My third book for the 48 Hour Book Challenge was Jean Little's Dancing Through the Snow. Little's Look Through My Window was a book that I loved as a kid (though I haven't re-read it in many years). Dancing Through the Snow is lovely, too. It's the sort of book that makes the reader think and stop to appreciate things. It brought tears to my eyes on several occasions, and also made me laugh out loud. It's a quiet book, set in the snow of a Canadian winter, but there are moments of pure joy (like the one captured on the cover).
The story begins as 11-year-old Min Randall girds herself up for being rejected from her fourth foster home, right before Christmas. Min was abandoned "in a washroom at the Canadian National Exhibition" when she was three, and has been largely unwanted ever since. She surrounds herself by virtual walls, and hardly ever speaks. When an unexpected rescuer scoops her away from social services on a whim, taking her to a warm, loving household, Min knows better than to trust her good fortune. But she can't help having her cold heart thaw out a bit, as she spends what is for all practical purposes her first real Christmas.
Dancing Through the Snow is about what it feels like to be abandoned, and what it feels like to be finally wanted. It's about learning to trust, and what makes up a home. It's also about puppies, sledding, coping with bullies, and the horror of the tsunami in Indonesia. Dancing Through the Snow is about love and family and blueberry pancakes.
Min is a complex character, one who evokes sympathy, but is too strong to evoke pity. Here she is:
"Min herself despised people who blubbered. Crying let your guard down and made you easier to hurt. As the door banged shut behind the two women, Min set her jaw and sat, waiting for the paid to come out and reveal what they had decided to with her next. Pressing her feet flat on the floor, she reached back automatically for the comfort of her braid. Her back was rigid, as though she had been carved out of stone like the family downtown. Or wood maybe. A totem-pole girl. But the thick rope of hair she clutched was warm and soft -- and hers." (Page 19)
The Canadian winter is everywhere through the text, like this:
"The doctor drove on through the late afternoon. Snow was still falling in lacy, lazy flakes. The oncoming evening had turned their cloudy white to a soft grey. Despite the islands of yellow light cast by the streetlamps, the dusk deepening into night was strangely eerie and Min, peering out the window, shivered." (Page 30)
There are lots of literary references in Dancing Through the Snow, from classic to modern. As in my first book of the day, there is a family read-aloud.
The plot in Dancing Through the Snow relies on a few coincidences, but I was willing to set them aside to lose myself in Min's story. I can imagine re-reading Dancing Through the Snow around Christmastime, and appreciating it even more when I know for sure how it's going to end.
Dancing Through the Snow is a beautiful novel for middle grade readers. I know that I had a phase in which I liked reading about orphans and foster children -- Dancing Through the Snow should be a nice companion to The Great Gilly Hopkins, Anne of Green Gables, The Pinballs, and the like. Highly recommended.
Publisher: Kane Miller Book Publishers
Publication Date: June 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).