Monday, February 13, 2012

Snow in Summer

In classic fairy tales, such as Grimm's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and in Jane Yolen's modern retelling of it, evil is terrifyingly personal as it wends it's way into a family.

Stepmama in the novel Snow in Summer, does just this.  To picture her, imagine an abusive mother. Think of the worst, then endow her with mesmerizing beauty and magical powers. Check out the review on Book Aunt.

To begin with, just the idea of an evil stepmother is creepy. Why? Because mothers are supposed to love their children and children are supposed to be able to trust them. They are safety, personified. They feed them, control where they go, who they see, and what they wear. They dole out fair punishment as needed. An evil replacement is terrifying.

It is similar to a hateful principal in a school or a devious doctor or nurse in a hospital. Home, schools and hospitals are supposed to be safe places! An evil step mother can be bad for a little girl's health.

Snow in Summer, or Summer for short, is the name of the main character. Tragically, her pretty mother and new baby sibling both die during childbirth. Summer is seven. Her loving Cousin Nancy takes over as mother, believing she will eventually marry Summer's Papa. That would have been nice.

Unfortunately, Papa falls under the spell, is "besotted," by Stepmama, an opportunist, who completely controls Summer's life by the time she is twelve. Her evil plan is to hand over Summer to the "Huntsman" when Summer begins her periods. The Huntsman is supposed to kill Summer, cut out her heart, boil and eat it. After she is gone, Stepmama plans to kill Papa and take over his land.

Thankfully, in the end, Summer wins the fight and Stepmama is snuffed out.

I thought, as I read, how well Yolen describes abusive adults in her story. She knows how they operate. In the first half of the story, Stepmama keeps Summer off balance emotionally, providing an occasional kind word or deed that creates doubt: Maybe Stepmama isn't so bad after all.

Abusive adults isolate their prey. Stepmama does this by banning Summer's visits with Cousin Nancy, and by stupefying Papa with an herbal potion.

When Miss Alison, Summer's teacher, finds the burns on Summer's fingers, and unkept appearance, Stepmother forbids Summer from going to school.

Everything Summer loves is taken away. She is completely dependent on Stepmama.

Summer knows she is in trouble, She tells us: If I had hope of rescue, it wasn't gong to come from Miss Alison. Or cousin Nancy. Or Papa. . . .If I was going to be rescued, I was going to have to rescue myself. 

It would be nice if real abused kids had magic available to them, as Summer did, such as the strange and protective and magical caul, a remnant from her birth, given to her by Cousin Nancy.

I was glad to see Summer eventually, lets just say, cause Stepmama more than a little pain in the end of the novel. The book must really be read for the delicious details.

Summer's happy ending involves dwarfs and marriage, that is, when she is old enough and in love.

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