Snow White Writes Her Own Story in Girls Made of Snow and Glass

Hello, everyone! In honor of this dreary rainy day, I bring you a tale of everlasting snow and two women destined for enmity. Author Melissa Bashardoust spins the classic tale of Snow White and her evil stepmother from gold into glass, digging deep into the fabric of a mother-daughter relationship that has always been simplified into bitterness and jealousy. Like a lot of authors of late, Bashardoust wants to rectify the reputations of fairytale villains whose tainted legacies have solidified into the perfect fodder for moral fables. Snow White taught girls to aspire to nothing besides their beauty, yet warned them not to grow jealous when it faded. The moral obscured the fact that Snow White and her Evil Stepmother were always the same woman, both stuck in a cycle of beauty and decay with no means of escaping. How could we blame the Evil Stepmother for trying to do away with Snow White when she’d been taught from adolescence to fear her own replacement? Bashardoust peels away the artifice to give these two women a fighting chance.

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Synopsis: Since her birth, 16-year-old Lynet has been raised in the image of her fragile mother, the deceased Queen Emilia. Although she could pass for her twin, Lynet is not delicate, but reckless, a girl aching for her own identity. Her stepmother, Queen Mina, is the only one who encourages her to be herself, yet as cool and composed as she seems, Mina can’t completely hide her own yearning for acceptance. Under the control of the grief-obsessed King Nicholas, and Mina’s own power-hungry magician father, neither woman can be free. It’s not until Lynet learns the secret of her own creation that her caged existence falls apart, and both women must confront the bonds that tie them together.

My take: Bashardoust has simple, clear prose, but she writes Lynet and Mina with such emotion that they never seem to be copies of their famed ancestors. While other re-tellings might adhere religiously to the fairytale template, Bashardoust creates an entire new world and set of characters. There are no friendly dwarves, nor handsome prince, nor any wicked mirror on the wall. Instead Bashardoust invigorates lore that is older than Disney’s version of Snow White. Combining Grimm’s tale of a girl made of snow and blood, and the old Russian folktale of the Snow Maiden, a girl made of snow with a heart that couldn’t love, Bashardoust creates Lynet, a Snow White made literally of snow, and Mina, a girl with a glass heart that she believes is incapable of love. In this way, the story becomes new again, breathing the shared identity of otherness into two women who we’ve been led to believe share nothing but beauty.

At the center of the Snow White fairytale is the story of female competition: older woman fears losing her power to her beautiful young daughter. We’ve been taught to accept that this is normal, that women must fight for power because as the book’s tagline says, “only one can be queen.” Bashardoust probes that wisdom from the beginning, crafting two women whose love for each other can’t be broken by a grab for power. It’s the men who create this dynamic in this world, men like King Nicholas, who forces Lynet to replicate the life of her dead mother, and prevents Mina from getting close enough to “taint” his daughter with her love. It’s also Gregory, Mina’s father, whose obsession with creating women he can control and destroy inhibits Mina from ever feeling truly human.  Lynet and Mina’s world is not a patriarchy in the way we would know it, for women can be queen and hold power just as easily as men, but it is a world in which the emotions and desires of women are stifled by men in service of their own ideologies. Bashardoust’s denunciation of this culture is subtle, but effective. We see the insidious nature of this control in the constant way that Nicholas and Gregory manipulate their daughter’s lives: lying to them, changing the truth, and shaming them for wanting freedom. Like any good fairytale, it makes us question the power dynamics in our own world.

Another subtle revelation in Girls Made of Snow and Glass is the quiet acceptance of a lesbian relationship. It’s never showy or defiant. It exists as any heteronormative relationship might: sweet and beautiful and delicate. Bashardoust deserves a lot of praise for how she seamlessly integrates the relationship into the narrative. She does a lot of heavy narrative work effortlessly. Sometimes her prose can be too simple, but it’s more a matter of taste than quality. There were times when I wished that she would be more descriptive, but I was never left unsatisfied. Every character is done justice, every storyline wrapped and fulfilling. It wasn’t a book that left me gasping at plot points, but it did make me think about its deeper message. Not every book can do that, especially not a YA fairytale retelling.

In her acknowledgements, Bashardoust cited Angela Carter, the authority in feminist fairytale rewrites, as one of her main inspirations for the novel. Bashardoust isn’t as bold as Angela Carter, but she has just as much conviction in her desire to vindicate the legacies of “evil” women. If you have a free weekend, pair Girls Made of Snow and Glass with All The Ever Afters, a book I reviewed which gives the redemption treatment to Cinderella’s stepmother. Every “evil” women deserves a chance to tell their story. I wonder who will be next.

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