Author: Helen Oyeyemi
Provided Synopsis: In the winter of 1953, Boy Novak arrives by chance in a small town in Massachusetts, looking, she believes, for beauty—the opposite of the life she’s left behind in New York. She marries a local widower and becomes stepmother to his winsome daughter, Snow Whitman.
A wicked stepmother is a creature Boy never imagined she’d become, but elements of the familiar tale of aesthetic obsession begin to play themselves out when the birth of Boy’s daughter, Bird, who is dark-skinned, exposes the Whitmans as light-skinned African Americans passing for white. Among them, Boy, Snow, and Bird confront the tyranny of the mirror to ask how much power surfaces really hold.
Review: I am in desperate need of someone to discuss this book with, which is why I will start this review with the recommendation that Boy, Snow, Bird be read with a book club rather than on one’s own. There was a lot of commentary and imagery that dealt with beauty and perception that were lost on me, and I know I could have benefited had I been able to hear others’ takes on what it was the author attempted to say.
Boy Novak is the daughter of The Rat Catcher. Once she decides that she is no longer able to take abuse from her father, she runs away from home to a small town in New England named Flax Hill. It is here that Boy meets Arturo Whitman and joins the family unit centered on his daughter, Snow. But when Boy gives birth to her and Arturo’s child, the baby is black and reveals that her husband’s family has been passing for white. Suddenly, it is difficult to have Snow around, and unfortunately, it is from this point on that the story loses what had been suggested would be in its premise. Boy, Snow, Bird is described by its publishers as a re-telling of Snow White, but there is nothing in this story to fit that bill.
Don’t get me wrong, however — this was not a badly written story. I found it very easy to fall into the author’s language. The narrative voices of both Boy and Bird were very interesting, indeed; I just wish there had been some explanation given as to what all that they had perceived and thought meant at the end of the day. The lack of a firm conclusion troubled me, especially once I got to the end of the story with its revelation and abrupt ending. What did any of this mean? What was the point of these characters? Do you see what I mean when I say this is a book that demands its readers to have a discussion with one another to flesh out what happened? As a book, the parts of the story are more effective than the whole. Because this story can be great when taken in parts, but when you try to piece everything together you will discover that something is missing.