Touching Snow
by Felin, M. Sindy

M. Sindy Felin’s National Book Award finalist is in paperback for the first time. Karina has plenty to worry about on the last day of seventh grade: finding three Ds and a C on her report card again, getting laughed at by everyone again, being sent to the principal—again. But she’s too busy dodging the fists of her stepfather and looking out for her sisters to deal with school. This is the story of a young girl coming of age amidst the violent waters that run just beneath the surface of suburbia—a story that has the courage to ask: How far will you go to protect the ones you love?

Thirteen-year-old Karina is the tough, middle daughter, sandwiched between two very different sisters. Older Enid, 17, takes care of her younger siblings and cousins while their immigrant Haitian parents work long hours; Delta, the youngest, is pious and easily frightened. Karina's bravado isn't very deep, though, and she sometimes faints when her stepfather rages. Household rules center around a variety of absolutes, and Daddy is the ultimate authority. After he brutally beats Enid, the family is referred to social services, and Karina meets Rachael, whose parents run the services agency. Felin admirably portrays Karina's home life, but her presentation of Rachael and her family, true to Karina's viewpoint, leaves plenty of unexplained questions. Nonetheless, readers of this stirring first novel will find well-developed characters both in the adults and in the young people, particularly Karina and her sisters, who learn to set limits on the abuse that they will take.

Karina is the middle child of a Haitian-American immigrant family who has moved to upstate New York. On the surface, they are living the American dream: hardworking, upwardly mobile, with grand aspirations for the next generation. However, behind closed doors, Karina's abusive stepfather Gaston terrorizes her siblings. After the brutal assault of eldest sister Enid, Karina takes matters into her own hands. Richly textured with Haitian folklore and superstition, the colorful cast of characters twirls around like a kaleidoscope, yet their distinctive personalities save the narrative from being unintelligible. Karina's voice is strongest and most authentic when recounting events of life at home and in the Haitian community; scenes about school and a budding lesbian relationship with the daughter of the family's caseworker are less assured. At times, the first-person narration grates, but the tale never loses momentum. (Fiction. YA) Copyright Kirkus 2007 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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