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Lois Leveen: IMG Forsooth Me Not: Shakespeare, Juliet, Her Nurse, and a Novel



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Boy, Snow, Bird

by

Boy, Snow, Bird Cover

ISBN13: 9781594631399
ISBN10: 1594631395
All Product Details

 

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Named one of 2014's most anticipated books by CNN, The Huffington Post, Bookpage, Time.com, The Chicago Tribune, Vulture, Philadelphia Inquirer, Real Simple, The Millions and Flavorwire

From the prizewinning author of Mr. Fox, the Snow White fairy tale brilliantly recast as a story of family secrets, race, beauty, and vanity.

In the winter of 1953, Boy Novak arrives by chance in a small town in Massachusetts, looking, she believes, for beauty — the opposite of the life she's left behind in New York. She marries a local widower and becomes stepmother to his winsome daughter, Snow Whitman.

A wicked stepmother is a creature Boy never imagined she'd become, but elements of the familiar tale of aesthetic obsession begin to play themselves out when the birth of Boy's daughter, Bird, who is dark-skinned, 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.

Dazzlingly inventive and powerfully moving, Boy, Snow, Bird is an astonishing and enchanting novel. With breathtaking feats of imagination, Helen Oyeyemi confirms her place as one of the most original and dynamic literary voices of our time.

Review:

"The latest novel from Oyeyemi (Mr. Fox) is about a woman named Boy; her stepdaughter, Snow; and her daughter, Bird. Set in the 1950s Massachusetts, the novel is a retelling of the 'Snow White' tale that plays on the concept of 'fairest of them all,' complete with mirrors as a recurring motif. The story begins with Boy's headlong escape from her abusive father in New York City. She washes up in a small New England town where she meets Arturo Whitman, a widower who becomes her husband. When their daughter, Bird, is born, she is noticeably 'colored,' though her half-sister, Snow (Arturo's daughter), appears not to be. Boy, who is white, discovers that her husband's family are African-Americans passing as white. Snow is sent away to be raised by an aunt, and the book's middle section is narrated by Bird, who is as whip smart, wry, and irresistible as Boy. Oyeyemi wields her words with economy and grace, and she rounds out her story with an inventive plot and memorable characters." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Review:

“With her fifth novel, 29-year-old Helen Oyeyemi has fully transformed from a literary prodigy into a powerful, distinctive storyteller…[Boy, Snow, Bird is] transfixing and surprising.” Entertainment Weekly

Review:

“The outline of [Oyeyemi's] remarkable career glimmers with pixie dust....Her latest novel, Boy, Snow, Bird, continues on this bewitching path…the atmosphere of fantasy lingers over these pages like some intoxicating incense….Under Oyeyemis spell, the fairy-tale conceit makes a brilliant setting in which to explore the alchemy of racism, the weird ways in which identity can be transmuted in an instant — from beauty to beast or vice versa.” Ron Charles, The Washington Post

Review:

“By transforming ‘Snow White' into a tale that hinges on race and cultural ideas about beauty — the danger of mirrors indeed — Oyeyemi finds a new, raw power in the classic. In her hands, the story is about secrets and lies, mothers and daughters, lost sisters and the impossibility of seeing oneself or being seen in a brutally racist world….[Oyeyemi] elegantly and inventively turns a classic fairy tale inside out.” Los Angeles Times

Review:

“Oyeyemi is something rare — a born novelist, who gets better every book. Boy, Snow, Bird is an enchanting retelling of Snow White that mixes questions of beauty and vanity with issues of race.” Cosmopolitan

Review:

“[Boy, Snow, Bird] explores powerful themes, such as self-perception, race relations, and the role appearance plays in relationships.” Real Simple 

Review:

“Riveting, brilliant and emotionally rich…with fully realized characters, startling images, original observations and revelatory truths, this masterpiece engages the readers heart and mind as it captures both the complexities of racial and gender identity in the 20th century and the more intimate complexities of love in all its guises.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Review:

“Helen Oyeyemi is a freaking genius. Her books are so bizarre and brilliant….Write this one down somewhere you'll remember — like your forehead — because you don't want to miss it.” Bookriot

Review:

Boy, Snow, Bird is Helen Oyeyemi's fifth novel, and it just might be her finest. It's certainly her most readily accessible….How [her characters] try and tragically fail to relate to one another proves particularly powerful, as exemplified by the perversely gratifying last act…I couldn't have stopped reading at this point if I'd wanted to.…[A] beautiful book.” Tor.com

