Heavy Medal Finalist: SNOW LANE by Josie Angelini
From the moment you enter Annie’s world, you are surrounded by chaos. You are immediately immersed in this family: the nine children who are often rough with each other, the neglect and abuse, and the coarse language (realistic, but controversial to some). Annie is the youngest and this is both a coming-of-age and a survival story.
SNOW LANE is distinguished from other titles I read this year in three ways.
First, like many, I fell in love with Annie and her voice. She is often overwhelmed by what she is dealing with and yet she is a delight, especially when she is engaging with her friends. She shines brightest at school, which makes sense because it is, for the most part, a place where she feels successful and cared for, despite the disparity she can see between her life and the lives of her classmates. When she is discussing her DNA project on pages 48-49, you see the combination of her intelligence and her quirks that makes her such a winning protagonist. Furthermore, her naïveté about the world strikes just the right note. Angelini is masterful when she shows Annie being clueless about the dance because no one at home is communicating with her. That is also balanced with her savvy when it comes to compartmentalizing her life and keeping her friends away from her family even as this causes her to inadvertently hurt Jordan’s feelings because of her panic about someone seeing her house. At the same time, Annie’s patient understanding of Jordan and her sense of humor make
her a heroine with a singular voice to remember.
Second, the subjects of abuse and hoarding are handled with sensitivity and revealed slowly in a way that does not feel like a trick to the reader. Though the full extent of what Annie’s home life is not understood until later in the book, Annie herself says on page 2, “My mom never throws anything away.” The first time I read this, I glossed over it, but upon reading it again, it impressed me even more with how carefully the clues were dropped along the way: piles on the steps, items moved from one room to another, and even her brother’s room having things to trip over. It all seems relatively normal because Angelini has taken care for it to sound that way. When Nora tells Annie on page 37, “You can’t be a kid anymore, because no one wants to take care of you,” this at first sounds like a simple case of older siblings being tired of Annie’s needs, but as the book unfolds we realize that it is more complicated than that because each child has enough to take care of on their own. Even Fay, the sibling who is the most cruel, has another side when she protects Annie from their mother. And when Annie (and the reader) begin to admit the full extent of the problems, the crumbling that Annie feels as those walls fall down is palpable. This is seen especially on page 180:
“But you do what you have to do, don’t you? You tell yourself what you have to tell yourself to hold on to whatever it is that’s outside of all this insanity that makes you feel normal.”
Third, it was bold of Angelini to include coarse language and coping mechanisms and to have Annie constantly assigning herself rosaries to pray in order to make amends as a way around possible objections to including some of that language in a children’s book. I am going to take this opportunity to argue that it distinguishes the book from others because of its realistic use of language and portrayal of trauma, when so many other books are sanitized to “protect” children from darker themes and language.
We have discussed the effectiveness of the ending in several books, but, to me, SNOW LANE is an excellent example of a hopeful yet realistic ending. Annie has optimism about her family but she sees her mom starting to make piles again (p. 181). Though the story was inspired by Angelini’s life, it has not been reduced to a problem novel, and Annie and her voice and her story are not easy to forget. This is a small book but it is powerful and deserves strong consideration.
Introduction by Kari
Discussion of SNOW LANE now begins below in the comments section. All readers, including Heavy Medal Committee members, are invited to join. We’ll start with positive comments, but feel free to add concerns and criticisms at any time after 12:00 noon (EST) / 3:00 pm (PST) today.
Filed under: Book Discussion
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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