Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
Reading Challenge: A Book Based on a Fairy Tale
The last time I read a book by Helen Oyeyemi (that time it was “Mr. Fox”), my review was one sentence long: “I have no idea what I just read, but I liked it.” I think she has that effect as an author. You’ll come out of the book knowing there was definitely more in there than you got, but you did notice the themes and enjoyed it, so you don’t really mind.
“Boy, Snow, Bird” is about the construction of race and gender in mid-twentieth century Massachusetts. It’s a retelling of Snow White, and there’s a lot about mirrors. It’s about families. It’s one of those books told by different narrators along the way, and in the first part, I couldn’t help noticing this was another work of literary fiction where the reader can’t be sure if the narrator is insane, or simply living in a work of symbolism. Raise your hand if you think “psychotic disorder or magical realism?” should be a literary genre.
But if you’re willing to stick it out through Boy’s narration (which is not bad, by the way, it just may push some of your buttons if, like me, you think literary fiction has its own version of the conventions and types that genre fiction is known for, it just won’t admit it), you get to Bird’s section. And Bird is…Bird is awesome, actually. She is a note-perfect 13 year-old, wise, precocious, nosy and imaginative. In a book full of symbolism and things you aren’t sure are real, Bird practically walks off the page. I think she’s delightful, although she’s real enough that you know she’d drive you just a little nuts if she was actually in your life.
Actually, maybe she is in your life. Maybe you’re in a book right now. Do you reflect in mirrors consistently? Go check. I’ll wait.
Suggested pairing: hard cider, obviously. If you’re in New England and can get it, I recommend Citizen Cider as the top choice of all the cider fans I know.