Review: Boy, Snow, Bird
CONCLUSION Lovely prose and intriguing story, but fails to deliver on social commentary.
Helen Oyemymi’s Boy, Snow, Bird is a relatively fast-paced novel with a familiar theme and a unique twist. Billed as a new take on “Snow White,” this story takes place in 1950s America. When Boy Novak marries Arturo Whitman and gains a beautiful and enigmatic step-daughter, Snow, she never imagines her life will become intertwined with issues of racial inequality. However, when her daughter, Bird, is born with dark skin, her husband and his family–who have passed in their community as white–are “exposed” as light-skinned African Americans. The revelation forces Boy to recognize her privilege and decide how she is going to prioritize her family.
Oyemymi uses a strong and multi-faceted female lead but falls short on the racial commentary that is promised in the synopsis. With an original plot and many prospective characters, Boy, Snow, Bird has a strong beginning but starts to lose focus towards the middle, eventually spiraling out of control near the novel’s end. It is clear that Oyemymi tries to accomplish too much at once. Where she tries to illuminate social injustice, she only touches the surface of a much more colorful history. The 1950s was a decade rich with social change and there was a lot of room for thoughtful commentary. Instead, she focuses on themes of self-reflection and jealousy that, while relevant, appear more often in the story than those of sex or race.
Boy’s relationship with her husband is refreshing. However, their story feels half-done as Oyemymi focuses on Boy, her daughter, and stepdaughter instead of the couple. Through various perspective changes, a prolonged narrative written entirely in letters, and large gaps in time the message of the novel seems to have been lost.
Boy, Snow, Bird is an entertaining read and contains beautiful prose. However, for the social commentary many readers might be looking for, it is a bit of a let-down.