A story in three parts, The Snow Angel combines strong characterisation and vivid descriptions with a more traditional adventure story. However, the realistic portrayal of life in Nairobi slums might be unsettling to some readers.
Makena was born and raised in the city of Nairobi but she dreams of mountains, in particular Mount Kenya. When her father takes her on her first real exploration of the mountain, and she gets a brief glimpse of a strange sparkling fox, Makena thinks life can’t get any better. Within weeks, however, her perfect world is shattered. Makena finds herself scratching out an existence in the city slums. She contracts cholera and almost dies. Luckily a pair of young charity workers are led to her by a fleeting image of a fox and offer her a new start and a trip to the Scottish Highlands. But will Makena be able to accept their kindness?
The Snow Angel is very much a story in three parts with the image of the sparkling fox linking all three sections. In the first part author, Lauren St John, skilfully introduces the lively outdoor-loving Makena and her happy and settled home. Then events take a very dramatic turn as Makena is forced into life in the Mathare slum. Finally, we move to Scotland and the story becomes a more traditional adventure for confident readers.
The set up in the first part of the story is strong and the adventure section in the final section had me desperately turning the pages to find out what was going to happen next. The middle section, however, I found very hard to read. These sections are beautifully written – and I’m guessing very comprehensively researched – but they are harrowing to read, precisely because they feel so real. Lauren St John has picked a harsh way for Makena to discover what happened to her parents and then follows this with some strong characterisation of Makena’s remaining family. Even more disturbing, are the scenes in the Mathare slum which includes a brief, yet impactful, summary of the plight of the children whom the world seems to have forgotten.
There are positives and moments of light relief in this section with the introduction of the idea that it is possible to find ‘magic moments’ even in the harshest of circumstances. The Mathare community and the kindness of Makena’s new friend Snow are also truly inspirational. I was, nevertheless, relieved to move onto the Scottish section of the story which almost felt like a different book.
Any review of The Snow Angel wouldn’t be complete without a special mention of the black and white illustrations by Catherine Hyde which effectively evoke emotion and add to the book’s mystical atmosphere.
If you enjoyed this, you might like to read Sky Hawk by Gill Lewis or, for something slightly different, why not try Winter Magic by Abi Elphinstone (Editor), a 5 star collection of stories that includes one from Lauren St John.
Date: October 2017
Author’s Website: Lauren St John
Review first published on The Bookbag