Jules and Sylvie are sisters, just one year apart. They live with their father in a house that backs onto a woods with a river. There is one part, the Slip, where the girls are forbidden to go, since it’s so dangerous, where the river goes underground. When the girls awaken to late spring fresh snow, Sylvie just has to run down to the river to make a wish. Her wishes are always the same, to run faster. Jules is left behind at home after the two make their snowman family together. Jules waits and waits, but Sylvie does not return. That’s when Jules discovers that Sylvie has disappeared into the river. It’s also when a pregnant fox feels a spirit enter her female cub, a special spirit that has a connection to humans, specifically Jules. Two young females, a fox and a girl, both searching for what is missing and both unable to turn away from their shared bond.
Appelt and McGhee have written a blazingly beautiful novel that pairs adept writing with a powerful connection to nature. The book begins on a spring day filled with snow, a magical time. But even at the beginning there is foreshadowing that something is going to happen, there is the danger of the Slip, the speed of running, a certain desperation, a dead mother. It all adds up gracefully and powerfully to danger and then death. It’s the glorious writing that allows that to be both shocking and also entirely expected too.
The part of the story with the fox brings a richness to the story, another piece that falls into place of animals that have connections and even responsibilities. It too is written with a beauty and a combination of real understanding of foxes and wild animals and then also a haunting connection to death. The entire book also relies on its setting that is shown from human point of view and then again with different terms in the fox viewpoint as well. That element helps to sew the two halves of the book tightly together into a whole. A whole that sings about death, about loss, about grief, and about the power of nature to heal.
Incredibly moving and richly detailed, this novel is a powerful read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.