This novel had been sitting on my shelf unread for a while, so when a bookclub I’m in chose it for one of our reads, I was enthusiastic to do so. I’d heard great things about it and that it’s inspired by the Snow White fairytale, so I thought the book sounded promising. But unfortunately, the story wasn’t as outstanding as I thought it would be.
Historical Fiction; Magical Realism; Literary
The widely acclaimed novel that brilliantly recasts the Snow White fairy tale 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, exposes the Whitman family secret. 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. (Goodreads)
Boy, Snow, Bird was not at all what I expected. It’s a literary historical fiction novel with a dab of magical realism and some fairytale-esque influences thrown in that touches on colorism and race relations.
It begins in the 1950s with Boy, a young White woman who runs away from her abusive father to a small town in Massachusetts, where she starts a new life. She marries a jeweler and becomes stepmother to his daughter, Snow.
Things are okay for the couple until Boy gives birth to her daughter, Bird. It’s then that Boy learns that her husband and his family are African American and had been passing as White. Unable to maintain the deception to the public while playing the dutiful wife and stepmother, Boy sends Snow away to be raised by her husband’s outcasted sister. The rest of the story is about Bird learning about her absent stepsister and the nature of her family, and Boy learning about her background and coming to terms with what she has done to Snow.
Boy, Snow, Bird received rave reviews when it came out. That’s part of the reason why I bought it. I was curious, plus I liked the cover. I assumed that it would be a story I’d love but unfortunately, it wasn’t impressive and I didn’t much care for it as the story continued. I read the book with two friends and they didn’t care for it either.
The story is narrated by Boy and her daughter, Bird. Of the two, I preferred Bird’s narration. I think that’s because I like Bird’s character. I like how curious she is, her strong interest in journalism, and the lengths she’s willing to go to get a story. Also, we learn more about the family through her narration, which was more interesting to me than the stuff Boy narrated about.
The discussion on colorism and passing were interesting since the story digs into why certain characters choose to pass as White while others don’t and the opportunities gained and missed due to those decisions. The backstory on Boy’s mother and father was quite a twist, and I wonder how the meeting will go when Boy confronts her parent. However, I felt misled by claims that this story “reimagines” or “recasts” the Snow White fairytale. I’d instead say that it’s influenced by the fairytale — it mixes in some elements of the fairytale.
A decent story, easy to read, but not as outstanding as I thought it would be.