Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This review may also contain spoilers.
I enjoy tropes. As a self-identified geek girl with a passion for genre fiction, how could I not? Even the cliched YA love triangle can be interesting when told in new and fresh ways. For similar reasons, I am often drawn to fairy tale retellings. Due to their oral tradition, fairy tales are ripe textual sites for playing with tropes, because they are not codified; they are constant sites of reconstruction. Their origins are already muddied as they are told, retold, written, rewritten, translated, retranslated, and so on. Like many of the mythic creatures they often depict, fairy tales are never grounded. Instead, they float about as though they have a power of their own, finding new orators and new writers to weave new tells and tales out of old, even ancient, materials.
Stealing Snow by Danielle Paige, author of the bestseller Dorothy Must Die, is another in a long line of fairy tale retellings. Remixing the Snow Queen, the story follows Snow, a modern woman who grows up in a mental hospital in upstate New York. She soon learns more about her strange and unclear past whenever she meets a traveler from another world. While a fascinating premise, the remixed fairy tale falls short in execution when it fails to remix the YA tropes it relies on to give the story weight. Stealing Snow’s only saving grace occurs with the Robber Girls, a set of characters who appear towards the final third of the book and disrupt the vacuous heteronormativity of the story.
One of the first crimes that Stealing Snow commits is making Snow an exceptional girl. Wait a minute, Ginnis, you may be asking, “Certainly that cannot be so bad as to be criminal?” You would be right, but what makes this particular infraction egregious is that we learn Snow is an exceptional girl because she’s like, really pretty, and every young male she meets along her journey wants to smooch her. In fact, Stealing Snow, is not just a love triangle, it’s a love quadrangle. In terms of “girl-powered literature,” an exceptional girl due to her physical desirability does not an empowered heroine make.
The second crime is the nauseatingly obnoxious trope where the exceptional girl with her exceptional powers, that only appear when she is emotionally distressed, lives in denial for about 50 pages too long, then suddenly is Elsa-ing her handmade icicles all over the place.
A female lead suddenly coming into her powers with little attention paid to how this occurs fails female readers, because it is a lazy metaphor for the hard work of actual empowerment. For once, I just really want the female lead to be like, “Fuck, yeah, I have magical powers!”
Finally, the most significant crime is that for a nearly 350-page book, there’s very little in the way of meaningful characterization or world-building here. Snow is so busy exceptional-girling that she fails to be an interesting character altogether. An exceptional girl is often boring, because she is a blanket to project our own fantasies on to. This doesn’t have to the case, but when the path to empowerment depends largely on male love interests and a lazy metaphor for female empowerment, then tropes just become means for reinforcing boring patriarchal bullshit.
As for the aforementioned saving grace, after almost 200 pages into this 350 page book, we meet the Robber Girls. The Robber Girls are led by Queen Margot, who is undeniably the most interesting and complex character in the entire book. She has an estranged daughter (another interesting character in the book who we never learn much more about), she has a complicated set of morals that result from the dystopian world she occupies, and she’s queer. While her sexuality is never stigmatized, the potential for any disruption of heteronormativity is undermined by the assumed heterosexuality of everyone but the Robber Girls. In fact, I found the Robber Girls and their culture so interesting that it’s a damn shame that Stealing Snow is not about them. I would even consider reading the sequel if they pop up again, because, of course, the book ends on a cliffhanger with the dreaded promise of a sequel.
In actuality, Stealing Snow could have been completely told in this single 350 page volume with an ensemble cast and tighter dialogue.