I hadn’t heard of Helen Oyeyemi before, and I picked up this book at the library pretty much by chance. I just love the gorgeous cover – the purple and gold foil writing definitely caught my eye. As soon as I started reading Boy, Snow, Bird I was engrossed. There’s something about Oyeyemi’s writing which is distinctly readable.
She introduces us to Boy, a girl – ironically – who we meet at a crossroads in her life. Boy is just about to embark on the biggest adventure of her life – she’s running away from her abusive father and life as she knows it. She takes the first bus she can find to the its final destination, which happens to be Flax Hill, Massachusetts.
Whilst the small town seems strange to Boy at first – with a focus on beauty over practicality – she gradually finds her own place. She marries Arturo, a widowed jeweller, and they have a child together.
Arturo already has a child called Snow – but Boy’s child to him is a little different. The baby, named Bird, is a trigger for revelations from Arturo’s family, forcing Boy to question the things she thought she knew about the man she married. After some soul-searching, Boy decides to send the first child, Snow away, and that’s where things really begin.
The story moves between multiple narratives; Boy and her daughter Bird both contribute. The two half-sisters, Snow and Bird, grow up apart but aware of each other’s existence until one day Bird discovers letters from her sister which her mother has hidden away. The two sisters start a correspondence which eventually leads to Snow returning to the family home, more family revelations and a twisting climax.
Whilst my summary may sound a little vague, that’s purely because I really think that the less you know about this novel before you read it the better. I had accidentally read about the two key twists before reading the book, and it did spoil it to some extent to me.
However, whether you’re aware of the twists or not, this novel is beautifully written. Oyeyemi intricately weaves together themes of identity, race, abuse, myth and fairy tale into something which is elegantly written and truly unique.
She carries an underlying theme of mirrors throughout the story, from the first line “Nobody ever warned me about mirrors, so for many years I was fond of them, and believed them to be trustworthy”. The theme threads through the story and the multiple narratives as many of the characters have their own struggles with what they see in the mirror, whether that is because they can’t bear to look at their reflection or that they simply see nothing at all. It questions what beauty is and how intrinsically tied our reflection, our appearance and our perception of our identity can be.
Although it raises some interesting points and is written in a really engaging manner, I was left with some mixed feeling about this book. For one thing, there are so many different issues and themes packed in that I was left feeling a little overwhelmed and unsure where to start when reviewing it. I wasn’t quite sure who to like, or how I should feel while reading it. It’s an ambitious feat, but perhaps a little too ambitious at times. The ending packs in a final twist, which left a little to be desired for me. It’s not that I had trouble believing it, I just would have liked to have known a little more about it. The book feels like it ends at a new beginning for the characters, and I wanted to know what happened next.