiscent of Joseph’s coat of many colors. Is it magic?

• In what ways is this book a love letter to the Alaskan wilderness?

• Explore the several examples of the power of art in the novel.

• How does the author use symbols in the narrative?

• Explore the differences in the narrative when the story takes place in the daylight vs. darkness and in winter vs. summer.

• What function does Faina’s fox fulfill? What characteristics do Faina and the fox share?

• How does the fox’s death change the narrative?

• Explore the role of animals in this story and as part of this rural lifestyle. Think of Faina’s fox, the swan Faina slays the first time Garrett sees her, the chickens Jack and Mabel keep, the wolverine that appears at the end and more….

• What message/s about death is/are conveyed in the novel?

• How are the ideas of tension and balance conveyed in the novel, from plot points to characters to narrative details?

• What is the role of storytelling throughout the novel?

• What is the significance of the book ending with a new, uncertain story about to begin? What does it say about the importance of storytelling?

• Is Faina’s story ultimately tragic?

Speculative Questions

• What do you think Urrea’s motivations were in writing this no• What do you think Ivey’s motivations were in writing this novel?

• Would this story affect readers in and outside of Alaska differently? Why?

• What might have been different if Faina had not have left?

• Could this story be told in the same way in a present day setting?

• Might the story, Faina, be pure fantasy?

Related Writing Projects

• Write a few entries in a reflective journal by Mabel, exploring her life homesteading in Alaska.

• Write another letter from Mabel to her sister—and/or vice versa.

• Write a few entries in a reflective journal by Faina, exploring her life in the backcountry of Alaska—in winter and in summer.

• Write a letter from Faina to Garrett after she leaves him and their child—and/or vice versa.

• Write the story of Faina from the perspective of her fox.

• Start with an old postcard or a family photograph or an image from a database such as http://vilda.alaska.edu/—any picture that includes people. Use your imagination to write about who the people are in the picture, where they come from and what they experience in daily life.

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