Boy, Snow, Bird

Boy is a girl!Boy, Snow, Bird, literary fiction by Helen Oyeyemi

What The Book Is About

The main character, Boy, is a teenager growing up in NYC with an abusive father, Frank Novak, a rat catcher who uses the rats to terrify and torment her. Finally, Boy runs away and lands in Massachusetts, a town where everyone is a specialist at something, except Boy who only knows how to do one thing well – avoid loving anyone.

She marries Arturo who’s a widower, his wife having died after giving birth to their daughter, Snow. At first, Arturo seems like a nice, quiet man who loses everything except his daughter – he is the sad, unfortunate male character stuck inside female fiction that you just want to root for. Until Bird is born, an African-American baby born to two supposedly Caucasian parents. Only then, does everyone learn that Arturo’s family is really just pretending to be white and has succeeded by exiling any child who threatens the secret. Arturo is a liar! Not quite the nice, quiet man we expected.

Instead of exiling Bird, Boy sends Snow into exile instead, for no reason other than that Snow is the rival for the family’s attention. And Arturo just lets her send his daughter away. Talk about a weak man!

From this point on, the book switches between perspectives, Bird and Snow telling their own story as they grow up separated sisters fighting just to know each other, their relationship just one of the many stories the book describes of women fighting against and for each other and for the things they love.

What I Didn’t Like

  • The blurb on the inside front cover of the book gave WAY too much information away. It tells exactly what I just wrote in the book synopsis even though those things don’t start happening until around the middle of the book. That’s a long way to read without being surprised by anything.
  • The book is mis-filed as Fairy Tale and Fantasy. It is not fantasy at all. In fact, this story is a very real one. It should have been classified as literary fiction which would probably bring it to those readers.
  • I started off not enjoying the book because while I knew the story line, the themes weren’t immediately obvious so it felt confusing like the story was just rambling.

What I Liked

  • The book is a great example of literary fiction – the themes were well developed in the second part of the novel and told a tragic story in a very descriptive way.
  • Oyeyemi uses beautiful metaphors to compare situations and tell the story behind the story.
  • I liked that this wasn’t a retelling of Snow White. All I know about the Snow White fairytale is that the stepmother is evil and obsessed with appearances. The women in this story had so much more depth – if in fact there was an obsession about appearances, it was to not appear too beautiful so that one could find true love instead.
  • The plot twist in the end of the book was completely unexpected. I had a totally different ending in mind so while the one Oyeyemi wrote is very sad, it was pleasant to be so surprised by how things turned out.

My Rating

I gave the book 4 out of 5 stars because:

+1 Oyeyemi uses imagery very well -not quite magical realism, in my opinion, but the comparisons made for a great storytelling device

+1 for hateful or unlikeable characters written very well

+1 for alternating perspectives at different points of the story that gave a more complete description

+1 women’s struggles during the time period was very well described

-0.5 because there were too many characters – too many stories being told simultaneously

-0.5 for how confusing the first part of the book was to read given the themes we were told to expect

 

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