Touching Snow by M. Sindy Felin 2007
IQ "There's a real good story behind every dumb thing that happens in life, and an even better story about the dumb people who do them." Karina pg. 162
In Touching Snow, thirteen year old Karina is worried about a few things; her grades (3 Ds, one C), being sent to the principal's office, being the most unpopular girl at her school and bracing herself for being beaten by her stepfather. Her stepfather is finally put in jail on child abuse charges. Problem solved right? Wrong. Karina's family and a few other adults want Karina to take the blame for the injuries her stepfather (called the Daddy) gave to her older sister, Enid. At the heart of this novel is the question of how far people will go to protect the ones they love (along with the idea of some adults only seeing what they want to see "Why did I keep thinking some adult somewhere was finally going to start acting like one?" Karina, pg. 101). This story might have one of the best opening lines ever: The best way to avoid being picked on by high school bullies is to kill someone." I was instantly transfixed. What was Karina referring to?
I hated this book. Yup, you read that sentence right. But it gets a 5/5. I hated that a story like this one needs to be told. I hate that parents abuse their kids and that husbands abuse their wives (and in the rare case, the wife abuses the husband). I don't want these incidents to happen anymore. I hate that this novel made me want to cry and that oftentimes, I forgot that happiness does exist in the world. I hate the Daddy and at some point I got fed up with all the adults in Touching Snow as well. I also grew angry at Karina, her two sisters and her cousins.
I was amazed by this book (it just seems wrong to say I loved this book). I love that the author wrote about a story that needs to be told, from a different perspective. There are few books on child abuse told from the perspective of an immigrant and their family. The issues run a lot deeper. I wholeheartedly believe that it would be easier for a woman born and raised in America to leave her abusive husband than it would be for a recently arrived immigrant from (insert country name here, specifically a 3rd world or an under developed country) to leave her abusive husband. I loved most of the characters in this novel. Karina lives with her mother, the Daddy (her stepfather), her mother, her older sister Enid, her younger sister Delta, her younger brothers Gerald and Roland, Jack and Joseph (her two cousins) and their aunt, Merlude (Jack and Joseph's mom). Karina is completely crazy and yet she can be very rational. She makes up some strange stories and gets herself into odd situations but she is very determined and resourceful. Her oldest sister Enid is fantastic. Enid really steps up and takes care of the house while their mother works long hours. She protects her relatives when she can and she' makes big sacrifices for them. From Karina's Menudo-obsessed friend Rachel (who happens to be white) to the mysterious Augustin to the Daddy's brother, Uncle Jude, all the characters are fleshed out.
Touching Snow is intense. Honestly, I'm glad I didn't have the time to finish this novel in one sitting because I needed a break from it, to see some happiness and sunshine. Obviously a story about child abuse is going to produce a strong reaction in anyone, but I think the reason this novel really resonated with me is because the author did such a great job with the details. She doesn't shy away from anything and her choice of words to describe the injuries inflicted by the Daddy make it painstakingly clear and vivid in the reader's mind. At the same time, she managed to make me smile through the pain. While we are reading about the abuse, we are also learning about Haiti and its culture and how difficult it is to be an immigrant in America. One of my favorite lines from the novel is when Karina is explaining about her extended family: "Gran and Aunt Jacqueline are more like sisters than mother and daughter, and they don't get along at all, but they live together. My cousin Edner says that's because Haitian people like to torture themselves. They're so used to being miserable that whenever they aren't, they have to go find something to be miserable about. He says that's why Aunt Jacqueline-that's his mom-went and got Gran from Haiti. After Aunt Jacqueline's first husband died, she didn't have anyone to fight with except her kids, and that wasn't enough." (pg.73) Doesn't this sound like someone you know? Ignore the Haitian part for the moment. Don't we all know someone in our lives who likes to be miserable all the time? This statement seemed to be maddeningly accurate when I read about the actions of the characters. Besides the assimilation story, another interesting subplot was about how Haitians don't view themselves as Black. But white Americans do.
Touching Snow is a powerful, compelling debut novel. M. Sindy Felin is truly gifted in that, she injects some light-hearted moments into this novel that threatens to suck you into an abyss of sadness. The apathy of the well crafted characters is so frustrating, you will be absolutely riveted. The worst and best part is that the reader will be able to sympathize or at least understand all the characters and the motives behind their actions. There are some loose ends (nothing too suspenseful), but not everything is wrapped up neatly in life either. My emotions in reading Touching Snow ranged from apprehension to sadness to anger. Although, the very last chapter made me smile (let's just say that the person Karina is telling this story to is a pleasant surprise). Ages 15 and up (high school).
Learn more: Why Haiti Matters (title is self-explanatory)
To Help: Even if you don't have a lot of money to spare, you can still do something. Like give blood! In most states you can give blood if you're at least sixteen and have parental consent (that's the rule in IL and I've given blood three times already). It's not painful and you will feel so good because you just helped save at least one life in a quick and easy process. By the way, March is Red Cross month so donate money, blood or time to help them out and say thank you :) Have I convinced you yet? Visit redcrossblood.org for more information and to find a location near you where you can donate.