Summary: A retelling of “Snow White” set in West Virginia, featuring a young girl named Snow in Summer.
Review: Snow in Summer sounds as if it has an interesting premise. As a retelling of “Snow White” in West Virginia, it leads readers to expect a unique, more contemporary twist on the fairytale, perhaps like Suzanne Weyn’s retellings of “The Frog Prince” (Water Song) and “Rumpelstiltskin” (The Crimson Thread). Unfortunately, Snow in Summer is rather dull and barely draws on its setting at all.
If not for the summary, it might be difficult to tell that the book is in fact set in West Virginia. Summer might mention the fact once or twice, and she is clearly living in some mountains where it is much more common to be Protestant than to be Catholic—but none of this adds anything to the story. Summer’s father has a unique connection with the land, which contributes to the plot, but it is fair to say that Yolen could have put him anywhere with enough land to farm on—a fantasy land, a real one, a different country or a different time period—and the book would barely change.
It is important, however, that her father has this land because most of the book is actually about him, at least indirectly. The book is an enormously long set-up explaining his grief over his wife’s death, how he then meet’s Summer’s stepmother, and how the stepmother plots to destroy him so she can take the land for herself. Summer narrates all this, but she is a rather passive character. The parts of the book not about her father tend to be her excuses for why she allowed her stepmother to take advantage of her—basically that she was just so young and did not know any better.
The whole “Snow White” part kicks in only at the very end of the story. Summer encounters the magic mirror a few times, but the attempted murder, little men, death, and marriage occur very quickly all bunched together at the end of the book. It is extremely unsatisfying. And although there is a marriage, there is no romance at all. Several years magically pass without mention in the book between the point where Summer meets her future husband and when she actually marries. (Incidentally, Summer loves fairytales and even mentions “Snow White” at one point; this is very disconcerting to readers, but strangely meaningless to her since she falls for the old woman at the door act anyway.)
Snow in Summer is essentially a lot of set-up and very little substance. Yolen tries to make the tale original with the stepmother’s unique form of magic, but the explanations are so vague it is unclear what exactly this is, and with the setting, but she does not take advantage of it. The book is rather disappointing.