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Monday, May 19, 2014
Boy, Snow, Bird 
By Helen Oyeyemi


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.

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.

Review: I picked up Boy, Snow, Bird for a variety of reasons: I had heard positive buzz about it, I'm been reading more literary fiction, I'd made a decision to seek out more authors of color, and if there's one thing I love it's a good fairytale retelling. Whatever my reasons, I'm so glad I read this book. I cannot praise it enough. The writing is beautiful, the characters are multidimensional and portrayed with empathy, the POVs are distinctive, and the themes of race, beauty, and identity, are explored in depth. 

I loved this novel down to its sentences and the wry humor they frequently conveyed. One  example:
"I couldn't make up my mind whether the baby was male or female; the only certainties were near baldness and incandescent rage. The kid didn't like its blanket, or its rattle, or the lap it was sat on, or the world…the time had come to demand quality."
The  characters are far from the stereotypical archetypes that can be found in the Snow White tale. Boy, the evil stepmother of the story, is a damaged individual with a strong capacity for love who wants to protect her daughter at any cost. Snow, initially the sheltered favorite of her extended family, is sent away to her relatives in the south and faces the reality of racism and segregation. Bird, Boy's daughter and the second POV, shows wit and inquisitiveness as she pursues answers to the question of her exiled half-sister. These characters, plus a hint of magical realism in the use of mirrors, made for an enriching read. 

A caveat: I found a revelation at the end of the novel to be problematic. For the sake of a spoiler free review I won't go into details, but I will say that though I see how this reveal/explanation fit thematically, on a representational basis it's troubling, even filtered through Boy's POV.  I welcome discussion of this point.

4.5 Unreliable Mirrors

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Review: Boy, Snow, Bird

Boy, Snow, Bird 
By Helen Oyeyemi


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.

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.

Review: I picked up Boy, Snow, Bird for a variety of reasons: I had heard positive buzz about it, I'm been reading more literary fiction, I'd made a decision to seek out more authors of color, and if there's one thing I love it's a good fairytale retelling. Whatever my reasons, I'm so glad I read this book. I cannot praise it enough. The writing is beautiful, the characters are multidimensional and portrayed with empathy, the POVs are distinctive, and the themes of race, beauty, and identity, are explored in depth. 

I loved this novel down to its sentences and the wry humor they frequently conveyed. One  example:
"I couldn't make up my mind whether the baby was male or female; the only certainties were near baldness and incandescent rage. The kid didn't like its blanket, or its rattle, or the lap it was sat on, or the world…the time had come to demand quality."
The  characters are far from the stereotypical archetypes that can be found in the Snow White tale. Boy, the evil stepmother of the story, is a damaged individual with a strong capacity for love who wants to protect her daughter at any cost. Snow, initially the sheltered favorite of her extended family, is sent away to her relatives in the south and faces the reality of racism and segregation. Bird, Boy's daughter and the second POV, shows wit and inquisitiveness as she pursues answers to the question of her exiled half-sister. These characters, plus a hint of magical realism in the use of mirrors, made for an enriching read. 

A caveat: I found a revelation at the end of the novel to be problematic. For the sake of a spoiler free review I won't go into details, but I will say that though I see how this reveal/explanation fit thematically, on a representational basis it's troubling, even filtered through Boy's POV.  I welcome discussion of this point.

4.5 Unreliable Mirrors

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