Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

Title: Boy, Snow, Bird
Author: Helen Oyeyemi
Genre: Literary Fiction
Format: Hardcover
Length: 308 pages
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publish Date: March 6, 2014
Setting: Flax Hill, MA

Abuse, Racism, Rape, Violence, Discrimination
Black, Chinese

I’ve been thinking about what to really say about this book. Maybe I’m just not really mature enough to really appreciate this novel and what it was telling me outside of the lines, but I just feel like I didn’t really understand this book well enough. But let me try to get my thoughts out on here so I can work through it.

  • So that’s their names… and they are all women, okay. Interesting but I’m not judging.
  • I feel like this is written almost like a stream of consciousness
  • I can’t handle how much Boy endured by her father, and I’m so upset that she had to just take it.
  • I’m so ANGRY with Boy right now! How dare she?
  • I don’t know how I feel.

The abuse you face as a child can transcend to how you become a parent, if you let it

This review may be hard to stomach for some people, and I’m okay if you skip some of these parts or the review as a whole. Just a huge heads up now that I’m getting into the meat of my review.

I’m just really upset from this book. Mostly because of the contents of the book and the plot rather than the writing or anything. And this theme that I saw here is one of those reasons. I’ll make sure I don’t get into any spoiler territory or anything when I write this, and if you feel like something is spoilery, please let me know so I can hide that part. It may not seem like a spoiler to me, but it may be to others and I don’t want to ruin anyone’s experience of this novel.

The main reason why Boy leaves her father’s home in New York City is because he legit beats the crap out of her for no reason, almost all the time. There are times where Boy doesn’t even know if she’s going to wake up the next day and has passed out from the beating many times. There’s a scene where she went to bed after dinner, and woke up tied to a chair in the basement, where her father again pretty much tortures her and just… gosh. I could barely stomach reading it. When she would reminisce on some of the other instances that we didn’t see in person, that would break my heart even more.

Now, with the way that she was treated, and I don’t even know how she was able to handle it at all, I would have thought that she wouldn’t want to treat any other child that way again. She may not have been physically abusive to any of the children in her life, but the way she treated Snow made me so angry! The synopsis says that the three characters are separated from one another right? Well, when you find out what happens, I think you may be upset as well. I don’t think it’s just me.

But then I do think about what Boy went through, and if that’s all that she had as an influence growing up, then I guess it also makes sense that she would have had some of that past trauma affect how she is as an adult, and as a parent. I don’t know.

White-passing doesn’t mean you’re White. But it does mean you’re better than other Blacks that can’t pass.

Obviously this isn’t something that I agree with, but this is definitely a sentiment that I got while reading this novel. You would have never known that Arturo and his family where Black until Bird was born. And that’s only because we know for sure that Boy is white. Her dad is Hungarian or something like that, and forgive me for forgetting which country exactly. We don’t know about Boy’s mother, but it’s clear that Boy is white.

There were some parts where Boy would want to say something to some of the Black kids that would spend their days at the bookstore that she ended up working at in Flax Hills, and the owner – which I think was also a white woman – told her to leave them alone with that mess. She never did end up saying what she was going to, and found that she enjoyed their presence in the store, but it was interesting that the owner stopped her, being a white woman herself.

Now, I feel like that’s all I can really say about this before it starts to get into spoiler territory, but just know that if you were Black, but were able to pass as white in this day and age, you had access to much better resources and jobs than your counterparts who could not hide the fact that they were Black. It’s just that simple.

Can sisters really develop a relationship if they don’t see each other very often?

So yeah, I mentioned earlier on in this review – and this was mentioned in the synopsis – that the three main characters (Boy, Snow, and Bird) are separated somehow. Bird is Boy’s daughter that she actually gives birth to, and the way she found out that her husband was actually Black instead of white. Snow is Arturo’s daughter from his first marriage. So Snow and Bird are sisters, but they don’t really interact with one another because of the separation that ended up happening.

When we do finally get to see them communicate with one another through letters in the beginning, you can tell that it’s a little awkward for them because there has been so much time that ended up passing from when they first met (when Bird was born pretty much) to when they start corresponding through their letters. Since there’s also a significant age difference between them, that could also contribute to how they are not able to really relate to one another and contribute to the strain between them. With the way that the book ended, I still don’t know if they do end up having a good relationship as sisters or even friends, but maybe they are working up to it. I hope that they do.

