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Boy, Snow, Bird

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Originally published  2014
3.3/5 Goodreads

Author  Helen Oyeyemi
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Similar  Helen Oyeyemi books, Other books

Boy snow bird by helen oyeyemi book review


Boy, Snow, Bird is a 2014 novel by British author Helen Oyeyemi. The novel, Oyeyemi's fifth, was a loose retelling of the fairytale Snow White. Oyeyemi also cited the novel Passing as an inspiration.

Contents

Plot

Boy Novak, a young white girl, is born to an abusive father who works as an exterminator and whom she refers to as the rat catcher. In the winter of 1953, when she is twenty years old, Boy runs away from her father, and moves from New York to Flax Hill. In Flax Hill Boy stumbles across a tenement house and begins to go on double dates with one of the other tenants who introduces her to her boyfriend's business partner, a jewellery designer and widower called Arturo Whitman. Arturo eventually tells Boy that he has a young daughter named Snow.

While Boy and Arturo initially have a tempestuous relationship they grow closer as Boy is enchanted by Snow. On a weekend trip Arturo proposes to Boy by giving her a bracelet shaped like a snake which she thinks of as evil step-mother jewellery but which she accepts. Boy and Arturo have a quick wedding after which she learns that Arturo has an older sister, Clara, who is shunned by the rest of the family.

Boy becomes pregnant and gives birth to a girl she names Bird. As soon as Bird is born Boy realizes that she is Black and interrogates Arthur who reveals that his father and mother were white-passing African-Americans from Louisiana. He also reveals that his first wife Julia was also descended from white-passing African-Americans and they were both relieved when Snow was born white and blonde.

Boy grows increasingly frustrated over the different ways in which the family and the town react to Bird and becomes jealous of Snow. She finally reaches out to Clara, who tells her to give Bird to her to raise as she was once given up by her mother when she was not white passing. Instead Boy asks Clara to take Snow for what she claims is a short visit, in reality planning to have her stay indefinitely.

Thirteen years later, in 1968, Bird grows up as the only daughter in the Whitman family, while her father visits Snow twice a month. Bird discovers a series of letters Snow wrote to her mother in which she begs to be able to come home and fails to understand what she might have done to upset Boy. The last letter in Boy's collection is one addressed to Bird which Bird decides to answer.

Bird and Snow begin a secret correspondence and Bird learns more of the secret Whitman history. Eventually, because of their correspondence, Boy allows Snow to come home to visit.

Before Snow can come Bird is temporarily attacked and kidnapped from her backyard by a man who reveals himself to be her grandfather, the rat catcher, who reveals his name to be Frank Novak. After a tense and unhappy conversation Frank leaves Bird, never to return again.

At Thanksgiving the entire Whitman family is reunited, including Clara and her husband John. Boy asks Snow to forgive her for sending her away and encourages Snow to punch her in order to settle the score between them. Snow decides to stay with the Whitman's and begins to live in Flaxhill again.

Boy's journalist friend Mia arrives at her door one day to confess that she was the one who gave Frank Boy's address. Mia, a single woman, admits that she wanted to write an article about women who could not be mothers and decided to track down Boy's mother, finding out her name was Frances Amelia Novak. Frances was an extremely intelligent feminist and doctoral candidate who was also a lesbian. Because of her lesbianism she was raped by an acquaintance. Frances became pregnant by the rape and during the pregnancy transitioned into a man and began calling himself Frank. After Mia confronted Frank about his former identity she told him to tell Boy the truth of his origins before the article was published which he had gone to Flaxhill to do, before leaving because he was unable to talk about it.

Boy decides to go to New York to try and see her father and determine if she can find Frances within him. She takes Mia, Bird and Snow with her.

Reception

The novel received positive reviews with The Guardian calling it "an intriguing, sinuously attractive book". The Globe and Mail praised Oyeyemi for being "one of the few storytellers who seems on intimate terms with the language of myth".

References

Boy, Snow, Bird Wikipedia


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