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Boy, Snow, Bird: A Novel Hardcover – March 6, 2014
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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
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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There were larger issues, such as racism and how other's perception of you can shape your life and how you see yourself, displayed in this story. Constantly looking for the similarities to the Snow White fairy tale can become distracting which could, unfortunately, cause the reader to miss a lot of symbolism weaved throughout the storyline.
The story dragged in the beginning and I wasn't quite sure what the point of the story was. At first, the only similarities I saw to Snow White were the references to the mirrors and one of the characters being named Snow. Otherwise, I just didn't see it, but I hung in there and the plot started to pick up after the 30% mark. Just as things really started coming to fruition the story ended very abruptly and without resolutions. This was unsettling to me and I find it very annoying to finish a book and feel that the story is unresolved.
After my Book Club's dynamic discussion, I read a review article of "Boy, Snow, Bird", which also stated that there were no resolutions to the many issues presented in this book, and I felt vindicated that I wasn't alone in my assessment. It also got me thinking that maybe this was done on purpose because there are no real resolutions to these issues in real life, so why should we expect them to be resolved in a novel. I started to remember passages from the beginning of the book that didn't mean much at first but meant so much more now.
Maybe this novel is just a vehicle to make us aware of these important issues, and designed to make us think.