Reviewing Oyeyemi's "Boy, Snow, Bird"
"Boy, Snow, Bird" by Helen Oyeyemi follows a newly-graduated young woman named Boy as she flees a bad situation and establishes a new life in a rural American town - a place she ends up by bent of being the last stop on the bus she hops to get out of New York.It follows her as she makes new friends, tries out various jobs, and eventually finds her place in the little town. She marries, and in so doing adopts her husband’s young daughter Snow, who is everything sweet and beautiful. At first, Boy delights in Snow, but shortly after the birth of her own daughter, Bird, Boy’s feelings start to shift and the beauty of her new life unravels a thread at a time, eventually making its’ way back into her past where the ugliness really started.
Boy, Snow, Bird is a really raw, haunting, oddly endearing story. I really enjoyed reading it from start to finish, and yet I find myself a little unsure of recommending it. Why?
Let’s dig a little deeper.
On the plus side, the imagery and narrative are very beautifully written - it’s a book that can be read easily and taken at face value, or pondered and plumbed for all sorts of metaphors, political parallels, and thought-provoking takeaways. I appreciate that dichotomy in a book! When you could as easily consider it a “beach read” as a commentary on the state of American life.
I loved that as the story was being told, Oyeyemi skipped a bit between narrators and allowed us to delve into the goings on of the people around said narrators more deeply. It also kept the story a little off-kilter in an appealing way, since your brain was going back and forth in terms of age and perceptions of the world.
Though the characters didn’t necessarily feel real to me, they were captivating, complex, and multifaceted which is essential for a good story - it allows for a bit of surprise on every page. It also heightened a little sense of unease as the story unravelled; far from a thriller, but definitely a drama with a bit of edge.
And the best part for me, was the really fresh take on race relations. I don’t want to give it away, but the author has very loosely taken the story of Snow White and added in complex racial and socioeconomic elements to give it not only a fresh twist, but frankly a whole new vibe. And this is the part where, as I mentioned before, you could see and find so much in the story if you wanted to ruminate on what was going on in between the scenes, the lines, the spoken words of the characters - or you could just let that part lie and carry on with the words on the page, too.
So what didn’t I like?
The thing is, the main character isn’t particularly likeable, but nor is she a villain. She’s not evil or vile, she’s memorable to be sure, but by the end it was almost confusing as to why. It’s such a book of like and dislike, I kept swinging from side to side on each account.
In the end, I think I would have more freely loved the book and recommended it to everyone if it weren’t for the ending. The literal last 30 pages or so were not lost ON me, but lost TO me. I just didn’t really like the way things wrapped up - and in some ways didn’t wrap up at all - though I feel like it could lend itself to a sequel. And I would read it.
So would I recommend "Boy, Snow, Bird"? Ya, I would. But with the caveat that it may make you uncomfortable...and it may haunt you a little while afterward.
Do you like novels that make you a little uncomfortable or prefer your novels a bit less complicated?