The one thing that I also was a little bit bothered by with this novel is that even though Snow is part of the title, which makes me think that she’s one of the main characters that we should know about, none of the book is from her point of view. There are three parts to this novel. The first and third are from Boy’s POV, and the second is from Bird. Why did the author skip talking to us from Snow’s POV? Was it because of the separation? I’m not sure, but I feel like I wasn’t able to really see any development from Snow other than her age, so I don’t know if she really grew as a character because of what happened to her, or because time went by and she had to start thinking like a young adult. So that’s one part that has been bothering me about this book and something that I feel like was hard for me to get my head around.

As far as Boy’s character development. Honestly I don’t know if I saw any from her either. Yes, she was able to escape her abusive situation and I was really proud of her for that, but there was also some talk that since she was never really one to create something out of nothing or whatever, she never ended up doing that. Is that really a problem with her development though? I don’t think so. Not everyone is creative, I know I’m freaking not, so you can’t expect people just start being creative randomly just because everyone around them is.

For Bird, we only got to see her at one point in her life really. I’m not even talking about when she was a baby because what kind of development would have happened with her as a baby as a book character? Maybe I’m just being salty but I wouldn’t include that, plus we didn’t get to hear her thoughts as a baby either so I wouldn’t count that.

So I guess long story short, I didn’t really feel any development that I would write about or acknowledge? But that is just me, so you don’t have to take my word for it for this one.

  • Irritated
  • Confused
  • Angry
  • Relatable? I could relate to some of it basically
  • Numb

I don’t really have much more to say about that I guess. I was all over the place with this one and it’s been taking me a while to think about what to say for this because I don’t know how I feel about it.

Apparently the plot was supposed to be reminiscent of Snow White? Or at least any story that has an evil stepmother but they mentioned Snow White in there somewhere from what I remember. Maybe because the daughter was named Snow I could see that barely, and then the whole thing with the mirrors that really wasn’t explained but was interesting enough. Also because of how Boy ended up treating Snow. But other than that, I wouldn’t have thought about Snow White with this book at all. I guess it has to be pretty darn similar for me to think about fairy tales or some other book that makes me think of a book as a retelling or it has to be super obvious to me, which this one wasn’t. I don’t feel like there really was a plot either I guess. It could also just be because I’m so used to there being an actual mission or goal that the main characters have to solve or do because that’s what happens in a lot of fantasy novels, and this wasn’t the case. It’s historical fiction basically, taking place in America right after the civil war? Or at least some time after the civil war. These girls were just trying to live their lives the best they could in the situation that they were in.

Wasn’t so much into the prose because I couldn’t figure out some of the thought process for a lot of what was said. But again, that was just me. Maybe it wasn’t clear enough for me or maybe I wasn’t able to infer what was happening very well. I feel like this book really made me question whether I can analyze books well enough to come up with a decent review on them. Like… did all of my brain power just go out the window and that’s why I can’t figure it out? I don’t know.

The pacing was fine. I mean sure there was a HUGE time gap between part one and part two, but for me it worked since I would have rather heard from Bird at the age that we did, than if we spent more time watching her grow up until she got that age. And I don’t think that it would have done the book any justice if that time of development for Bird was spent being told through Boy’s eyes. Especially since I don’t feel like her involvement in Bird’s growth was as much as she really thought it was.

Ahh wow I finally got to the end of this review. It’s heartbreaking for me when I feel that way and I feel like even though I had a lot of words in this review, it wasn’t making much sense in the end. At least, that’s how I feel. I’m hoping that you will get something out of this review, even if it’s just the adventure of reading my thoughts trying to be coherent somehow.

4 thoughts on “Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

  1. I’ve been wanting to read this book ever since reading the synopsis and seeing this beautiful cover. Then I discovered how much of Oyeyemi’s stories contain a lot of magical realism and that kind of put me off because magical realism is so hit/miss for me! This sounds like a pretty confusing and … infuriating book? Doesn’t seem to have elicited many positive emotions from you 😅I think I’ll keep it on my TBR but won’t be in any rush to read it. Great review, Leelynn!


    1. I would recommend What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours – it’s a collection of short stories by Oyeyemi that I think is much better, and also has some magical realism in it.


  2. I’ve read Gingerbread by Oyeyemi and it’s a VERY different sort of read! I found when reading it it was more a book of the power of words than traditional storytelling. I am fascinated by her writing though. I started to read Boy Snow Bird some years ago but I was coming out of a reading slump and just was unable to read it. I wasn’t in the right head space for something so literary and experimental but I do intend on finishing it one day. It’s just never been in my library anytime I’ve gone looking for it in recent times!!


  3. I read Boy, Snow, Bird a while ago, but reading your review brings back a lot of the same feelings I had about it – mainly confusion and disappointment. I think your assessment of the novel is very true (and so thorough, impressive!).


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