Editor’s note: The 11th annual Brattleboro Literary Festival gets under way on Friday, Oct. 12. Consult the Festival’s web site, www.brattleboroliteraryfestival.org for information on authors, reading times and venues. The review below is part of a series of reviews of books by authors who will be attending the 2012 Brattleboro Literary Festival.
Jane Yolen, often called "the Hans Christian Andersen of America," is the author of more than 300 books, including "Owl Moon," "The Devil’s Arithmetic" and "How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?" Yolen is versatile as well as prolific -- she writes for both children and adults in a number of genres. Books featured at the Festival include three published in 2011: her recent poetry collection for adults, "Things to Say to a Dead Man"; the graphic novel, "The Last Dragon," illustrated by fantasy artist Rebecca Guay; and "Snow in Summer," a novel-length version of the Snow White story set in West Virginia. The winner of numerous awards and the recipient of six honorary doctorates, Yolen lives in western Massachusetts.
"Snow in Summer"
By Jane Yolen,
There is a real plant named Snow-in-Summer, a delicate and blossom-covered resident of rock gardens that brings out its white, star-shaped flowers among silvery foliage. And this is what
But before that happens, Summer’s mother dies while giving birth to a baby brother, and the baby dies, too. Tragedy haunts her and her father, and leaves their family vulnerable to a powerful magical woman who seems to appear straight from the stones of the graveyard. When Summer’s father falls under the spell of this woman and presents her as a step-mother, the red-lipped addition to the household changes Summer’s name -- to Snow. A chill falls upon the household, and darkness and evil arrive.
Adult readers will know by this point that Jane Yolen’s 243-page book "Snow in Summer" is a reshaping of the Grimm fairy tale "Snow White." Set aside any Disney thoughts, though -- newly named Snow is a far more desperate and active character, and the risks she endures take her to an old-time snake-handling church, as well as through conflict that may cost her everyone she loves. And the magic mirror, when it inevitably appears, has its own personality.
Nor is the book intended for small children. Readers age 9 and up who read "chapter books" may handle the prose, but it’s a frightening (although ultimately triumphant) tale, and youngsters may want the lights left on at night more often!
Yolen has written more than 300 books, and her sure reworking of fairy tales takes us back to their original forms, which confronted blood, death and battles for the sake of goodness. By cloaking this one in relatively modern America, she makes the risks closer, more realistic, and more scary.
I loved every page. Other adults who give themselves permission to dip into "young reader" books may reach the same decision I did: Buy another copy for the young reader in your life, and keep the first copy for yourself.
Reviewed by Beth Kanell, Kingdom Books, Waterford. Beth is the author of three young-adult novels ( "The Darkness Under the Water, " "The Secret Room" and in 2012, "Cold Midnight") and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle,
For Love of Books is a column written by readers of notable books which may be found in local libraries and bookstores. "Guidelines for Reviewers" may be requested from Brooks Memorial Library at 802-254-5290 or brattlib @brooks.lib.vt.us.