About the Author

Helen Oyeyemi is the author of five novels, most recently White Is for Witching, which won a 2010 Somerset Maugham Award, and Mr. Fox, which won a 2012 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. In 2013, she was named one of Granta's Best Young British Novelists.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 3 comments:

Ellen Etc, August 3, 2014 (view all comments by Ellen Etc)
Boy Novak is doomed from the start. Daughter of a capricious and brutal rat exterminator in New York City, she escapes in the late 1950s to marry Arturo Whitman, a widower with a charming little daughter, Snow. But when Boy and Arturo’s daughter Bird is born and dark family secrets come to light, Boy’s heart hardens against her step-daughter Snow. The novel illuminates the national divides in the first half of the 20th century, with resonances before and beyond, suggesting the many different Americas we may inhabit, depending on our backgrounds and the ability of previous generations to truthfully reveal our heritages. When a narrator’s “voice” becomes unrealistic for the character, read it as allegory -- the book is deliberately layered and fantastic.
The novel also brings to mind the Biblical story of Jacob and Esau. "Missing mothers" and "family secrets," yes indeed, but I suggest the novel’s best benefit is like that of Jack London's working-class novel "Martin Eden," in that it shows the privileged how long the lingering effects of injustice and the corrosion of inequality continue to resonate.

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The Lost Entwife, August 3, 2014 (view all comments by The Lost Entwife)
I'm struggling so much right now because I really, really wanted to fall in love with BOY, SNOW, BIRD by Helen Oyeyemi. I'm sitting here, struggling with a lack of words to convey my disappointment and struggling as well to try to articulate what exactly about BOY, SNOW, BIRD disappointed me. I asked myself when I finished reading if maybe I had expected too much - Snow White has always been one of my favorite stories, but I really went into this book without reading much of anything except the brief synopsis on the back. My mind was open to the possibilities and I had absolutely every hope of being drawn in.

What happened was that, ultimately, I got bored. I had a reasonable amount of interest during the entire first section, but after a while it felt like I was reading fragments of a story loosely bound together. When the sections shifted to a new voice, I struggled for almost 30 pages with trying to get my head in the right place. I felt like I'd been rudely ripped from one story and thrust into another without so much as a warning.

I really, really think that what Oyeyemi was attempting to do here is a fantastic thing. I really wanted to be blown away with her insights and strong characters that would pummel me from the pages and make me think long and hard. Unfortunately, my thinking was solely to do with wondering when the book was ending and asking myself if I should just put it down and DNF it. I didn't, but there's a strong part of me that wishes that I had, because BOY, SNOW, BIRD ended up being, in my humble opinion, a pretty cover, a cool concept for a story, but something that ultimately just did not deliver.
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StaceyHH, March 13, 2014 (view all comments by StaceyHH)
Boy Novak is a complicated person, a mix of action and passivity, both likeable and off-putting. She decides to run away from her abusive father, she sleepwalks into her job and the stability it accidentally provides. She embraces an idea of motherhood, and rejects it later for a different idea of motherhood (instead of attempting to integrate her ideas.) She never quite feels to the reader like she inhabits her own marriage, maybe she loves her husband, maybe she is just looking for an escape.

Time is a little wonky in this story too, as if things happen only when they become relevant to the tale, unmoored from the event's "real" timeline, forward or backward. In the end, Oyeyemi's characters come together in a strange functional/dysfunctional, seeing/unseeing way. And they just wander off, leaving the reader turning the last page back and forth, willing the story to have an ending. There's not an ending, there's a moment where they've caught hold of a bit of new information, and they go off to see if they can make it look the way they see it in their minds. The reader is left behind with a feeling that she is no longer invited to observe this part of the story.

These are hard characters. They have tough shells, they all hide the truth, sometimes from even their own selves.

Coming into this book, I expected a retelling of Snow White, and the dust jacket led me to believe that it would be primarily a story about race and appearance. But this book is as much about mothers as it is about race. It's about the masks we wear and the mirrors that don't see us, or don't reflect the way we see ourselves. How much do we have to deceive ourselves in order to deceive others? How much do our expectations influence our perceptions?

Teenaged Snow expects that that when she is out with her black friends, people will perceive her as a black woman; "I used to assume that when I'm with colored people the similarities become obvious," but strangers, seeing her pale skin, perceive her as a white woman who is slumming. Dichotomy: She is both with her friends, and a danger to her friends. And in some ways, these perceptual lies are a danger to her as well: "I felt as if I'd left my body, felt as if I were standing over on the other side of a room, watching as a big lie was being told about me." But this has been the reality of her entire life, so how can she pick one moment to stand up and say THIS is the truth.

