THE SNOW SISTER by Emma Carroll

There are a few authors Moontrug keeps an eye on. Not in a creepy, stalky way – she doesn’t follow them down streets in a swishy black cloak – more in a I MUST ABSOLUTELY, DEFINITELY BUY THEIR NEXT BOOK kind of way. And Emma Carroll is one of these authors. Moontrug loved her previous books, Frost Hollow Hall, The Girl Who Walked On Air and In Darkling Wood and was excited to see she has a shorter book, a novella, out in time for Christmas – cue The Snow Sister, illustrated by Julian de Narvaez.

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Pearl was putting the finishing touches to a person made out of snow. And that person, with coal for eyes and a turnip for a nose, was now wearing Pearl’s sister’s best shawl. It’s Christmas Eve, and Pearl Granger is making a snow sister. It won’t bring her real sister back. But a snow sister is better than no sister. Then a mysterious letter arrives, with a surprise that will stir the heart of Pearl’s family. Will Christmas ever be the same again?

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Few authors write historical fiction as well as Carroll – there is something gloriously authentic about her dialogue and her settings are completely convincing. Within the first few pages of The Snow Sister, the reader is transported to a Victorian village bustling with carts and crowds, a fir tree decked with lights in the town square and stalls brimming with spiced cider and hot pies. But set against the smells, sights and colour of Christmas, Pearl’s life seems very grey and lonely. Her family is struggling to scrape enough money together to survive and the grief of losing Pearl’s sister has hit them all hard. But with the arrival of winter, everything changes.

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Carroll captures the universal yearning for snow – the excitement of creating snowmen (or snow sisters), the possibility of mysterious letters and a world made new and good: ‘the snow still made everything seem better, like a clean sheet over an old mattress.’

A strange letter gives Pearl hope that perhaps life will get better for her family but when the snow falls harder, her father doesn’t return from Bath and Pearl gets caught stealing, things get even worse. On the run from the police, Pearl finds herself whisked into Mrs Lockwood’s fancy home (Moontrug loved the humour on page 52). Pearl glimpses the luxury of wealth – cream-coloured stone, sugared plums and egg tarts – but Carroll weaves a much richer message into the story here. And in amongst the sumptuous puddings and shining carriages, Pearl watches the snow falling softly around her and she realises what actually matters at Christmas. The Snow Sister is a gorgeously evocative novella, boasting stunning illustrations from Julian de Naravaez and the warmth and wisdom of an Eva Ibbotson story.