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Girl in Snow

Review

Girl in Snow

The characters of Danya Kukafka’s brilliant debut know only one thing for certain: popular high schooler Lucinda Hayes has been murdered. While there are few suspects in the small Colorado suburb, it is clear that no character has been left untouched by this shocking tragedy. But GIRL IN SNOW is not simply a mystery or thriller --- it is a poignant and cutting exploration into the lives of three people and the blurred lines between their lies and truths, their memories and imaginations.

The first character we meet is Cameron, a classmate of Lucinda’s who was desperately, hopelessly in love with her. His love was not only unrequited, it was completely unnoticed. Cameron has always been a little “off.” After his father left a few years ago, he has struggled with a clear anxiety disorder that makes him feel “Tangled.” To Untangle himself, Cameron partakes in “Statue Nights” --- nighttime walks where he stands outside of a house completely silent and still, believing that he becomes nearly invisible. Cameron’s jaunts may seem voyeuristic, but he possesses an innate naivety that makes his observations feel more scientific than dastardly. Over time, he has taken a particular interest in watching Lucinda and feels as if he knows everything about her. The one problem is that he occasionally blacks out during Statue Nights, and he cannot remember where he was the night of Lucinda’s death.

"The novel's true strength...is Kukafka’s writing. It is rare for me to want to read a book again after I have finished it, but I already have begun to reread some of my favorite chapters. Kukafka chooses each word carefully, and it shows."

The next character Kukafka introduces is Jade, an angry teenage girl who has trouble forming connections to the people around her. Jade has gone under the radar for so long that she no longer feels the urge to participate in social niceties. Much like Cameron, Jade uses her “invisibility” to observe the interactions of the people around her, often zeroing in on glances and hesitations that would go unnoticed by others.

Jade’s connection to Lucinda is looser than Cameron’s, though the two were friendly for some time. Jade feels outshined by Lucinda, who she believes stole away the boy who loved her. Jade also not-so-secretly wants to be just like Lucinda: tan, taut, sweet and ignorant to the woes of life as an ordinary, unspectacular girl.

The final leading character of GIRL IN SNOW is Russ Fletcher, the detective assigned with tracking down Lucinda’s killer. Russ means well, but he is not your stereotypical hero cop with a chip on his shoulder. Although Russ is perhaps the least involved with Lucinda, he slowly reveals to the reader that he is deeply connected to Cameron --- the son of the man who was not only his supervisor, but also his best friend.

As the chapters alternate among Cameron, Jade and Russ, we learn not only about Lucinda and her death, but also about the town itself and all of its residents’ backstories. Kukafka is a skillful and clever writer; her ability to weave stories and loose ends together knows no bounds. She has a particular talent for setting up a scene so clearly that you are positive you can predict what will happen next --- and then flipping the entire moment on its head, taking you completely by surprise.

At its heart, GIRL IN SNOW is not exactly a mystery, but rather a deftly written character study. I’ll admit that I did not feel connected to or particularly invested in Lucinda’s murder, but I was utterly captivated by Cameron and Jade. Their unique positions as “invisibles” within the community granted them with impressive potential for observation, and I loved reading about their quiet, awkward interactions. Russ, meanwhile, was the semi-stable adult foil necessary to balance their teenage woes and angst.

The novel's true strength, however, is Kukafka’s writing. It is rare for me to want to read a book again after I have finished it, but I already have begun to reread some of my favorite chapters. Kukafka chooses each word carefully, and it shows. Her descriptions are nearly poetic in their beauty, but never stray too far from the point. Perhaps, then, the strongest facet of the book is not just the writing, but the crushingly realistic descriptions of its settings and characters.

My one concern about GIRL IN SNOW is that it will disappoint readers who are looking for a heart-racing thriller or a slow-burn mystery. Be warned that it will not compete with books by Clare Mackintosh or Mary Kubica on these fronts, but it is an absolute must-read for its introspection, interwoven plotlines and masterful character developments. Danya Kukafka is a force to be reckoned with, and I cannot wait to see where her talents take her next.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on August 25, 2017

Girl in Snow
by Danya Kukafka

  • Publication Date: August 1, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1501144375
  • ISBN-13: 9781501144370