Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Review: Whiter Than Snow

Summary: Whiter Than Snow opens in 1920, on a spring afternoon in Swandyke, a small town near Colorado’s Tenmile Range. Just moments after four o’clock, a large split of snow separates from Jubilee Mountain high above the tiny hamlet and hurtles down the rocky slope, enveloping everything in its path including nine young children who are walking home from school. But only four children survive. Whiter Than Snow takes you into the lives of each of these families: There’s Lucy and Dolly Patch—two sisters, long estranged by a shocking betrayal. Joe Cobb, Swandyke’s only black resident, whose love for his daughter Jane forces him to flee Alabama. There’s Grace Foote, who hides secrets and scandal that belies her genteel façade. And Minder Evans, a civil war veteran who considers his cowardice his greatest sin. Finally, there’s Essie Snowball, born Esther Schnable to conservative Jewish parents, but who now works as a prostitute and hides her child’s parentage from all the world.

Ultimately, each story serves as an allegory to the greater theme of the novel by echoing that fate, chance, and perhaps even divine providence, are all woven into the fabric of everyday life. And it’s through each character’s defining moment in his or her past that the reader understands how each child has become its parent’s purpose for living. In the end, it’s a novel of forgiveness, redemption, survival, faith and family. -- St. Martin's Press

I have been a pretty big fan of Sandra Dallas for a long time -- way before I even knew what book blogs were. I think I've read all of her books except one, and I even have that one down on my wish-list. I recently read her latest novel WHITER THAN SNOW, and I was so happy to find that it lived up to what I've come to expect from Ms. Dallas. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I was surprised by how much it touched my heart.

If you've ever read a Sandra Dallas novel, then you already know that she is just a fantastic storyteller. She has the unique ability to capture the essence of a place and time period, but she also creates wonderful as well as memorable characters. In WHITER THAN SNOW, Ms. Dallas has created a story that takes place in 1920 in a small mining town in Colorado. The entire town is brought together when suddenly a devastating tragedy occurs. A huge avalanche hits the town and buries some school aged children who are walking home from school.

As each family is waiting to find out if their child/children can be recovered, Ms. Dallas takes the reader back in time and tells the background story of each resident affected by this horrific tragedy. Each chapter is about a different character and reads almost like a separate short story. However, there are common characters, places, and events in each chapter that tie the stories together. I absolutely loved how the author told the story in this way. She brought each of the characters to life and I could feel their pain and anxiety as they waited for news.

And that brings me to one of the things that I enjoyed most about this novel -- the characters. Ms. Dallas has definitely managed to create some very memorable characters in this story. Of course, I appreciated some of the stories and characters more than others, but I'm hard-pressed to pick out a favorite. Each one was really special in its own way. I did find that I probably most liked the story of Lucy and Dolly, two sisters whose children were both missing in the avalanche. Both women had been estranged for years even since one had betrayed the other, and it wasn't until this incident that they were able to forgive each other. Having said that I also enjoyed the story of Joe, the town's only black man who had experienced prejudice and violence because of his skin color. I could probably keep going because I found something to like in each chapter!

Needless to say I found the story and characters to be fascinating, but I also was pleasantly surprised by how deep I found this book to be. While each of the chapters were almost like short stories, I was impressed with how the author tied the overall themes into each story. All of the characters were brought together by this tragedy and they supported each other during this tension-filled time; however, all of the residents of this town were forever changed by these events -- even those whose children were found alive. In addition, I think each of the characters and their background stories showed how special the parent/child relationship is.

As I read this novel and each of the characters' stories, I realized how fleeting life can be and how we should learn to live for the moment. All of the anger and grudges that we carry don't seem all that important -- it's suddenly becomes about love and forgiveness. When something this devastating happens in our lives, whether it be to ourselves or others, I almost think it's a wake up call to appreciate our lives and especially our loved ones. I absolutely love that WHITER THAN SHOW affected me in this way!

As is the case with every Sandra Dallas novel that I've ever read, WHITER THAN SNOW would make a fantastic book club selection. I found the book to be very moving and it definitely gave me a lot of think about. I think book clubs made up of women who are mothers will especially relate to this novel. There is a reading group guide available which touches on some very interesting topics. Some of the things your group might want to discuss include parent/child relationships, sibling rivalry, racial relations, poverty, loss, grief, forgiveness, redemption, love, marriage, faith, and sacrifice.

I know I'm not alone in my appreciation of this novel. WHITER THAN SNOW is an Indie Next List Pick, and there are many other words of praise. I can only speak for myself, but I thought this book was a wonderful story with so many powerful messages. I highly recommend it!

Thanks to The Book Report Network for sending me a copy of this novel. Make sure you stop by tomorrow because Ms. Dallas will be stopping by with a guest post!


Sandy Nawrot said...

I have one Sandra Dallas audio book loaded on my iPod (Prayers for Sale) that I attempted to listen to right after I listened to The Angel's Game. I don't know if you read that book, but it had a huge body count, so Prayers For Sale just was too soft at that point. I need to try to get back to it. This book really sounds good. I passed up the opportunity to review it, attempting to catch up with my obligations. Now I'm sorry! (BTW got my package yesterday! Thanks!)

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I just started listening to the audio version of this one yesterday and am enjoying it. I just skimmed your review fir now until I finish, but glad u liked it Julie

Anonymous said...

I've loved many of Sandra Dallas' books. I'm very much looking forward to reading this one. She is so talented and not as well known as I think she ought to be. Thanks for sharing!

bermudaonion said...

I'm not at all familiar with Sandra Dallas and, after reading your review, I'm wondering why. This sounds so good.

Serena said...

I read my first Sandra Dallas book last year for the WWII challenge and really enjoyed it. I cannot wait to read her latest book and get to some of her other books. I really love her ability to create dynamic characters

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Sounds very moving. I have not read anything by Sandra Dallas.

Beth F said...

I have had Tallgrass on my MP3 player since it first came out. I really need to listen up already!