Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

I was so so so excited when a lovely friend decided to share this ARC with me. I read such wonderful reviews of it ahead of time.

In the winter of 1953, Boy Novak escapes her abusive father and flees to a small town in Massachusetts, looking, she believes, for beauty. She marries a local widower and becomes stepmother to his winsome daughter, Snow Whitman. The birth of Boy and Arturo's daughter,  Bird, 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 through shades of the Snow White folktale. (Adapted from Goodreads.)

I was enthralled with the first third of this book. It was Boy's story of escape from her rat-killing, abusive father. Her realization that those around her, including her husband, were passing. IT WAS SO GREAT! There was so much meat. So much to be evaluated and dissected. Relationships, identity, Othering.

And then the perspective shifted to the girls, Snow and Bird, and the entire thing fell apart for me. While I was prepared for a take-off on the "Snow White" story, the magical realist elements took over to an extent that seriously disappointed me. The girls' section, written largely in letters, diluted the issues of race when the role of the fairy tale should've revealed greater insight and helped magnify the characters' choices and struggles. 

Overall, I found the secondary characters in this novel nondescript and difficult to grasp. To the point that I had a hard time remembering who was who, outside of a select few. 

And don't even get me started on the ending. Sensational and weirdly out of place. 

YOU GUYS, I SOOOO wanted to love this book after that first section. When I finished reading, I was actually angry that I didn't like it because I liked that first part so very much. If this had been structured differently and developed some of the peripheral characters more, I think it could've been love. As it was, it fizzled. I gave it 2/5 stars on Goodreads. 



Pub. Date: March 6, 2014
Publisher: Riverhead
Format: ARC
ISBN: 1594631395
Source: From a friend.


33 comments:

  1. ohh what a shame! I've just read Rebecca's review and I was looking forward to reading it. Now I know it can be less good than I expect, but I still want to read it ;)

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    1. Haha! I hope you enjoy it very much. I seem to be in the minority not loving this one.

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  2. Too bad! I have high hopes for this one. We'll see...

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    1. I hope you have better luck with it!

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  3. Aw, I loved the latter sections about Snow and Bird. I thought Bird's narrative voice was fantastic, and I was fine with the magical realism -- it is Helen Oyeyemi after all, the exception to my no-magical-realism-ever rule. Ugh but the ending was all no. It felt tonally INSANE to have that revelation.

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    1. Haha! This was my first experience with Oyeyemi. Not in a huge hurry to get to her next book, unfortunately. That ending. OH, that ending.

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  4. It's too bad the novel didn't live up to that first section.

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    1. I know. It was really disheartening. Oh well. On to the next book!

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  5. That is why I passed this one up. I cannot STAND magical realism.

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    1. I usually like it, but no dice in this one.

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  6. I've only read one book by Oyeyemi and I didn't love it like I wanted to. Kind of the same thing--bland characters without a lot of depth. Lots of potential but not fully realized. I can live with a book that starts off slow or shaky but ends strongly, but rarely the other way around.

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    1. Oh good! Maybe it's not just me because it seems like EVERYONE is loving this. It's Gone Girl and The Lovely Bones all over again <--hyped books I didn't love.

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    2. I started out enjoying this novel. Boy was different from anyone I have ever known, but I believed in her ... until she sent Snow away. Still, I attributed this strange decision to post-partum depression (or something similar). Unfortunately, it never became clear to me how Boy managed to get away with this frightful, protracted course of action. I started having a really hard time believing in what was happening when Bird took over the narration: it was as if she existed in an alternate reality. Then, the ending ... oh, my. For me, Oyemymi tried to do far too much with this story. My advice to her would be to simplify.

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    3. I was enjoying this book until Boy sent Snow away. How on earth did she get away with this? I had even more trouble with Bird's narration: it was as if she was from another book. Then, the ending - oh, my. Oyeyemi tried to do too much. My advice to her would be to simplify. (Appreciate your comments about not enjoying the very popular Gone Girl and The Lovely Bones. Makes me feel less "persnickety".)

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  7. I'm glad that I've, thus far, held off on this one. I might give it a go from the library. The cover is so pretty.

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  8. I love magical realism, but not when it gets more on the fantasy side... that's kind of what it sounds like this one did?

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  9. And I just realized that that comment sounds a little dumb... I just like my magical realism a little more on the realism side, I guess? Am I making sense? haha

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    1. There was still a lot of realism, but I just felt like the magical realism elements detracted. Like, the examination of race and passing seemed like it could be very well honed in the first third, but when the fairy tale elements got more prominent, the issues of race and passing got more general. Which is so opposite of what I wanted. It was like she widened her scope at the wrong time.

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  10. I enjoy magical realism, but only when it is well done. You can't half-ass it, if I may say so. I had high hopes this book would be a wonderful blending of the fairy tale with social issues and really be a wow book.

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    1. You might love it! Others do, but I just didn't get the examination of race and appearance that I wanted. Needed more realism.

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  11. I kind of suck at appreciating magical realism, so I will probably skip this one. Sorry it fell flat for you.

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    1. Flat as a flitter (as my mom says). Oh well!

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  12. I have been meaning to try this author for so long! I was thinking about this book, but maybe I should start with one of her others.

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    1. Many people are REALLY loving this book. I think I'm in the minority, so I'd go ahead and give it a try if I were you. It would also be a good book club choice since I think it would spur discussion.

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  13. Oh! This makes me sad :(

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    1. It made me REALLY sad! lol

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  14. I'm not a fan of magical realism, so I take a pass on all things with it. Well maybe not all, but very sparse. I think I like reality better. Sorry it didn't live up to your expectations.

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    1. I usually really enjoy it, but I would've much preferred a realistic look at this issue. Oh well!

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  15. Interesting to see this take compared to others I've read. I do like to see opposite reactions to a book sometimes...gives me more to look at when reading a book I might not normally pick up on my own.

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  16. That's too bad you didn't like this more. I have been curious about it since I started seeing it around the blogosphere!

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  17. Too bad you didn't like this better! This is actually the first review I've read of this book, but I've been noticing it on lists for a while and thought it had potential. I'll check out a few other reviews and then decide if it's worth picking up :)

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  18. Thanks for the honest review. I saw this featured in March (I think) Marie Claire and was considering adding it to my TBR. I have such a long list already and after reading this review I don't think it will find a place on my table.

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