Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

My biggest beef with this book? The edges were TOO deckled and I could never find my place.

My biggest beef with this book? The edges were TOO deckled and I could never find my place.

If I end up doing a year-in-review post over on my blog, which is doubtful since I haven’t started and I have four more reviews to do here, I will include a “lessons learned” portion. Lesson #1: Don’t believe the hype.

I’ve been let down a few times this year by books that EVERYONE told me I MUST read IMMEDIATELY. Not let down as in they were terrible; they turned out to be perfectly good books, even very good books, but not life-changing books.

Perhaps my expectations were too high. Perhaps I’m just being contrary. Boy, Snow, Bird is a very good book but it has a few flaws and I just couldn’t put it in the 5-star circle.

Let’s talk about the good. It’s a fairytale retelling, and like most good retellings, it sticks close enough to the source material to ground you, but veers off enough to keep it interesting. Oyeyemi introduces race into the old story about beauty and vanity and jealousy and it suddenly belongs to its time (mid-century) and place (America.) I love a good book about sisters, and the middle section, which consists of letters between Snow and Bird, are exceptionally good. I was doing that thing where you scan the page because you have to know what happens next, and then you go back and read slowly to savour the words. The writing throughout is vivid; her description of someone lighting a cigarette gave me an immediate and intense craving, and I haven’t smoked in seven years.

And the bad: It took a long time for the story to get going. I was probably 75 pages in before it clicked. That’s about a quarter of the book. As much as I loved the sisters, and as much as I had trouble getting into evil stepmother Boy’s story, I wanted more of her than the glimpses we get during teenage Bird’s story. I didn’t mind the twist at the end, though I saw it coming (and I never see things coming,) but I disliked the ambiguous ending. Perhaps I was waiting for the big moral, like in a real fairytale.

As an aside: there were a surprising amount of parallels between this book and my first Bookstravaganza read, Prairie Ostrich. Race comes into it, sisters come into it, lesbians come into it, and both worlds are built around fairytales. Though Boy, Snow, Bird was better written, I think Prairie Ostrich had a stronger narrator in Egg.

Maybe “don’t believe the hype” is too harsh. This is a very good book, probably a great book. But it wasn’t my favourite, or even in my top ten for the year. If I ever get around to that year-end post, I’ll tell you what did make the list!

Books read: 6

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One response to “Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

  1. Pingback: Booyah, Bookstravaganza! | Reading in Bed·

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