In Boy, Snow, Bird Helen Oyeyemi re-imagines the classic story of Snow White, infusing the narrative with her characteristically whimsical style. The story begins with an Elsa look-a-like (in my imagination anyways) called Boy Novak. Boy runs away from her wicked professional rat-catching father in New York and eventually crafts a life in a small town as a wife and step-mother. Snow, Boy's step-daughter, is equally as beautiful as Boy and quickly becomes her confidant and adoring shadow.  Life is simple for Boy in her new home...safe even. Then she gives birth to her daughter Bird, and with her birth simplicity is traded in for secrecy and shame.

Oyeyemi's story is about far more than evil beauty queens and charming princes. Instead, her writing is big enough to carry themes of race, gender and vanity. There are moments of tension and confrontation throughout the novel, giving way to an honest exploration of the major themes. In the same candor I must confess that vanity led me to buy this book. The cover is absolutely gorgeous! But the story, the oddity that is characteristic of Oyeyemi's writing, is what kept me reading.

***I've done my best to keep this review spoiler free. If you don't like spoilers DON'T read the synopsis on the back of the book....it literally ruins the entire novel...


   The Good

Let me just start by saying, I really enjoy Helen Oyeyemi's writing style. It's maintains the same quirkiness that I loved in her other book, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours. Oyeyemi does magical realism very well, finding a good balance between the outrageous and the mundane. The novel isn't dialogue heavy as there is a lot of introspection from the characters but this gives Oyeyemi space to develop her themes and to make use of symbolism. Mirrors, snakes, and even gender roles are played with to tell a story behind the story.

Now, I'm not a huge fan of Disney princesses....I know, gasp! There are a few Disney damsels who are heroes in their own right and portray an admirable strength. But, most Disney tales end up being about naive girls with long flowing hair and cute boys. Boy, Snow, Bird is like Snow White's older, cooler, slightly haunted cousin. It isn't a re-telling of the story, but elements of the tale are used to explore some heavy and uncomfortable themes.  One of these taboo topics, colourism, carries the weight of the story. The characters question the divide between light and dark skinned African Americans, acknowledging the role white privilege has played in this division. While reading the novel I began to question whether those who deny their blackness can be faulted? After all, who would choose to be oppressed when there seems to be a way out? That question assumes that the concept of blackness is in fact real and tangible, but what is it exactly? Can blackness be reduced to a hue, the width of one's nose or the size of one's lips? Is it about the way you speak or the food you eat? Or is it really about experience? The experience of discrimination, an ability to endure oppression? The book certainly doesn't answer these questions but it grapples with them in an honest way.

The novel also engages in an exploration of vanity. Boy has a certain obsession with her own image that is portrayed as off-putting, evil even. While she found validation in mirrors, we typically find it in our phones. Social media has glorified vanity, re-branding it as confidence or high self-esteem. The obsession with creating images of ourselves that match societal ideas of perfection crushes authenticity and ultimately leads to self-destruction. Although the story doesn't necessarily communicate the destructive nature of vanity, it was interesting to think about the parallels between the fictional world of the novel and the real world.

The Not So Good

The ending of Boy, Snow, Bird was absolutely retched. There was this big build-up in the last few pages and then it just ended so strangely, without any real connection to the story. It came out of left-field and not in a, "wow look what she did there" type of way but more in a, "why the heck did that happen" type of way. I hate bad ending!

There were also elements of the story that didn't go far enough. The emotions of the characters were a bit muted at times, the relationships seemed a bit shallow and the consequences of the character's choices weren't really extreme or intense enough. The themes were bold and small elements of the story were courageous, but the overall plot ended up being quite flat.


 The tragic ending to this book (and by tragic I mean bad...BAD) really disappointed me. There was so much potential for a bold statement to be made or for a really edgy turn in the plot, but it just didn't happen. But, I would recommend the book purely for the themes and the interesting conversations that could be had over the symbolism. For those reasons, I give it a 3/5.

This review was originally published on www.bornhooligan.wordpress.com. Check it out for more book reviews and other bookish things!