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Book review: 'Boy, Snow, Bird' by Helen Oyeyemi

Boy, Snow, Bird
Riverhead Books

Some novels wholly capture readers as they race through the pages, all magic completely forgotten when they finish the book; some novels challenge readers on every page, but the reader is unable to erase any of that experience afterward. "Boy, Snow, Bird" is the latter kind of novel, haunting the reader with its enchantments and cultural implications long after its conclusion.

The fairy tale "Snow White" serves as the launching point for this fabulist tale that places a heavy emphasis on the power of mirrors and appearances. Boy Novak is the daughter of an abusive rat-catcher in Manhattan, and she runs away in 1953 and finds herself in a small town in Massachusetts. Soon she marries Arturo Whitman, widower and father of Snow, a revered child that Boy becomes enthralled with and subsequently wary of. When Boy’s own daughter is born visibly "colored," Boy learns that her husband and his family are all light-skinned African Americans passing as white. The repercussions of this discovery weigh heavily on the lives of all three females: Boy, Snow, and Bird.

This novel is Oyeyemi's fifth book -- a notable feat for a 29-year-old author. Throughout the narrative, there are many unexpected turns and a jolting twist at the end, all of which seem to dare the reader to question the author's choices even as he or she dances through the pages. But Oyeyemi shows such imaginative force and control of her writing that the reader starts to wonder afterward if the trick was always on them. Regardless, "Boy, Snow, Bird" is a beautiful work by a talented young writer.

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