Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Review: Frozen by Mary Casanova

by Mary Casanova

Available as: hardcover, Kindle edition
Pages: 264
Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
Publication date: September 7, 2012
Suggested tags: young adult, historical fiction, mystery,
20th century

From Goodreads:
"Sixteen-year-old Sadie Rose hasn’t said a word in eleven years—ever since the day she was found lying in a snowbank during a howling storm. Like her voice, her memories of her mother and what happened that night were frozen.

Set during the roaring 1920s in the beautiful, wild area on Rainy Lake where Minnesota meets Canada, Frozen tells the remarkable story of Sadie Rose, whose mother died under strange circumstances the same night that Sadie Rose was found, unable to speak, in a snowbank. Sadie Rose doesn’t know her last name and has only fleeting memories of her mother—and the conflicting knowledge that her mother had worked in a brothel. Taken in as a foster child by a corrupt senator, Sadie Rose spends every summer along the shores of Rainy Lake, where her silence is both a prison and a sanctuary.

One day, Sadie Rose stumbles on a half dozen faded, scandalous photographs—pictures, she realizes, of her mother. They release a flood of puzzling memories, and these wisps of the past send her at last into the heart of her own life’s great mystery: who was her mother, and how did she die? Why did her mother work in a brothel—did she have a choice? What really happened that night when a five-year-old girl was found shivering in a snowbank, her voice and identity abruptly shattered?

Sadie Rose’s search for her personal truth is laid against a swirling historical drama—a time of prohibition and women winning the right to vote, political corruption, and a fevered fight over the area’s wilderness between a charismatic, unyielding, powerful industrialist and a quiet man battling to save the wide, wild forests and waters of northernmost Minnesota. Frozen is a suspenseful, moving testimonial to the haves and the have-nots, to the power of family and memory, and to the extraordinary strength of a young woman who has lost her voice in nearly every way—but is utterly determined to find it again.

{ I received this as an ebook from NetGalley. }

The synopsis for Frozen really piqued my interest - a YA historical fiction/mystery that touches on prohibition, women's suffrage, and conservation? Sounds great! So much in one novel! ... But ultimately, for me, all the various aspects of the story ended up being a negative rather than a positive. There was too much going on, and too little was really explored with any substantial feeling.

In addition to all the issues mentioned in the synopsis, the novel also deals with prostitution, attempted rape, and mental illness. These are serious subjects, and along with the other issues, it should make for a pretty mature and intense book. But somehow, unfortunately, the story actually comes across a little bit juvenile. Our narrator Sadie just seems a little too removed from everything; she's at the center of the story, facing all these important issues and discoveries from her past, but it was hard for me to get into her head and share her thoughts and emotions on the same level as I usually do in a YA book. There is a good bit of devotion to the mystery of Sadie's mother's past, and I did feel Sadie's pain and frustration as she gathered and deciphered the clues. Unfortunately, the solution to the mystery turned out to be rather expected and predictable (SPOILER - highlight to read: as was the fact that Hans & Aasta are Sadie's grandparents).

One of my biggest issues with the book is the handling of Sadie's rediscovery of her ability to speak. From the synopsis, this seems like it should be one of the major moments in the plot. But it happens quite early in the book and, to be honest, I found it pretty unremarkable. I am by no means educated on mutism or speech pathology, but I expected some meaningful moment would spur her words back to her, and that she would struggle a bit at first as she began to learn to speak again. But there really isn't anything significant that happens to inspire her speech. And when she does speak, despite the fact that she hasn't spoken a word for how-many-years, all of a sudden she's back to speaking in complete, flawlessly delivered sentences. The other characters accept all this quite readily, and at times, a little too easily. "Oh, you can speak! That's great! There, I've acknowledged it. Now we can move on with our interaction."

And, Owen and Victor? There are hints of romance, which builds a bit at the end, but it kind of felt like an afterthought. Like an editor said, "Oh wait, this is a YA book, we probably need a romantic element in here. Well, there are two guys in this book around Sadie's age. Let's have her crush on one of them. Or maybe both?" And it reads kind of like it was never really determined if Sadie should be romantically interested in one or both of them - implications of Sadie's possible developing feelings for (or at least mild interest in) both Owen and Victor pop up here and there, but there's no real relationship developed (at least not to my satisfaction) with either of them. (SPOILER - highlight to read: Yes, Sadie does technically end up in a relationship with Owen, but it feels kind of half-hearted and forced, and it wraps up on a rather unsatisfying "meh - if it's meant to be, it will be" note.)

Please don't get me wrong - Frozen is not a bad book. In some aspects, it's quite good! I think its greatest strength is the setting; Casanova really brings Minnesota and Canada of the 1920's to life. I felt most drawn into the story when Sadie was boating up and down the waterways. Casanova writes these scenes spectacularly. I would certainly give another book by Casanova a try. My main problem with this book is that it feels like it deals with just too much. The juggling of so many issues simply didn't work for me as well as it could have.

Overall rating: 3 out of 5 stars

{ More about Frozen }

University of Minnesota Press website for Frozen

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