Book Review: Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

18079683Read for: Black History Month

Rating: 3.5/5

This is the third book by Oyeyemi I have read, and it was definitely the easiest to follow (not to say that I didn’t enjoy her others for their wackiness – Mr. Fox was especially experimental and fun). Oyeyemi tells the story of 3 women; Boy Novak, her step-daughter Snow and her biological daughter Bird. Boy escapes the abuse of her father, the Rat Catcher, and travels to a small town in Massachusetts where she marries a man with a daughter, Snow, and becomes pregnant with her first child. We are under the impression at this point that Boy is a blonde-haired Caucasian woman, and that her husband is also Caucasian. When the child is born, however, the baby is dark skinned. Without spoiling anything for you (the write up I read in advance of reading revealed these details), it turns out the man Boy married is a light-skinned African American whose family has been passing for white for generations. The birth of a dark-skinned child changes how they are viewed by others, and how they view their own skin colours.

There is an element of fairy tale in Boy, Snow, Bird that Oyeyemi has interpreted in her own marvelous way, bringing the story of the evil step mother into a more contemporary setting. Boy pushes Snow away from her family and prevents Bird and Snow from becoming acquainted as the sisters that they are. In the later sections of the book they explore their relationship and become close despite Boy’s hesitations. In the end there is an unexpected and slightly out of place twist that is left unresolved, which is what held me back from really loving this story all the way to the end. But I did thoroughly enjoy Oyeyemi’s writing, as I always do, and liked the characters that she built in this story. She tackles some complex issues regarding race and gender which I thought was great, even if they were explored in slightly flawed ways. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to readers who haven’t yet read any Oyeyemi, and think it is a good place to start before delving into her back catalogue. She is definitely an author I will always look forward to releasing new works!

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