The Girl from Shadow Springs, Ellie Cypher (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 978-1-534-46569-5, $19.99, 311pp, hc) February 2021. Cover by Lente Scura.
In the extremely gritty survival story, The Girl from Shadow Springs, 17-year old Jorie and her sister Brenna carve out a sad living in the frozen wasteland surrounding the barely there town of the title. Jorie finds the corpses of treasure hunters out on the “Flats” and hauls them home to be buried at some later date, after first taking anything off the bodies that might be of value. The treasure hunters are chasing the legend of a gold city buried in the snow, but Jorie thinks they are all fools, and because she is super tough, she feels little pity for their lonely deaths. And, that’s it. Two orphan girls in a frozen hell with basically no friends, no joy, and Jorie’s exceedingly stoic attitude to keep them going. Ultimately, what we have here is the story of one sister who dismisses everyone’s opinion, another who ends up getting kidnapped, and one recently discovered dead body that holds a treasure-related secret. There are also large wolf creatures, a group of bandits who threatens to kill everyone, thieves, thugs, and, well, let’s just say basically no one has any redeeming qualities. Brenna is stolen, Jorie wants to find her, the most recent dead body holds a valuable secret, a teenage boy who knows that secret volunteers to help, and 300 pages or so later there is a happy ending. Also, no dogs die. (I was seriously worried about that more than once.)
I’m going to guess that author Ellie Cypher has spent some time reading Jack London, as his short story “To Build a Fire” and novel White Fang seem to be strong influences here. (Apologies to Cypher if I am wrong on that score.) While there are paranormal elements to be found in The Girl from Shadow Springs, they are few and far between, and mostly relegated to the final chapters. The legend springs to life then, and old stories of a vengeful witch prove to have some truth, but most of what Jorie and her companion Cody struggle through for the bulk of the novel is 100% severe cold-related. There are almost-falls through the ice, a rabid musk ox that attacks the sled dogs, fears of starvation, bitter wind, driving snow, ice caves, and then more wind and snow. The elemental struggle against nature ends up being more difficult than the confrontations with bandits and thieves, although none of that, of course, is a picnic either. I’m sure you can see why I was thinking of London while reading; there is a lot of his sort of “you don’t know what real cold is like” energy in this book.
The problem for The Girl from Shadow Springs is that the paranormal payoff is less significant thant the suffering to get there. Cypher gives little more than a glimpse of Brenna, Jorie is persistently unpleasant, her budding romance with Cody never really gets off the ground, and the final villain reads as a plot convenience. In the end, readers are left with a novel that spends a lot more time surviving and not enough worldbuilding. Even the Snow Queen had a personality (and The White Witch had turkish delight); in The Girl from Shadow Springs Jorie is just very, very cold.
Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website: www.colleenmondor.com.
This review and more like it in the July 2021 issue of Locus.
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