Her Uncle (black, not passing,) tells a story in which he clearly places himself in danger, for a "joke," which horrifies his (passing) in-laws, who clearly draw the parallel between his actions and their bloody cultural history and the relatively recent (real-life) murder of Emmett Till, and yet, in their societal position as "white," they haven't ever lived with the direct threat, only with the constant fear of discovery. The decision of half of this family to "worship white" and pass as white, creates an odd disconnect with the family as it sits around talking. Who are these people if they decide to be something other than what's in their genes? Are they betraying their heritage, or are they trying to minimize their disadvantages? If we reduce it to being able to "pass" into the country club, it sounds so mercenary, but in the context of broken bottle weapons at nightclubs, being denied work opportunities and fair pay... and always, Emmett Till, who is to say they wouldn't do the same if they could?

There were parts of this novel that resonated so strongly with me, I found myself holding my breath, while I reread the passage. Other parts made me uncomfortable without being able to explain to myself how and why.

Last night I dreamed about mirrors that tell a different story.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9781594631399
Subtitle:
A Novel
Author:
Oyeyemi, Helen
Publisher:
Riverhead Hardcover
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20140306
Binding:
Paperback
Grade Level:
from 12
Language:
English
Pages:
320
Dimensions:
8.25 x 5.5 in 1 lb
Age Level:
from 18

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Related Subjects

Featured Titles » Literature
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » New Arrivals
Humanities » Mythology » Folklore and Storytelling

Boy, Snow, Bird New Hardcover
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Product details 320 pages Riverhead Hardcover - English 9781594631399 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "The latest novel from Oyeyemi (Mr. Fox) is about a woman named Boy; her stepdaughter, Snow; and her daughter, Bird. Set in the 1950s Massachusetts, the novel is a retelling of the 'Snow White' tale that plays on the concept of 'fairest of them all,' complete with mirrors as a recurring motif. The story begins with Boy's headlong escape from her abusive father in New York City. She washes up in a small New England town where she meets Arturo Whitman, a widower who becomes her husband. When their daughter, Bird, is born, she is noticeably 'colored,' though her half-sister, Snow (Arturo's daughter), appears not to be. Boy, who is white, discovers that her husband's family are African-Americans passing as white. Snow is sent away to be raised by an aunt, and the book's middle section is narrated by Bird, who is as whip smart, wry, and irresistible as Boy. Oyeyemi wields her words with economy and grace, and she rounds out her story with an inventive plot and memorable characters." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Review" by , “With her fifth novel, 29-year-old Helen Oyeyemi has fully transformed from a literary prodigy into a powerful, distinctive storyteller…[Boy, Snow, Bird is] transfixing and surprising.”
"Review" by , “The outline of [Oyeyemi's] remarkable career glimmers with pixie dust....Her latest novel, Boy, Snow, Bird, continues on this bewitching path…the atmosphere of fantasy lingers over these pages like some intoxicating incense….Under Oyeyemis spell, the fairy-tale conceit makes a brilliant setting in which to explore the alchemy of racism, the weird ways in which identity can be transmuted in an instant — from beauty to beast or vice versa.”
"Review" by , “By transforming ‘Snow White' into a tale that hinges on race and cultural ideas about beauty — the danger of mirrors indeed — Oyeyemi finds a new, raw power in the classic. In her hands, the story is about secrets and lies, mothers and daughters, lost sisters and the impossibility of seeing oneself or being seen in a brutally racist world….[Oyeyemi] elegantly and inventively turns a classic fairy tale inside out.”
"Review" by , “Oyeyemi is something rare — a born novelist, who gets better every book. Boy, Snow, Bird is an enchanting retelling of Snow White that mixes questions of beauty and vanity with issues of race.”
"Review" by , “[Boy, Snow, Bird] explores powerful themes, such as self-perception, race relations, and the role appearance plays in relationships.”
"Review" by , “Riveting, brilliant and emotionally rich…with fully realized characters, startling images, original observations and revelatory truths, this masterpiece engages the readers heart and mind as it captures both the complexities of racial and gender identity in the 20th century and the more intimate complexities of love in all its guises.”
"Review" by , “Helen Oyeyemi is a freaking genius. Her books are so bizarre and brilliant….Write this one down somewhere you'll remember — like your forehead — because you don't want to miss it.”
"Review" by , Boy, Snow, Bird is Helen Oyeyemi's fifth novel, and it just might be her finest. It's certainly her most readily accessible….How [her characters] try and tragically fail to relate to one another proves particularly powerful, as exemplified by the perversely gratifying last act…I couldn't have stopped reading at this point if I'd wanted to.…[A] beautiful book.”
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