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Boy, Snow, Bird: A Novel Hardcover – March 6, 2014


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, March 2014: After escaping the cruel wrath of her abusive father, Boy Novak finds comfort in a small Massachusetts suburb and a widower named Arturo, whom she later marries. Boy is quite taken with Arturo's daughter Snow, but it's the daughter she has with Arturo that complicates their quiet lives--Bird's birth reveals that both Arturo and Boy are light-skinned African-Americans passing for white. Harkening back to the great passing narratives, like Charles W. Chesnutt's The Marrow of Tradition and, most notably, Passing by Nella Larsen, Boy, Snow, Bird is about both the exterior and interior complexities of racial identity. The perception of Arturo and Boy's race and social class is threatened by Bird. But it's the psychological conflicts that are the most devastating. Arturo was raised with "the idea that there was no need to ever say, that if you knew who you were then that was enough, that not saying was not the same as lying." Is passing dishonest if it isn't an active decision? Boy, Snow, Bird is a retelling of Snow White, and the wit and lyricism of Helen Oyeyemi's prose shares the qualities of a fable. But this novel isn't content to conclude with an easy moral. In fact, Oyeyemi complicates the themes she establishes. Her writerly charms shouldn't be taken for granted; the beauty of her writing hides something contemplative and vital, waiting to be uncovered by readers. --Kevin Nguyen

From Booklist

The author of Mr. Fox (2011) sets her whimsical retelling of a classic fairy tale in 1950s Massachusetts, where beautiful young Boy Novak has fled her tyrannical, abusive father to seek a fresh start. She makes two friends, glamorous Webster and ambitious Mia, and exchanges her lovelorn hometown suitor for a history teacher turned jewelry maker named Arturo Whitman, whom she marries despite not quite coming to love him. Arturo has a young daughter, Snow, who poses a threat to Boy after the birth of her own daughter, Bird, when a secret is revealed: the Whitman family has been passing for white since moving to Massachusetts from the South. Though Arturo’s imperious mother, Olivia, wants Boy to send Bird away to live with Arturo’s darker-skinned sister, Clara, it is Snow whom Boy exiles. As Bird grows up, she becomes fascinated with the stepsister she has been separated from, and the two begin a secret correspondence. Oyeyemi delves deeply into the nature of identity and the cost of denying it in this contemplative, layered novel. --Kristine Huntley
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; First Edition edition (March 6, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594631395
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594631399
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (231 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #50,700 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

I felt I wasted my time in reading this book.
gardengal
I didn't complete the book as I found it difficult to read and not an easy story to follow or get excited about.
lorraine pitt
A lot of the characters were not well developed.
Margaret H.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

73 of 79 people found the following review helpful By Brendan Moody TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 28, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
[Spoiler warning: because of the way BOY, SNOW, BIRD is structured, it's difficult to discuss the novel without giving away plot points that emerge around the halfway point. This review won't reveal anything that isn't discussed in the cover copy or implicit in the mythic structure, but readers who want to come to the novel not knowing anything should stop here, with my strong recommendation for this novel about identity and the ambiguities of race, gender, and family life.]

The title of Helen Oyeyemi's excellent new novel derives from the names of its three female protagonists. Boy is Boy Novak, who escapes an abusive childhood in 1950s New York and comes to the Massachusetts town of Flax Hill, eventually marrying local widower Arturo Whitman. Snow is Arturo's daughter, a girl of uncommon beauty who makes Boy obscurely uncomfortable. And Bird is the daughter Boy and Arturo have together, whose dark skin reveals the family's secret: Arturo, his late wife, and their families were all African-Americans passing as white. Boy, worried about what the difference between Snow and Bird will mean for her own daughter and plagued by demons of her own, sends Snow away to live with relatives. But years later, when Bird is a teenager, Snow returns...

