Jane Yolen’s latest novel, Snow in Summer, is a wonderful addition to her series of reinvented fairy tales. Like her earlier Briar Rose, this is a dark retelling of a Grimm fairy tale—in this case, Snow White instead of Sleeping Beauty. It follows a girl named Snow in Summer, who tells the tale of her childhood in retrospect as she grows up in the mountains of West Virginia. It was published in November of 2011 by Philomel.
To clear a few things up
Over and over again I’ve seen this book described as a “Depression-era Snow White.” It’s really not. Summer, as the protagonist prefers to be called, gives us enough information to deduce that she was born in 1937, at the very end of the Great Depression. Most of the action takes place when Summer is between the ages of eight and fourteen, and therefore between the years of 1945 and 1951. Granted, Summer is a poor girl growing up in a poor community for which not much had changed since the 1930s, but, for me, most of the flavor of this book comes from the culture of that region of Appalachia and not from the time period itself. The book is populated with the folk music and traditions of the Scotch-Irish people that predominate that area of the United States, and those influences situate the book in its time and place far more solidly than any reference to exterior socioeconomic or political happenings could.
Not the story you thought it was
As with other fairy tale retellings by Yolen, Snow in Summer is a dark tale. Unlike many versions of Snow White which place the majority of action after Snow White leaves her father and stepmother to live with the seven dwarfs, Yolen places most of the action while Summer is still living with her parents. There’s a great deal of introduction to Summer and her father before the wicked Step-mama ever shows up. Once that occurs, the main thrust of the book then turns to Summer’s relationship with her Step-mama. Since we all know that Snow White and the Wicked Stepmother do not get along, it should hardly surprise you that this relationship is outright abusive and Yolen does not hold back on that front.
Short and sweet
As with all of Yolen’s work, the writing here is par excellence. Yolen is a master at telling her readers exactly what they need to know in as little time as possible with such style and grace that you never feel rushed through something, and you never feel confused. This is a relatively short book and a very quick read, but it’s still satisfying for all of that. There are no unanswered questions and no pieces of plot left to dangle in dark corners. As usual with Yolen, the prose is simply exquisite. Because of its relative simplicity but its very dark subject matter, it’s hard to place this book in any one age category. The library I borrowed this book from has it in its juvenile chapter book section, meant for children under the age of twelve. While the book is presented in such a way that I have no doubts that many children that age will be able to grasp it, the subject matter itself will push many others to qualify it as a young adult book. Because of the wonderful writing style, I’m also sure that adults looking for a quick read will not be disappointed, either.
Why you should read this book?
If you’re a fan of Jane Yolen, or if you’re a fan of retold fairy tales, this is a wonderful selection. If you’re looking for a well-written book for young readers, look no further! However, if the subject of child abuse makes you uncomfortable in any way, this is not the book for you. It is very plain, very in your face, and very frankly discussed. Nothing is glossed over for your comfort. Granted, the book is such a quick read that you don’t spend much time with it, but do be warned.