Set in the late 1900s, Boy Novak decides after she turns twenty to try a brand new life in Flax Hill, Massachusetts, as far as she can get from her current life in New York. In Flax Hill, she meets Arturo Whitman, a craftsman, widower and father to Snow.
Snow Whitman is a cherished, radiant and possibly ‘worshipped’ child. The sort of little girl Boy never was and Boy is enchanted by her. But Snow is also impossible to understand at times, which Boy overlooks until she gives birth to Snow’s sister, Bird.
When Bird is born, Boy is forced to re-evaluate how she looks at Arturo family and the entire familial structure is broken apart.
So normally when I write these reviews, I have an overall message.
This is probably the first time I don’t have one.
I have no idea what the main message was from this book. Normally, it’s obvious. But for some reason, I didn’t take away one. Maybe it’s just me or maybe it went completely over my head.
Which is why the book felt unfinished for me.
Anyways, ‘Boy, Snow, Bird’ by Helen Oyeyemi was truly one of the most interesting books I’ve read this year so far. There was so much happening at once that it made my head hurt by the time I sat down to think of everything.
This is a book that you have to stick with. And I won’t lie, it only becomes interesting about halfway through. I think I even put the book aside for a couple of days as I struggled to actually engage with it.
This book was praised by so many people. I saw so many reviews about how incredible it was so I decided to try it, especially after my cousin asked me to review it.
However, I think this is just a good example of a book that might not be for everyone.
What I will say is that the twist at the end was incredible. That alone was probably the only reason, I would say if you feel like the plot seems interesting, then try it out. You won’t be disappointed – despite the book feeling unfinished.
I can recognise that the plot was carefully crafted and that a lot of research must have gone into this novel. At times, I felt like it was way too descriptive, unnecessarily so. It made it difficult to engage with. There was also so much symbolism for no reason.
It’s kind of how I felt watching US, the film produced by Jordan Peele. I could appreciate that so much thought had gone into the film and every detail have been carefully thought out. But there was so much symbolism that I didn’t actually understand the film.
So essentially, I felt like the book was overdone but also unfinished, simultaneously.
I don’t even know how that happens but Boy, Snow, Bird was an example of this.
To me, anyway.
However, the adaptation of the fairytale ‘Snow White’ is very subtle and very clever. It wasn’t until it was pointed out to me did I pick up on it.
Obviously, I made the connection that Snow was meant to be Snow White.
But then there were times, I felt like Bird could have been too.
And I guess, Boy was meant to be the evil stepmother. In all honesty, I found her so strange and struggled to connect with her as a protagonist.
Despite all of this, what I liked the most was how Oyeyemi weaved in issues of race, gender and mental health.
Now, you’re probably already reading this thinking, so, not only did she adapt Snow White? But she also weaved in issues of race, gender and mental health?
Oyeyemi also changed the format of the novel twice…
(This is what I mean by she had so much going on…)
So normally, i would expect all these issues just to be brushed over. But Oyeyemi spent alot of time talking about race.
Although, in all honesty, this only started right in the middle of the book.
She spoke about colourism and how it was believed that being of a lighter complexion will allow you to get further ahead in life. And how that perception could ultimately break a family apart.
It was really sad, when I think about it.
But it was a common issue in America during those times and she didn’t shy away from addressing it. I thought it was interesting how she had Boy, a blonde-haired white woman, vocalise how wrong she felt racism was but at the same time, not doing anything about it.
The more I think about it. The more it comes down to that statement that ‘ignorance is really a prvilege’.
Boy never had to worry about race. She understood that she was privileged because she was the epitome of the Eurocentric standard of the ‘perfect woman’. And she used it to her advantage. There were parts in the novel that she behaved very questionably but got away with it.
And I think all that changed. Her entire thinking completely changed when she had a daughter, which is coincidentally right when the book picks up.
Boy became so scared of the power of ignorance…and how favoured you could be just by the colour of your skin. And what that could mean for her daughter. That she decides to take some drastic actions.
Which I didn’t understand at all.
I’m not entirely sure what the author is trying to say with that exactly.
As for gender and mental health. It was all kind of thrown at you towards the end. I think she addressed important issues but it was kinda glossed over. It was like an overload of information but it did a lot for the plot itself. I’m still not sure how I feel about it though. I don’t want to talk about it too much because I feel like, personally, this is what saved the novel – in terms of shocking the reader in a good way.
One theme is obvious. There is a struggle to be yourself in a world that has set structures and rules that completely oppose everything you are. Especially, if you have no choice as to how and who you are. I think we’re incredibly privileged to be a society, that despite it’s imperfections, is more accepting of differences in comparison to how it was years ago. Some of these characters in the novel, didn’t have the same choice as we do.
For instance, they were dark-skinned people living in a society ruled by white privilege.
It meant mothers were disowning children. Grandparents were favouring a grandchild over another, simply because they were lighter. It’s heart-breaking to read about because you could imagine the mental conflict that would have caused.
So, the privilege we have now isn’t something that we should take for granted.
I have to say props to the author though. This couldn’t have been an easy book to write. The amount of planning that must have gone into this plot. She deserves accolades for that alone because I know I couldn’t have produced something like this.
I would have confused myself.
So if you like fairy tales and what a book that talks about race at the same time or the films, ‘Split’ with James McAvoy and ‘Us’ with Lupita Nyong’o.
Then, I think this book may be for you.
But be patient with it…it’ll pick up halfway through.