This past July, I was on the hunt for a captivating mystery novel to dissect during the remainder of the summer. As I browsed through the aisles of my local Joseph-Beth bookstore, I noticed the novel Girl in Snow perched front and center on a display shelf in front of an array of fiction novels. I was intrigued instantly.
If you plan on reading this novel, this article will contain spoilers, so you’ve been warned. Girl in Snow, written by Danya Kukafka, details the events which unfold following the murder of Lucinda Hayes, a popular, wide-eyed high school freshman. The circumstances surrounding her death are mysterious, leaving her sleepy Colorado suburb pointing fingers at who they believe is responsible for her murder.
The story is told in three different points of view — the point of view of Cameron Whitley, Lucinda’s neighbor, classmate and stalker; Jade Dixon-Burns, Lucinda’s neighbor, classmate and former “friend”; and Russ Fletcher, one of the local police officers investigating her murder. Each character responds to the tragedy differently and is connected to her death in some way.
The novel begins with the discovery of Lucinda’s corpse at the local elementary school playground. The setting is February 2005. She’s buried under a light layer of snow. Her neck looks snapped. Snow and blood are frozen on one side of her head. She’s surrounded by police officers, including Russ, and the school janitor who found her body during the dead of night.
News of her death spreads like wildfire throughout the community. Police start lining up suspects — the janitor who found her body and Cameron Whitley.
Cameron has issues, to say the least. He spends his nights meandering around his sluggish Colorado town and peering through neighbor’s windows — including Lucinda’s. He memorizes her family’s nighttime routine, and he steals Lucinda’s diary. At one point, her father steps outside and asks whoever is on their property to leave or he will call the police.
Aside from being a stalker, Cameron is a gifted artist. At home, he draws and paints frequently with Lucinda as his subject. Cameron’s obsession with Lucinda is unhealthy, and earns him the reputation at school as a stalker.
Jade, on the other hand, despises Lucinda. She blames Lucinda for many things that have gone wrong in her life. For example, Lucinda steals Jade’s love interest and best friend, Zap. Also, Jade takes on the job of cleaning rooms at a local hot-sheet hotel because Lucinda steals her babysitting gig. Once Lucinda dies, Jade gets it back.
Prior to Lucinda’s death, Jade practices witchcraft. During one of her rituals, she wishes Lucinda away. Lucinda dies just days later.
The novel details the three days following her murder. Each character’s backstory is explained in great detail and their connections to one another and Lucinda are revealed. We learn their strengths, weaknesses, fears and who they believe committed the murder. At the end, it jumps forward a few weeks to describe what the characters experience once the killer is discovered.
Would I recommend Girl in Snow to others? For an avid YA mystery novel enthusiast, absolutely. For someone needing a quick, intriguing summer read? No.
At nearly 360 pages, I expect a more intricate, compelling storyline. Girl in Snow focuses more on character development than anything else, but one character whose development lacks for me is Lucinda. I continuously view Lucinda as this golden girl that Cameron sees her as. In the last 100 pages, this image I hold of her is tainted. I finish the novel viewing Lucinda in the way Jade sees her.
Furthermore, there are moments when the plot moves so incredibly slow, the only incentive that keeps me reading is to find out who killed Lucinda. When the murderer, Mr. Thornton, the man Lucinda babysits for, is revealed, it seems shocking and very unexpected. I wish Kukafka included more of a backstory behind their illicit relationship and what drives him to kill her so suddenly.
In short, if you are looking for a fast-paced thriller novel, this book is not for you. I typically crank out a novel in three to four days. This novel took me about two weeks. Additionally, if you want a novel with lots of character complexity, Girl in Snow is for you. Kukafka provides beautiful descriptions of all the characters throughout the novel. But as for a novel that is plot-driven, this novel falls short.
Although Girl in Snow is not what I expected, I don't regret reading it. I'll be on the lookout for Kukafka’s next book and will surely set aside more time to read it than I would with other mystery novels. Girl in Snow is Kukafka’s debut novel, and I look forward to reading what she comes out with next.