The two reviews today are posting automatically, so I hope everything is in order.
Customary warning: This is a reminder that these are my personal opinions. My thoughts and feelings are not your thoughts and feelings. I may not always be the target audience for a book; sometimes I am. If I do not like a book, that doesn’t mean you’ll dislike it. If I love a book or simply like a book, you may hate it. Take everything I say with this knowledge. If it sounds interesting to you despite what I’ve said, then go ahead and read it. You’ll only know you like something if you read it yourself.
That being said… Spoilers ahead.
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
Synopsis From The Book
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 Arturo Whitman, a local widower, and becomes stepmother to his winsome daughter, Snow.
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. And even as Boy, Snow, and Bird are divided, their estrangement is complicated by an insistent curiosity about one another. In seeking an understanding that is separate from the image each presents to the world, 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.
Initial Thoughts Before Reading:
Here we go, branching out into a genre of books I’m not sure I’m going to like. In some ways I’m excited, in others I’m dreading it. I’m not entirely sure what to expect with this book if we are being honest. Regardless, I am ready to try it, that is for certain.
Plus side, it’s a stand alone!
Initial Thoughts After Reading:
That was… Not too far off from what I expected, but still far as it is. This book touches on a lot for race and the image of self, much of which I could identify with and a lot that just left me feeling flat. Probably, because I understood it, probably because I just didn’t want to sympathize.
Boy is 20 when she runs away from her abuse father and finds her way up in a small town in New England. Struggling to survive, she meets a man name Arturo Whitman and begins a relationship with him. Two years later she is married to him (despite loving another man) and the step mother of his eight year old daughter. She has a daughter which reveals the Whitmans as a white passing family, and ultimately ends up sending Arturo’s daughter, Snow, away.
Bird, Boy and Arturo’s daughter, grows up (to 13) knowing of a sister she never met. She deals with her own feelings of oddity growing up and starts writing her sister. The two talk about imposter syndrome (mirrors) and race. Ultimately they understand each other a bit and Snow comes for Thanksgiving.
When Snow is visiting, Boy’s father comes and Bird learns more about her mother’s life. The Whitmans attempt to keep their lives together, and Snow and Bird become real sisters. Snow and Boy make up in a way, and Boy learns the truth of her mother and the man she thought was her father. In the end, Boy decides to take her family from their home to find her mother, in an attempt to help her.
What I Liked:
Structure and Writing; the way the story was told was fantastic. The letter font was nice as well.
The characters; They were very real and their motivations were as well. I feel as if parts one and two created very real people.
Themes; Very clear and well placed with the story. They touch on betrayal, race relations, beauty standards, and imposter syndrome.
Snow White and Cinderella; There is a part in this story where you are realizing the connections to both of these stories, and it is very interesting to watch them both play out.
What I Would Have Liked or Changed:
I feel as if the third part falls flat and does not deliver the punch that I was expecting. I was expecting the third part to take the themes of one and two, and to wrap them up with an interesting questioning on them. It also seems to drop the snow white and cinderella parallels which would have been really interesting to see them addressed.
Time Taken To Read
A lot of this comes from my ultimate detachment from the book that has nothing to do with the story or the characters, but about how detached I as a person was. I didn’t care. The characters were real, their struggles close to home, but close to home in a way that pushed me away.
As mixed myself, I sometimes find myself caught in a place of which do I belong, because for all intents and purposes I am both not one or the other, and yet the question is always asked on what I am. I can pass, but pass in a world where no one knows what I am, not that I look white. Add on to the fact that this takes place in a time that I don’t want to fathom (a time my grandparents lived, and parent came from). Instead of empathizing or at least sympathizing, I found myself hating them all, in a sort of apathetic way where I understood them, but didn’t care.
It has nothing to do with the writing, or how the themes were presented (other than part 3), I feel. I truly believe that it was just an innate reaction I had. Sort of like how it feels when you get told “but lets be serious, you are a white.” And I am, its not a lie, but it twists in your stomach in a way that you can’t stop. A sort of rejection in a way you can’t really articulate.
“If you wish to be truly free, you must love no one. But of course if you take that path you may also find that in the end you’re unloved.” – from Bird’s story, pg 223