In 1953, Boy Novak arrives in a small town in Massachusetts, hoping to escape her difficult and violent life in New York. She settles in and marries local widower Arturo Whitman, becoming stepmother to his daughter Snow. Boy never imagined she would fall into the role of wicked stepmother but it soon happens. When Boy gives birth to a daughter whose dark skin exposes a long-kept secret of the Whitman’s, Snow finds herself sent away from her own home. Separately and together, Boy, Snow, and Bird all struggle against the forces of beauty and the power the mirror holds over them.
Called a re-telling of the fairy tale Snow White, Boy, Snow, Bird, is the fifth novel from Helen Oyeyemi, a writer who was recently named one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists. Known for incorporating myth and fairy tales into her work, Oyeyemi tackles race in a pre-civil rights era America in this book.
While all of the marketing for the book refers to this as a re-telling of Snow White, it really isn’t. There are a few familiar elements - the mirrors, an “evil” stepmother, and a girl named Snow - but for the most part you’ll be hard pressed to find comparisons.
The parts of the book that I did find interesting were when it tackled the issues of race. Upon giving birth to Bird, Boy discovers that her husband and his family are African-Americans who have been passing as white. This is a topic that is very real, that is rooted in history, and really helps to tell the story of race relations in the United States. However, I found that the book did not go deep enough into the subject to really get a feel for the time period or for the emotions of it all.
For me there were quite a few parts of the book that dragged and quite a few parts that picked up and had me interested. Reading this book was up and down. I kept reading because I was wanting and expecting more of the story. But it wasn’t until the end of the book that I began to feel any emotion for the characters involved.
This is a tough one for me to write about. I really wanted to like it and I have been looking forward to it for months. But I couldn’t get into the magical elements of the book and the parts that were real just weren’t enough for me. Oyeyemi has a beautiful writing style but unfortunately it wasn’t enough for me.