I received Boy, Snow, Bird from an earlier CBR book exchange, but it had been collecting dust for a few years. I finally had a reason to pick it back up when my Mocha Girls Read book club selected it for a fairytale’s retold theme. Helen Oyeyemi’s novel is a VERY loose version of Snow White set in the 1950s.
Boy Novak runs away to a small town to escape her abusive father. She meets a man named Arturo who isn’t quite a prince, but he adores her. After sort of wearing her down and her own loneliness, she marries him and becomes stepmother to Snow, his beautiful daughter. Boy’s childhood made her very cold and odd, but she becomes almost terrified with jealousy of Snow. When her own child is born, Bird, she banishes Snow to live with Arturo’s sister out of state. The remainder of the book is told through Bird’s eyes as she observes her dysfunctional family.
MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW
When Bird is born, Boy learns that her husband Arturo isn’t Italian but actually black. His light skin allows him and passing parents all the caucasian benefits of the time. Even tho they live in the North, they decide it’s better to be passing than live as African Americans. Snow is the actual fairest of them all and forced to live in the South with her Aunt who herself was banished for being born with dark skin. But that’s not why Boy hated Snow, she literally thinks Snow has malicious intentions for her. Boy’s abusive upbringing left her it seems with some PTSD. She stares into mirrors and sees the worst in herself and others. Bird eventually brings them all back together to uncover a secret this time from Boy’s childhood. As if the story needed another twist, we learn her physically and verbally abusive father was actually HER MOTHER. Boy was a product of rape and to cope with it, her mother decides to dress like a man and eventually lives as one moving forward. As her father, he tortures Boy for years. When Boy learns the truth, she decides to take Snow and Boy on a road trip to reunite with her mother. The end! That ending left me more confused and suspect of the gender implications of the entire book.
My book club, needless to say, wasn’t a big fan. I think I was the most generous to the story that meeting. It was well-written, but at times overly poetic. My biggest issue was the gaps in the story from the multiple narrators. Once we start moving along with the drama, the part ends and a new narrator takes over years in the future. Bird’s section took me several pages to realize she was the protagonist.
I am curious to read other books from this author since her writing did hold my attention. If you are a fan of family drama with dark twists, this is an interesting read. If you need a very tight plot, this is probably not the book for you!