Monday, August 23, 2010

Book Review: Whiter Than Snow by Sandra Dallas

Title: Whiter Than Snow
Author: Sandra Dallas
ISBN: 978-0-316-15649-3
Pages: 310
Release Date: March 30, 2010
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary: Whiter Than Snow opens in 1920, on a spring afternoon in Swandyke, a small town near Colorado’s Tenmile Range. Just moments after four o’clock, a large split of snow separates from Jubilee Mountain high above the tiny hamlet and hurtles down the rocky slope, enveloping everything in its path including nine young children who are walking home from school. But only four children survive. Whiter Than Snow takes you into the lives of each of these families: There’s Lucy and Dolly Patch—two sisters, long estranged by a shocking betrayal. Joe Cobb, Swandyke’s only black resident, whose love for his daughter Jane forces him to flee Alabama. There’s Grace Foote, who hides secrets and scandal that belies her genteel fa├žade. And Minder Evans, a civil war veteran who considers his cowardice his greatest sin. Finally, there’s Essie Snowball, born Esther Schnable to conservative Jewish parents, but who now works as a prostitute and hides her child’s parentage from all the world.

Ultimately, each story serves as an allegory to the greater theme of the novel by echoing that fate, chance, and perhaps even divine providence, are all woven into the fabric of everyday life. And it’s through each character’s defining moment in his or her past that the reader understands how each child has become its parent’s purpose for living. In the end, it’s a novel of forgiveness, redemption, survival, faith and family.

My Thoughts: In Whiter Than Snow, tragedy heals, unites and uplifts people. As news of the avalanche spreads, most of the townspeople of Swandyke, Colorado stop whatever they are doing to assist their neighbors with digging out the trapped children. Apathy, anger, prejudice, and social hierarchies fall by the wayside as people work together for a common cause. The townsfolk realize that who you are, what you do, what you did in the past or how much money you have doesn't matter when the life of an innocent child is at stake. The attitude of the townspeople is: when there's trouble, everyone works together. It doesn't matter who you are.

Whiter Than Snow opens with the avalanche. The author, Sandra Dallas, steps back and tells the history and family story of each child caught in the avalanche. She explores the experiences of the parent or caretaker growing up, their joys and sorrows and the sacrifices they made as they got older as well as their less admirable actions and traits. We learn of their strengths and flaws in what are, essentially short stories within the novel, as well as what they've done to have a family, children and provide a good home. The themes of betrayal, deception, cowardice, survival, love, loyalty and selfishness resonate throughout the stories, often painting a bleak picture of the hard-working, troubled people of Swandyke.

The characters who are the focus of the book separate themselves from certain neighbors, friends and each other for years for a variety of reasons. They are quickly united, however, in accepting help from each other in order to save their children. They also find themselves reaching for any available shoulder to cry on as they await news of their child. Forgiveness, understanding, support and love dominate the later chapters of Whiter Than Snow as the townspeople drop whatever they're doing and come together to rescue the innocent victims. Old bonds are re-kindled as new bonds are formed and grudges melt away.

Dallas has a talent for writing wonderfully life-like characters. We can feel their joys and sorrows, relate to their flaws, stubbornness, pride and their behavior. I felt so invested in these characters that I was anxious to learn what things were like for them as the avalanche rendered the past moot. The characters felt the power of forgiveness and redemption that can come only from a tragedy like this, something that brings out the best in everyone. Faith, their love and support for each other and the power of forgiveness lifted the burdens each character carried for years. New relationships formed and old ones were repaired paving the way for an enlightening future.

I wondered, however, where all this would lead. I wanted to know how the characters whose children died coped over the ensuing years. Who helped them? What did they talk about with their family and friends after missing so many years together? A specific example: did the women remain friendly? Dallas touched on some of these issues, but I was disappointed when she provided only tidbits about the characters' lives following the avalanche. Without revisiting the town, for example, on the one year anniversary of the avalanche to see how the characters are faring leaves me feeling a lack of closure. I wished for at least a chapter or two, maybe even a two or three page epilogue to address these issues.

I was sad when the book ended and sorry to have to say goodbye to the characters because I'd enjoyed this story so much. But I can always hope for a sequel or a cameo by, maybe, Essie or Lucy in a future book, can't I!?!

Please keep an eye out for a post on my Interview with Sandra Dallas which will be posted here very soon!

I received Whiter Than Snow book from the Publisher for review.


  1. I sometimes enjoy an open ending, but it seems like with a story like this one, it would have improved the overall book. I have had "Prayers for Sale" by Dallas on my iPod for a long time, and actually started it but had to abandon it because I had just finished "The Angel's Game" and I couldn't handle anything that gentle.

  2. I love it when a book leaves me wanting more. This book sounds fantastic!

  3. I liked this one a lot too Amy. Have you read Tallgrass, or Prayers for Sale? Also good.

  4. I've got this one waiting to be reviewed--definitely need to move it up the pile!

  5. Bloggers seem to love Sandra Dallas. I need to read her soon!

  6. Great review! I was listening to this on audio but didn't have a chance to finish. I'm going to reserve it again from the library. Glad you liked it.