Plot Summary: “The best way to avoid being picked on by high school bullies is to kill someone,” and thus starts the novel Touching Snow. Part thriller and mystery part coming-of-age and love story, Touching Snow details the struggles of 13-year-old Karina and her family. Born in the US, to a Haitian immigrant mother, Karina lives in a town she calls “a place full of white folks.” Being a racial and cultural outsider, as well as a bit quirky makes school socially AND academically problematic. She might even be put in special education classes, if her grades and behavior don’t improve! But these challenges are nothing compared to the horrific physical abuse Karina and her sisters suffer at the hands of their stepfather: “The Daddy.” One misstep, and “The Daddy” could leave them bruised, broken, and bleeding…or worse. Karina’s honest, riveting voice tells the reader, almost as a friend, of the brutal abuse she and her sisters suffer. Karina is a member of a large extended Haitian immigrant family, but no one, not even the law, seems to be able to protect her and her sisters from the “beat-ups” that sometimes leave them just this side of dead. In addition to the extreme violence she is forced to withstand at home, outside of the home she is confronted with racism, and xenophobia. It is under these circumstances that Karina, prone to crushes on girls and fainting spells, struggles with schoolwork, making friends, and figuring out who she is. Karina has dreams for a better future, but can she survive?
Critical Evaluation: Gripping from its first line, Touching Snow leads the reader on a disturbing, yet engrossing, journey into the life of Karina. The writing compels the reader to feel what Karina is experiencing, and to cheer for Karina’s survival, under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Karina’s voice is honest and authentic as she describes the sometimes funny sometimes horrific events in her life. Though the novel is set in the 1980’s, the characters grapple with issues that are present today and will, unfortunately, be present in the future. With complex and multi-faceted characters and disturbing violence, this book, though about a 13-year-old, is better suited to teens or more mature tweens. Karina’s brutal honesty and strong spirit will captivate readers in Felin’s compelling and gripping Touching Snow, an Edgar Award Nominee for Best Young Adult Mystery, a National book award finalist, and an honoree for ALA and YALSA Best Books for Young Adults.
Reader’s Annotation: Karina and her sisters live in constant fear of their angry and violent stepfather. Confronting terror at home and racism from the outside world, Karina’s life is hard. Will she and her sisters all make it out alive?
Information about the Author: M. Sindy Felin herself grew up as the first member of her family born in the US. She was raised, like Karina, in suburban New York by Haitian immigrant parents, was the first girl to attend college in her family, and her inspiration for Touching Snow came from social issues she observed in the Haitian immigrant community, including the resilience and resourcefulness of the families.
Felin now is a single mother to triplets! Read about her experience here.
Genres: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Issues, Multicultural Fiction, Realistic Fiction,
Sub Genres: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller: Contemporary Mystery; Issues: Social Concerns: Racism; Issues: Life Is Hard: Physical and Emotional Abuse
Curriculum Ties: Immigration, Health, English, Domestic Violence
- “‘The best way to avoid being picked on by high school bullies is to kill someone.’ And so begins the novel Touching Snow by M. Sindy Felin.”
Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13-19
Challenge Issues: Budding lesbian romance, violence. In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies. Also, there are several positive reviews of the book, and it has won several awards and honors, three are mentioned above.
Why is this book included? Critically praised and award-winning, Touching Snow is beautifully and authentically written. Its protagonist, a teen girl of Haitian descent, in a budding lesbian relationship, brings an underrepresented, and authentic, voice to teen mysteries. The mystery genre is surprisingly un-diverse, so this book, and others with characters of color, are especially important include in a collection for teens.
2007 National Book Award Finalist, Young People’s Literature. (2007). Retrieved from http://www.nationalbook.org/nba2007_ypl_felin.html