When this month’s challenge – to read a book with a bird on the cover – showed up in my notifications on goodreads, I knew straight away what I’d be reading: Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, a book I’ve been meaning to read for quite a while, but which kept getting pushed aside either because I wasn’t in the mood for it, or just because I really wanted to knuckle down and read some of the books I actually own… But at last, the time has come, and I’m happy to say that it did not disappoint!
BOY, SNOW, BIRD
In 1953, aged twenty, Boy Novak leaves her father’s home in the middle of the night, and runs as far away as she possibly can: To Flax Hill, the last stop of the last bus of the evening. There, she is able to begin building a new life for herself… but it quickly becomes intertwined with that of the Whitman family – Arturo, the widower that Boy’s friend seems dead set on setting her up with, and his beautiful young daughter Snow.
This book was publicised as a Snow White re-telling, but although there are certainly a lot of thematic similarities, it’s not really a re-telling in anything but the loosest possible sense. A re-imagining, perhaps? There’s obviously a heavy influence, but I still don’t know that I’d call it a re-telling, exactly.
That said, I did really like the way Oyeyemi utilised Snow White’s themes, and in several places, turned them on their heads. My favourite instance of this is the presence of Boy herself, because if Snow is supposed to represent Snow White, then that means that Boy is the wicked stepmother, which makes reading from her perspective significantly more interesting. Is she evil? Or is Snow the evil one, as Boy occasionally suspects? She’s certainly not an unsympathetic character (I actually liked her quite a lot), but her actions and emotions are often questionable.
I also loved the mirror motif, which showed up again and again throughout the story, and which brought a sense of magic to the otherwise (mostly) realistic setting: While Boy’s reflection seems to have a will of its own, Snow and Bird’s reflections are often absent entirely; it adds an eerie sense of otherworldliness to all three characters.
As for everything unrelated to Snow White, there were several themes that were important to the story – racism, racial identity, good versus evil, beauty and ugliness, and even (later on) homosexuality and gender identity – but while all of them added interesting elements to the story, it’s hard to put a finger on which of them really had a driving force on it. For the most part, the story just followed Boy’s life, and then Bird’s, and the two parts of the story were tied together mostly by their connection to Snow…
Overall, Boy, Snow, Bird was a really enjoyable read. I loved all the characters and the relationships that developed between them, with all their different nuances; most of the plot twists (though they weren’t hugely dramatic) took me completely by surprise; and the writing was beautiful and lyrical, almost hypnotic – every time I picked the book up, I’d completely lose track of time.
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