Girl in Snow
Danya Kukafka
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Buy *Girl in Snow* by Danya Kukafkaonline

Girl in Snow
Danya Kukafka
Simon and Schuster
368 pages
August 2017
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Although the narrative technique of different chapters for different voices is a bit shopworn, I liked how Kukafka merges poetic description with well-written characterizations, even when some of her scenes seem to have little to do with the main plot of the book. At the beginning of the first few chapters, we catch a glimpse of troubled teenager Cameron Whitley. One of the three principal narrators who will shape Kukafka’s tale, Cameron is being interviewed at the Broomsville police station in connection with the brutal murder of 15-year-old Lucinda Hayes. Lucinda, Cameron and Jade--the second teenage voice in the story--attend Jefferson High School, a hotbed of gossip and innuendo after Cameron is pulled out of class and asked about his whereabouts.

Cameron’s visions of Lucinda’s last days are only getting worse. Obsessed with his sketchbook pages that contain illustrations of her, Cameron recalls how Lucinda glared out at him with her almond eyes, her pink palms spread wide on her bedroom window screen as he spied on her the night before she died. Cameron worries over his reputation as the dead girl’s stalker, and the feeling that Broomsville gives you when they think no one is watching. He hopes that his mother--horrified at his drawings--does not think that he is somehow complicit in Lucinda’s death. Jade, meanwhile, is haunted by visions of Lucinda’s tan body draped over the edge of the playground carousel, “her hair matted with blood and her lips a frosty blue.”

Kukafka’s third narrative voice is young police officer Russ, who formerly worked with Cameron’s father, Lee Whitely. Several years earlier, Lee left the town in disgrace after Russ promised Lee that he would do anything to protect him, “blindly and without question.” No one in Broomsville ever mentions Lee’s name, the pale, bony officer the patrol guys at the Broomsville Police Department whisper about. Clustering with the other members of the team, for the first time Russ sees Lucinda's body, covered in a thin membrane of fresh snow with blood and snow frozen together. The snow has covered up any footprints and washed away any fingerprints. There’s no sign of a murder weapon or Lucinda’s cell phone.

After the initial drama dies down, everyone begins to speculate over the identity of the perpetrator. The first to be interviewed are Joe Hayes, Lucinda’s father, and Ivan, the school’s janitor and Russ’s brother-in-law. As the case makes national news, the list of suspects grows: Ivan, who found the body; Lucinda’s boyfriend, Edouard; her parents, Joe and Misty Hayes; the homeless guy squatting in the park outside the library; Lucinda’s art teacher; and Cameron, “the stalker boy” who lives just down the street. In his dirty sneakers with the left shoelace untied, Cameron imagines himself looking down at Lucinda’s contorted form as the blood oozes from the gash on her head “like a sick sort of halo.”

Kukafka’s prose style is surprisingly languid as she shuttles us back and forth between the present-day winter and the previous summer, the bright and boisterous months when Lucinda was still alive. Russ is positive that someone in Lucinda’s neighborhood knows what happened, and he can’t stop thinking about the inevitability of Cameron’s guilt (and maybe even Ivan’s). In an unexpected twist, Jade becomes the surprise witness. She confides to Cameron that she saw him from her bedroom window, standing out on the back lawn of Lucinda’s house, always watching her. The rest of the novel is largely composed of Cameron negotiating the pain set by a succession of memories that keep tugging him back to his obsession with Lucinda, “inch by painstaking inch.”

Kukafka captures the slow pace of a small-town murder, the troubles over Cameron’s attraction to Lucinda, Jade’s battle with her abusive mother, and Russ’s realization that his assumptions about his marriage to Ines--a Mexican immigrant--have been based on a lie. The author conveys a fitting sense of place where age-old family ties unfurl against a landscape of pastel buildings, open spaces, and the vast Rocky Mountains standing watch over the inhabitants of Broomsville. In a delicate balancing act, the identity of the killer is finally revealed when Cameron, Jade and Russ converge on Pine Ridge Point, a cliff high above the town. Only here does Russ fully understand the complicated nature of Cameron’s secrets. This final scene illustrates why some boys like Cameron can become so obsessed with what they cannot have.

Despite its leisurely tone, the atmosphere of Girl in Snow almost turns it into a theatrical psychological thriller. We come to realize there’s nothing actually wrong with Cameron, apart from the fact that he aches for Lucinda’s sole attention. We also grasp that his custodial secret has made him vulnerable to Jude’s subterfuge. Not until the end do we fully understand the extent of Russ’s desires as he ponders whether happiness is possible in any other form than with the only person he thought he wanted. Kukafka laces together the inner psyches of her three disillusioned protagonists, their daily lives incongruous presences moving at high speed though her Colorado landscapes.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2017

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