Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
US pub date: August 1, 2017
In theory, I should have loved this book. A literary, character-driven story about an unexpected death in a small town with just a flavor of mystery is literally right up my alley (see also: Everything I Never Told You, Swimming Lessons, Dead Letters, You Will Know Me, etc. – all books I loved!)
But for me, Girl in Snow just didn’t work. And it wasn’t because there wasn’t enough of a mystery – I’d been expecting that. Or that the main characters weren’t really good people – this is something I really don’t mind in fiction.
Honestly, it was because the writing was painfully juvenile. I just couldn’t get past how irritating I found the prose. It read like YA, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not a genre that I particularly enjoy. The fact that this is being marketed as an adult literary mystery suggests that Kukafka was aiming for an adult audience and missed the mark entirely.
From the other side of the door came the swell and sway of her breathing, a delicate rhythm that reminded him with such peaceful clarity that he was alive. I am, I am, I am, she told him with this inhale and exhale and inhale and exhale. I am alive, and so are you, and isn’t this a paralyzing thing?
Yeah, this is definitely the sort of thing that I may have found poignant when I was a teenager.
The other thing I hated about the writing was that practically every other paragraph was a character remembering some trivial detail about their past, that urgently had to be recounted. These characters couldn’t stay in the present long enough to have a simple conversation, and it started to drive me crazy. Maybe I’m just not sentimental enough, but I couldn’t keep from rolling my eyes when your story is filled with lines like: ‘He was having fish for dinner. Once, his dad took him fishing.’ Okay, that’s not a real quote. This is:
“Is this a church?” Cameron asked.
Cameron’s family used to go to church. He would sit between Mom and Dad and wonder how long he could hold his breath without dying.
This is just…. literally the entire book is written like this.
Of the three characters, I didn’t find any of them particularly compelling. The police officer investigating the case, Russ, was so bland that I audibly groaned on more than one occasion when I saw that the upcoming chapter was his POV. Cameron, Lucinda’s stalker who believes himself to be in love with her, was a character who I found rather disturbing, and while I think this was partially the point, he wasn’t someone whose head I particularly enjoyed inhabiting. His chapters also read as the most juvenile, which makes sense, as he’s the youngest narrator, but I think it’s possible to write from the point of view of teenagers (especially when it isn’t even first-person narration) without losing your adult voice as an author. Jade, a girl a few years older than Lucinda who hadn’t liked her, was definitely the most interesting of the three, but the fact that so much of her narration was taken up with pining after her ex-boyfriend was a bit tiring.
I should have been able to finish this book in two days, but it ended up taking me two weeks, because every time I put it down I had no motivation to pick it back up. This was an overwhelmingly blasé reading experience. I was hoping for at least a few moments of poignancy or insight, but Girl in Snow left me cold. I felt like it never really delivered on anything it promised, and I’m left wondering what exactly the point was.
I don’t want to be unkind. This is Danya Kukafka’s debut novel, and she’s a young writer. While her writing style obviously wasn’t to my taste, I will make the distinction that it wasn’t objectively bad. I just think this book would have worked so much better targeted at a younger audience. There’s a lot that teenagers can take away from this story: Jade’s struggle with her body image, Cameron’s vulnerability. But as an adult reader who was hoping to read an adult novel? It just didn’t do much for me.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Netgalley, Simon & Schuster, and Danya Kukafka. All quotes are taken from an ARC galley – it’s possible that they may be edited before publication.