Thursday, December 13, 2007

Touching Snow

I just finished Touching Snow by M. Sindy Felin. This book has a fabulous opening sentence: "The best way to avoid being picked on by high school bullies is to kill someone. Anyone will do." With an opening like that, you have to keep reading. Our narrator, thirteen-year-old Haitian-American Karina, is used to getting "beat-ups" from her step-father, "the Daddy." In fact she's come to accept that beat-ups are just a part of life, like her fainting spells and her alienation at her junior high school. But when the Daddy nearly kills Karina's older sister, Karina must find a way to save her sisters and herself from the Daddy's brutal rage.

Karina was a wonderful narrator, a tough and gutsy girl who never loses her humor despite her grim family life. The characters were the heart of this novel, especially Karina, but also her sisters and the first true friend Karina makes, a troubled though priveleged girl who works at the local community center. The author made everyone come alive, as well as giving an honest (if not very sympathetic) portrayal of an exhausted mother whose love for her children is eclipsed by her perception that survival means forgiving her abusive husband.

This book sounds like an incredible downer but it's much more than a catalogue of abuse. Nor is it a problem novel with an easy solution. The author shows how even people with their hearts in the right place can make the wrong decisions---for instance, the man who runs the community center thinks the Daddy is being wrongly accused of abuse and helps the Daddy avoid being jailed for his crime. (Karina, in fact, is expected to take the blame for her sister's injuries. ) It takes until the end of the book to understand what the author meant by the first line, and the journey inbetween is definitely worth the read.

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