Some readers will already have identified the fairy tale of which this is a loose retelling; others will recognize it after learning that Boy, Snow, and Bird all have a strange fascination with mirrors. But the emphasis is on "loose" rather than "retelling:" those expecting a point-for-point recasting of Snow White will be disappointed.
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96 of 108 people found the following review helpful By Steve VINE VOICE on February 22, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
After struggling with this book then reading the glowing reviews, I am stuck with the reality that this is a book I either completely missed, or one that is not in my interest area no matter how slowly I read it, or even re-read it.

The style of author Helen Oyeyemi was a tough nut for me to crack. The side steps into fantasy, the lack of smooth transitions, and what I perceived as heavy-handedness were obstacles to my enjoyment. I found myself unable to sustain interest and labored to get through it. In short, it seemed to never really go anywhere, nor was the main character Boy fascinating enough to make me care and lock me in.

Again, I’m in the minority thus far and it’s clear that others found plenty to cherish in this novel. I almost wish I did, too, but there are too many other books to discover for me to fret over this particular literary disconnect. I hope you enjoy it more than I did.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Liviania VINE VOICE on March 6, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I've heard quite a bit of praise for British novelist Helen Oyeyemi, who is known for combining mythology and other traditional stories with more commonplace matter. BOY, SNOW, BIRD is her fifth novel and the first one I've read. I'm having difficultly untangling my feelings about it.

BOY, SNOW, BIRD is inspired by Snow White and American history. (It's set in the fifties.) Boy, the narrator of the first and the last section, is a young woman who runs away from home when it becomes clear that her father might kill her one day. She makes a new life for herself in a small town, friendships, dates, a job, the works. But her new life has unexpected complications, including the other two eponymous characters. Bird narrates the second part, and Snow doesn't narrate at all. I want Snow's point of view, but it makes sense, given that so much of the book is about how people perceive Snow and whether their perception is right.

One thing I truly enjoyed is how my perception of BOY, SNOW, BIRD changed as I was reading it. It wasn't the story I - or Boy - expected. There are, for instance, little seeds of what will become major plot points in the first half, but it's easy to overlook them as just bits of set dressing. BOY, SNOW, BIRD is a novel that tackles complex subjects while keeping the focus on people and their actions. The Snow White theme provides structure, but BOY, SNOW, BIRD has no easily digestible moral.

My issue is that I felt adrift at the end of the novel. I was thoroughly engrossed, and then it ended. There's a small catharsis at the end, but very small. I felt like the characters' journeys weren't through. I don't think there was much story left, but there was something.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Liora on May 5, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I heard about this book on NPR and thought it sounded interesting. According to NPR, the book was supposed to be a modern fairy tale and a study of race-relations in 1945 New England. However, the core premise of the book was not introduced until the halfway point, and towards the end, the author abandons the theme in favor of sexuality. The last part of the book came so out of left field that I felt like I was reading a different book.

For me, the book lacked cohesiveness and direction.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Kenya Starflight on September 3, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
WARNING: REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.

The oddball title of this book was the first thing to intrigue me -- at first it just seemed to be three random words strong together, though I expected them to have some bearing on the story itself. The book description hooked me further, however -- "retold fairy tales" is a favorite genre of mine, and even if the author decides to transport the fairy tale to another era and/or country, it can often work regardless. And a retelling of "Snow White" set amid the racial strife of the fifties and sixties had a lot of potential in my opinion. And I must admit, having three main characters with such unique names was also something of a draw -- the title is actually the names of three of the principal characters, all women and all united by family ties of some sort. So though I knew nothing about the author of this work, I picked up the book.

Perhaps I picked this up expecting too much, but it fell incredibly flat for me. I expected a fractured fairy tale, and instead got a story about race and family relations that can't seem to decide what direction it ultimately wants to go.

Boy is a young woman who flees her abusive father, a rat catcher in New York City, for a small town in Massachusetts. She ends up befriending several townsfolk, including a history professor turned jeweler and his beautiful daughter Snow, whom everyone seems to adore. She ends up marrying the jeweler -- more for security than out of actual love -- and becomes stepmother to Snow, all the while wondering if she'll fall into the cliché of wicked stepmother.
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