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Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

Cover of Boy, Snow, BirdBoy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

Published by: Riverhead

Published on: March 6, 2014

Page Count: 320

Genre: Fiction

My Reading Format: Audiobook sent to me by Recorded Books for review.

Audiobook Published by: Recorded Books

Narrators: Susan Bennett and Carra Patterson

Audiobook Length: 9 hours 19 minutes

Available Formats: Hardcover, eBook, and Audiobook

Summary from the Publisher:

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 a local widower and becomes stepmother to his winsome daughter, Snow Whitman.

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. Among them, Boy, Snow, and Bird confront the tyranny of the mirror to ask how much power surfaces really hold.

My Review

I went into Boy, Snow, Bird knowing that it was loosely based on Snow White. It began with Boy, the woman who will ultimately become the evil step mother. From the very beginning I liked her very much. Given the circumstances, her only faults in my eyes were not dealing with her husband and his mother directly and keeping herself emotionally distant from Bird. I bought into the more fantastical portion about mirrors because of the Snow White connection and expected that to go somewhere. Then there was the twist that caught me completely off guard. I don’t mean this in a positive way. Had I been reading this book in print, I would have thrown the book against the wall and then into the trash. As it was, I finished the audiobook because it was a review copy. I don’t understand at all what the author was trying to do with the novel. I felt that the otherwise gripping aspects about race were simply a ruse for something murkier. I did not like this book.

Strictly speaking about the audiobook production, Boy, Snow, Bird was well done. Susan Bennett, the narrator for Boy was phenomenal. This was my first experience with both narrators and she shined in particular. She understood Boy and brought out her humor from underneath all of her depth. While I didn’t love Carra Patterson’s Bird as much, I wouldn’t consider that a critique of the narrator as much as of the novel. It was at the point where Boy’s story turns over to Bird’s that this book broke down for me. In fact, I was hoping the return to Boy’s point of view at the end would save the experience. That it didn’t is again a reflection on the novel itself. Those involved with the audiobook certainly did the best they could with the material they had to work with. I will actively search out other opportunities to listen to Bennett’s narration.

As I mentioned, I did not like Boy, Snow, Bird. I cling to the hope that there is something more beneath the surface that went completely over my head. This has the potential of being one of those books that is better served by reading with a group or after attending an author event. If you figure it out, please let me know. Until then, I am simply disappointed.

2 Comments

  • At 2014.09.03 19:56, Catherine said:

    Wowza. I’ve not read the book, Jennifer, but now I’m going to stop feeling like I’m missing out and cross it off my TBR list. I get that every reader is different and there are many who have loved this book but your points sound like the ones that would make me nuts.

    Thanks for such an honest, helpful review!

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    • At 2014.09.03 20:04, Jennifer said:

      I hate to keep a book from the right reader, but I felt cheated by this book. I spent time reading it to have something smack me in the head from way out in left field. Had the novel been about that, I would have been fine. As it was, I felt like the first 4/5ths of the book was a waste of my time.

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