Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Title: Boy, Snow, Bird
Author: Helen Oyeyemi
Publisher: Riverhead
Publication Date: March 6, 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Reviewed by: Ellen Fritz
Ellen’s rating: 2/5


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.


Thinking that the fairy tale aspect as well as the enigmatic reference to mirrors would make it an interesting, even fascinating read, I quite eagerly started reading Boy, Snow, Bird. I'm sorry to say that I was rather sadly disappointed. Boy leaves her abusive parent for life in a small town and a marriage that seems to turn sour after a few years. Although Boy - really a girl - is a bit of a typical stepmother, her daughter, Bird, makes an effort to befriend her estranged stepsister, the beautiful and completely white, Snow. 

Excellent classics like To Kill a Mocking Bird and The Help notwithstanding, books concerning the color question have never been among my favorite reading material. The author uses the Snow White fairy tale to emphasize the color issue in this book—a clever ploy if stories about said color issue is within the reader's interest.

Unless the matter of both Bird and Snow not always appearing in all mirrors at all times is a metaphor for something, I simply didn't get that part of the story. I did, however, enjoy Bird's fascination with spiders. That, together with her upbeat, often hilariously funny, narrating voice during the middle part of the book, gave her an outstanding character.

Other characters like Mia, Boy's best friend, as well as both the grandmothers are unique and well fleshed out and contribute to the telling of this story.

The weird, but wickedly unexpected plot twist right at the end, though criticized by many, actually redeemed this book for me.

Although this book is not for me, it is clearly an excellent literary work that retells the fairy tale of Snow White while skillfully and tastefully touching on the color question within families and communities in the sixties.

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Helen Oyeyemi is a British novelist and playwright. She was born in Nigeria in 1984 and raised in London. She wrote her widely acclaimed first novel, The Icarus Girl, before her nineteenth birthday; she graduated from Cambridge University in 2006, where she studied social and political sciences. In 2013 she was included in the Granta Best Of Young British Novelists list.

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