Book review: Snowflake by Louise Nealon

Thursday, June 17, 2021 Permalink

I’d only just hopped in the bath and started to read Snowflake by Louise Nealon when I shared a picture (of the book, not me…) and commented that I didn’t think I was going to be able to put it down until I finished.

Such is the addictive allure of 18 year old Debbie and the world in which she inhabits. Nealon opens by giving us some history into Debbie and her family – her uncle Billy and, to a lesser extent, her mother Maeve. in fact it takes Debbie a while to reflect on childhood events involving her mother and when she does it’s centred around her dreams and her mother’s belief that both she and Debbie have the ability to see other’s dreams.

Book review: Snowflake by Louise NealonSnowflake
by Louise Nealon
Published by Manilla Press
on 13/05/2021
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: General Fiction, Literary Fiction
ISBN: 1786580691
Pages: 376

Eighteen-year-old Debbie White lives on a dairy farm with her mother, Maeve, and her uncle, Billy. Billy sleeps out in a caravan in the garden with a bottle of whiskey and the stars overhead for company. Maeve spends her days recording her dreams, which she believes to be prophecies.

This world is Debbie's normal, but she is about to step into life as a student at Trinity College in Dublin. As she navigates between sophisticated new friends and the family bubble, things begin to unravel. Maeve's eccentricity tilts into something darker, while Billy's drinking gets worse. Debbie struggles to cope with the weirdest, most difficult parts of herself, her family and her small life. But the fierce love of the White family is never in doubt, and Debbie discovers that even the oddest of families are places of safety.

Debbie is a delight. And not just because we share a name. Though I haven’t really been called ‘Debbie’ since my school years which apparently finished *checks notes* over 35 years ago. 🙄

She’s done well in school and excited to be heading to Trinity College but sure she won’t fit in. We learn she’s not really had friends at school and I probably would have liked a little more backstory here. There’s a boy from her school and small town – for eg – that she’s never spoken to and this seems unlikely if they’re the same age and went to the same school.

This is one of two books I read in a row featuring Greek mythology. Here Debbie’s uncle Billy shares with her his love of star gazing. Their relationship is a special one and I very much liked the way Nealon reveals more (later) about Billy and his past.

The blurb implies that her family life (and life on the farm in general) is incompatible with her new life in Dublin. It’s not necessarily the case however and Debbie makes a friend at University fairly quickly. I guess though there’s some doubt though about Xanthe – who’s Debbie’s complete opposite – and the basis of their friendship.

As well as reflection on the stars and Greek myths there’s an underlying theme around identity, of knowing and understanding who we are. When she was young Debbie’s mother told her a story about a speck of dust who didn’t believe in snow. Every night, the speck (Aisling) turned into a snowflake when it became cold, but each morning melted back into dust. Aisling dismissed any memories of her life as a snowflake as (just) fragments of dreams.

There is no way to catch a snowflake. And I haven’t met anyone who is able to catch a dream. p 45

This book is very much about family and friendships. I could use all the cliches. It’s certainly bittersweet and very much a coming-of-age novel. The latter however doesn’t relate only to Debbie.

Nealon also dips into more serious subjects of mental health and its stigma as well as the legacies we carry.

I very much enjoyed the time I spent in Debbie’s world. Nealon’s developed complex yet relatable characters and tackles very real issues but balances any rawness with an element of whimsy.

Snowflake by Louise Nealon was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.


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