07 July, 2014

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi [Emma, Birkenhead Library]

I entered this book expectation-free and was soon immersed in a story about a woman escaping her miserable past, finding a family and a new life in a small town. Everything might have been looking full of roses. But, this was a gothic tale. I should have been warned by the serpeant on the gorgeous cover.

Boy Novak is a young woman running from her wicked rat catcher father. She ends up in a small town where she marries a widower (Arturo) with a beautiful daughter, named Snow, whom everybody loves. Boy gives birth to another girl who they call Bird, on Snow's suggestion.

But Bird is born with dark skin, and the family secret is revealed: Arturo's parents are light-skinned African American ("coloured") who have moved north, and have been passing as white for many years. Seems they have worked hard to keep this hidden. Arturo's sister was sent away as a child, because she was too dark. Boy, sensing something threatening in Snow, sends her away as well, to live with this aunt.

This, for me, was when things take a sinister turn. Why does Boy send the innocent child away? Is she turning into a wicked stepmother? Bird, as she grows, thinks often of her sister, and aged 13, strikes up a correspondence with her. The girls discover they share things in common, like they don't always appear in mirrors...the blurred edge of a fairy tale world.

What follows is testimony from each of Boy, Snow and Bird, tells of their eventual re-uniting, and and strange twist which finds them eventually seeking out the ultimate in wicked-ness, the rat catcher. Snow White without the dwarfs, with a sprinkling of Rumplestiltskin, perhaps?

Title: Boy, Snow, Bird
Author: Helen Oyeyemi
Published: New York City, 2014
ISBN: 9781594631399

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