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Yikes, it's been a while since my last book review! It's not that I haven't been reading — just been very busy with a bunch of other things. But I can't pass up a chance at a sneak peek at something before it comes out, so I jumped at the chance to read Salla Simukka's newest book before its release!
Simukka's Snow White Trilogy is a series of crime novels that, while not based on the classic fairy tale, reference it just enough to give the trilogy its title. The main character, Lumikki (Finnish for "Snow White," a reference that is not only acknowledged but scorned by the main character), gets mixed up in some rough business in the first book, "As Red As Blood," when some of her classmates get in over their head with a drug cartel. The second book, "As White As Snow," features the same tough, jaded heroine, but this time she's facing off against a dangerous cult.
I cranked through both books in two days — they're quick, easy reads with fast-paced action and enough mystery to make you want to keep turning pages. But I definitely had my issues with both novels.
The first thing that frustrated me was something I couldn't pinpoint until I was almost done with the second book. At first I thought I was annoyed that a main character of high school age was so jaded and had such a "dark past" — one thing I love about young adult novels is that they generally don't carry the same exhausting negativity and cynicism that adult fiction does. But ultimately I realized that what I was truly frustrated with was that it felt like most of the story was happening in the past. While the action was playing out in the present, all the emotional punch lay in the memories. This made it difficult for me as a reader to truly get invested in the present action — because I felt like we were getting to know the Lumikki of the past better than the Lumikki of the present.
Another issue the books have is that a lot of the major plot points feel just a little too convenient. What makes a good mystery good is that all the pieces are there for the reader to put together — we just can't. Then when the pieces do come together, we think "of course!! I should've known!" But in Simukka's novels, the realizations are often paired with information the reader never received — information that feels hastily stuck-in at the last minute, as though the author had forgotten to tell us. This particular issue, which is an extremely common one in mysteries of any kind (mysteries are hella hard to write... I gave up on that structure long ago) is one that immediately throws me out of the story. The books also suffer from a similar problem, where some mysteries are built up so vaguely and so dramatically that the ultimate conclusion feels anticlimactic.
One of my favorite parts of the novels was one that I felt we didn't get near enough of. Although we hear bits and pieces from Lumikki's memories in the first book about her tragic lost love, it isn't until "As White As Snow" that we learn the details — and I don't just mean the good old-fashioned YA love scenes filled with tingling and shivering and long, loving descriptions of kissing, although we definitely get those. I won't risk ruining any of the twists and turns of this book for you, but I will say that I applaud Simukka for taking a chance here, and that we need more books with this particular kind of romance in it — a lot more books. In fact, this is the first I've ever read. And I've read a lot of YA romances.
Overall, the books weren't really my style — though they'll make a great quick, entertaining read for those who want it. And of course, if you're looking for some much-needed diversity in your YA romance, Simukka might be just the author for you.
Speaking of the author... I was lucky enough to get a chance to ask her a few questions.
Me:Fairy tale adaptations are very in vogue right now, and although the Snow White trilogy can hardly be called an adaptation, bits of imagery and references to the original story of Snow White pepper your novels. What do you think were the biggest benefits and disadvantages of writing a novel that references a well-known fairy tale?
Simukka:When I started writing the Snow White Trilogy in 2011, I actually didn't know that 2012 there would be not only one but two big Hollywood films based on Snow White. But I didn't let that frighten me because I knew that I wasn't writing a re-telling of the fairy tale.
I feel that the biggest benefits with having a well-known fairy tale in the background are the associations you in a way get "for free" because people have some sorts of ideas and images in their head about the fairy tale. As a writer you can play with those associations and references as much as you like. And I also feel that it is a way of showing that all that is written is a part of literary tradition. Some people of course expect the story to follow the fairy tale more and might be disappointed when it doesn't. That is the only disadvantage I can think of.
Me:The Snow White trilogy is set in your home city of Tampere, but I doubt that much else of Lumikki's story is reflective of your real life (or at least, I hope not!). How do you feel about the common writing adage, “Write what you know”?
Simukka:Of course it is important to write what you know — to some extent. If you describe a place it's good if you have been there. If you describe a feeling, it is important that you have somehow experienced it yourself. But when it comes to the storyline and characters, imagination is your only limit. More important than to write what you know is to write what you burn for, what really interests you as a writer.
I couldn't agree more! What interests you — as a writer and/or as a reader? Tell me in the comments!