Thursday, October 11, 2007

Touching Snow

Felin, M. Sindy. 2007. Touching Snow.

The best way to avoid being picked on by high school bullies is to kill someone. Anyone will do. Accidental killings have the same effect as on-purposed murder. Of course, this is just my own theory. My sister Delta would say that my sample size isn't big enough to draw such a conclusion. But I bet I'm right.

Thus begins Touching Snow, a dark portrait of a Haitian immigrant family lost in the depths of physical and emotional abuse. Our story begins on the last day of Karina's seventh grade year. The book covers mainly that summer between her seventh and eighth grade years. The family has many issues--too many kids in too little a space, bad parenting philosophies, and past legacies that can't be escaped. The oldest girls have never known their real father--or should I say fathers--but they've been raised by their stepfather--Gaston--a person Karina refers to as 'the daddy.' The family is large--full of children both girls and boys--and the situation is dire. They're poor and dependent on the man "black as dirt." That is their mother's phrase for describing anyone whose actions she doesn't like--no matter their skin color--I would think the phrase "devil himself" would work better in this context. (Not the Haitian one, mind you, but to paraphrase it for American readers). Within the first few chapters alone, the reader witnesses an exceedingly brutal beat-up of the oldest girl, Enid. She's not just badly beaten, she's badly beaten and burned and left for dead. She's struck unconscious. There are burns all over her back--her back literally covered in pockets of pus. Her bottom and legs so beaten, so raw that she is unable to sit or lie down. And her crime? Trying to hide the leftovers from her stepfather. The family is strange. The mother seems upset by her husband's actions, yet she is an enabler at heart. In her heart of hearts she feels her daughter--her children--and probably even herself--deserve to be treated like this. She herself beats her children, tortures them. She is an abuser herself who is powerless to stop her husband from doing the same whenever he likes. And the girls' relatives? From their aunts to uncles to good old Gram, there seems to be an undercurrent of acceptance...that this abuse is their fault. That they are getting exactly what they deserve. That they even approve of this level of discipline. The narrator, Karina, lets you know early on that someone--presumably herself--kills 'the daddy' and finally gets revenge on him for his treatment. The book was an infuriating read. The police, the social workers, the leaders at the community center, the priests, every adult with an obligation to serve and "do the right thing" turn a blind eye to this situation. They swallow each and every lie that comes out of the mothers--the wife's mouth. One of the girls points out that it doesn't matter what they say, how unbelievable their lies are--they'll believe them because they don't want to do anything about it anyway. The lies are obvious, the adults are irresponsible or naive depending on your generosity. With the violent abuse, the disparaging remarks about religion, and the extremely strong language, those looking for a clean read should look elsewhere. But those looking for a darker, realistic portrait of the effects (long and short term) of abuse, then this may be the book for you. The only ray of light in this book is the growing relationship between Karina and her friend Rachael as they begin to explore their sexual feelings.

Personally, I didn't enjoy this one. While I'm sure many people will appreciate this journey to the dark and depressing side of life--because these kinds of things do happen in the world--it took me places I didn't want to go.


Debi said...

Thanks for this review, Becky. I'm not sure if I'm up for this book or not. While I hate to shy away from the realities of this world, I'm not sure I'm up for this. But I do know it's one I'll steer my daughter away from, at least until she's a little older.

Camille said...

I don't think this is my kind of book but that is one of the most powerful openings I have ever read.

Anonymous said...

Very powerful and honest review, Becky. Yes, some folks find it a difficult read - many parts were difficult to write. I think your warnings were accurate and I'd like to reiterate that the book is really more for adults and older, more mature teens.

One thing I'd like to clarify: I used the phrase "black as dirt" because it is a common Haitian put-down. "The devil himself" would be a more usual description (and certainly an accurate one!) but it would not be culturally accurate and not something the non-English speaking mother would say. I'm glad you brought up that phrase, though, as I knew it would be a touchy one yet your review is the only one I've come across thus far that has pointed it out.

I wish you continued happy reading!

Abasiono said...

At first i didn't think i was going to like this book because i thought i t wasn't my type of book but after the sentence "the only way to get through school without getting picked on is killing" something like that,it made me more interested cause i like books with dramas and reality and stuff like that.I really enjoyed this book so far until i lost it and i was really liking it.I'm a thirteen year old in 7th grade and i love your book .i found out that Nigerian and Haitian people have the same believe that if you jump over somebody they might never grow and so on, i thought that was really cool.
Great book coming from a young teen

Donna Jo said...

I really loved this book. I thought it was really sad and heartbreaking because those children get abused mostly everyday.Those kids have to live through all the blood and burns they feel and see on there relatives.I would recommend this book tlfor other people to read.