Source: Goodreads First Reads program and the publisher for review
From the prizewinning author of Mr. Fox, the Snow White fairy tale brilliantly recast as a story of family secrets, race, beauty, and vanity.
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.
Dazzlingly inventive and powerfully moving, Boy, Snow, Bird is an astonishing and enchanting novel. With breathtaking feats of imagination, Helen Oyeyemi confirms her place as one of the most original and dynamic literary voices of our time.My thoughts:
Although I labeled this as a retelling and it is admittedly connected to the tale of Snow White, I would actually call this one inspired by instead. With this knowledge of the tale that inspired this book, you can see how she wove elements into the book to tell the tale of the three characters of Boy, Snow and Bird. Not all the elements are clear. There is no obviously recognizable evil stepmother/witch but elements woven throughout several characters. The mirror is there, but it is not magical but metaphorical to all three main characters. Snow white is obviously Snow, but yet, you can also see those elements also woven through those same 3 main characters throughout time. The time is also set in the 40s-60s in America.
The book is separated into 3 parts. The first part you follow Boy who is a girl living with an abusive father. This part is also written in a way that made me feel like Boy had a bit of ADHD. The parts seem to skip all over the place, but I felt it was purposeful to get a feel for the character. Oh and yes, her name is Boy. Despite all the skipping around, the background of the abusive father and even Boy is murky, but she isn't interested in her background, only surviving the abuse. Boy runs away to make a new life for herself and finds a place in a artistic and tight knit community. She meets a man and decides to marry him mostly because of his beautiful little girl named Snow. Boy seems to fall under her spell. As time goes on, Boy becomes pregnant and sends Snow away when she learns her daughter is black. The family she lives with have been passing for white but Boy is not racist and loves her daughter from the start. It isn't clear why she sends Snow away, but depending on how you see Boy you feel she was either protecting her daughter or jealous of Snow. Yes, you can see elements of Snow White already unfolding within the story.
The second part of the book we follow Bird who is the daughter of Boy. This part read much smoother to me but it still felt as if there were constant run on sentences. There wasn't but the feel of constant chatter was there. I also felt this part was purposeful to get the feel of the character. In this part we see how Boy nurtured Bird, but yet Bird still felt like she was missing love since it was never spoken aloud. Boy never said love to her, but her actions did tell Bird that she was loved and cherished. However, for a little girl, it could be hard to figure out. This part also had the coming together of estranged sisters and how all the characters dealt with racism. The mirror played an even more philosophical part in this section of the book.
The third part was the smallest and we are back with Boy as our narrator. Twists are introduced here and the coming together of all three main characters are solidified. The ending is satisfying and complete. Even if you wonder how everything planned out throughout their lives, you can leave them knowing that they are all well.
I know I gave away more of the book than I usually do in my reviews. With this book, it is really about the writing and the messages the author wants to impart. I think she was successful in some ways and not quite there in others. I didn't always feel connected to Boy except through Bird. I need that connection. So, I give this book 3 stars. I did find it interesting and so different than a lot of books I've been reading. I recommend it to those that are wanting something a bit out there and something that might connect you to the feeling of what racism can do within a family. That alone makes this book worth reading.