Review: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you to Flatiron Books and Top Shelf Text for sending me an advance reader copy of this book. All opinions are my own.

Scared? She had never wanted to admit when she was scared. Mina was never scared, or so she had believed. “I’m only scared it won’t work,” Lynet said, her throat dry from having been silent for so long. She stared straight ahead at the outlines of the dangling willow leaves. I’m scared I won’t be enough. “I’m scared that some wounds can’t be healed.”

“Some wounds never heal,” Nadia said. She shyly reached for Lynet’s right hand, turning it over so her palm was facing up. “But many do.”

In this feminist re-telling of the Snow White fairy tale, the kingdom is ruled by King Nicholas, still grieving his lost wife, and clinging to Lynet, the daughter who looks just like her. In the background stands Mina, the stepmother with the heart of glass crafted by her father, unable to love or to be loved. Just as Lynet is starting to discover who she is and who she wants to be, her father is gravely injured during a hunting accident. When Nicholas dies, Mina and Lynet are pitted against one another—after all, only one can be queen. Told in alternating views between Mina and Lynet, Melissa Bashardoust upends the tropes of the evil stepmother and the shrinking violet princess to bring a story of what it means to be true to oneself and to love and be loved.

Reading Level—Writing and Themes
The writing in Girls Made of Snow and Glass is simple—the reading level is 7th grade and up, yet the story is crafted well enough to hold the interest of an adult reader, even with the somewhat low reading level. The tone and pitch of the writing match classic fairy tales without erring to the side of being sing-songy in wording. The simple writing never distracts from the overall story and the pace is perfect—not too fast or too slow.

Girls Made of Snow and Glass is not a Grimm fairytale by any stretch. There is limited violence (there is one particularly violent scene almost at the end when the battle between good and evil comes to a climax, but it is not terribly graphic) and no romantic overtures beyond kissing. Thematically, Bashardoust manages to convey more complicated concepts than you would typically find in a novel written at a middle school reading level, yet she handles them in ways that feel accessible to parents and children exploring and talking about these themes.

Being at home in your own skin
Lynet, born as her mother was dying and eerily similar to the departed queen, chafes against the expectations placed on her—the requests that make her feel as if she is being forced into the mold of her mother. There are several instances where Bashardoust raises Lynet feeling this way—

Lynet was overlooking the courtyard now, but she still felt like she was running from something, and that if she stopped, it would catch her. It was a restless feeling, an itch that made her feel like her skin didn’t fit over her bones correctly. She thought that she might leap out of herself and become someone new, and then she’d be at peace.

The feelings Lynet has—of not feeling like she is herself in her own body, feeling that her forced outsides don’t match her insides—seem like they would have resonance with a teen who identifies as LGBTQ or has friends who do. Lynet feels that to embrace these feelings would be to disappoint her father, whom she loves dearly.

In other scenes, Lynet grows closer to Nadia (the newly arrived surgeon for the castle, slightly older than she), she marvels that Nadia can be a stoic surgeon in the castle and also her caring, radiant friend. Later, Lynet is put in the position of forgiving Nadia and having to decide if she trusts her. Lynet’s experiences with Nadia speak volumes about female friendship. Bashardoust avoids the trope of the Mean Girl altogether—she presents Nadia making a significant mistake, one that she had reasons to make but was still altogether an error, but owning her mistakes. The error-apology-acceptance storyline is one that isn’t often done well in literature aimed at teen girls but shines here. Bashardoust handles these revelations and lessons gently, hitting the balance between being subtle and still being clear enough that the message hits home. Ultimately, the relationship between Lynet and Nadia looks like it will become something more than just friendship—Bashardoust writes this beautifully and tenderly without unnecessary handwringing about what this might mean. Lynet and Nadia just are and the book is better for it.

Loving and being loved
While Lynet is, in many ways driven and initially defined by her relationship with her father, the main relationship in the book is between Lynet and her stepmother, Mina. Mina feels incapable of loving anyone or being loved in return. Mina’s limitations here harm and confuse them both, with Mina discounting her feelings for Lynet and Lynet feeling that her stepmother has only ill will towards her.

I never had stepparents so I give my opinions here with that caveat. Amazon classifies the book, among other options, within the subcategory of “Blended Families”—while this isn’t a category that immediately occurred to me, it’s absolutely appropriate. Mina and Lynet make mistakes—both in their expectations and desires of what they want the other to be. I don’t want to give anything away, but here too, there is so much fodder for good discussion of what it means to be family and love a family member who might not be blood-related to you.

Free will
With everything going on when you’re a teenager, it is easy to feel that you don’t have agency over your own life. Everyone from your parents and friends to society generally have expectations and labels. It sometimes feels easier to go with the flow and forget that you have choices. One of the strengths of Bashardoust’s tale is that her characters are ultimately the masters of their own destinies. This is not Snow White saved by seven (little) men. While the women in the story—Lynet and Mina in particular but Nadia as well—have to grapple with the impact caused by the actions of the men in their lives, how those choices impact them and what they do next is entirely within their control. I wanted to stand up and cheer. Bashardoust’s characters are believable—they absolutely have flaws—but they have power (figuratively and literally), they make choices, and they live with the consequences. Mothers, here are some good role models for your daughters.

Accessible Feminism
(I’m going to start by saying that I generally identify as feminist. That’s a loaded word and I’m not going to unpack it here, but I do feel it’s worth saying so that the next part doesn’t come across as possibly sarcastic.)

I knew going into this book that it was a feminist re-telling of Snow White. I wasn’t sure how that would fit in with the dwarves (spoiler….there are no dwarves) or what it would mean for the evil stepmother character. I was expecting, frankly, to be a little hit over the head with the moral lessons (otherwise, why emphasize that it’s so feminist).

I was pleasantly surprised with how beautiful the story of Girls Made of Snow and Glass ultimately was. The “F” word appears nowhere in the book—there are no asides or speeches about feminism or girl power. Instead, Bashardoust simply depicts women and girls who have agency, have self-respect, and make choices that affect themselves and others. There is no fanfare over the feminism here, it just is. The book is better for not having made a fuss, but rather presented the themes and the powerful female characters as just the way things are. Because frankly, women having agency and power is/should be just the way things are.

Throughout Girls Made of Snow and Glass there are little gems that can spark great discussion between parents and children about being comfortable in your own skin, the expectations people (often unfairly) have of you, and what it means to be a friend (even when you’ve been betrayed or been the betrayer). The moral lessons never feel overbearing but are cleverly and clearly conveyed so that there is no missing the message.

Even though I am not a parent (or even close to becoming one), I adored this book. It was an empowering and fun read, well worthy of my time investment.

Published: September 5, 2017 by Flatiron Books (@flatiron_books)
Author: Melissa Bashardoust
Date read: August 19, 2017
Rating: 4 ½ Stars

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