Friday, March 21, 2014

New Book: Boy, Snow, Bird: A Novel by Helen Oyeyemi

I recently received a review copy of Boy, Snow, Bird: A Novel by Helen Oyeyemi. I really don't enjoy personally reviewing these books anymore for multiple reasons which I won't bog down the blog with today. (In short, I bring way too many aspects to the table and know you readers bring a wide range of tastes and expectations for fairy tale retellings.) So I will just share what is essentially my short review:

My realm is that of avid fairy tale readers, those who read across genres, focused more on the retelling than the genre itself. This new rendition will appeal to some and repel others, falling more into the literary fiction--often dubbed "high literature"--than the usual genres many fairy tale retellings fall within, most often fantasy for obvious reasons.

Oyeyemi has become a darling in this literary genre and well deserves it judging from this retelling. She is readable and works in fascinating ways with the folklore she references. This is essentially a historical novel that uses Snow White to explore racial and familial relations in intriguing ways. While the text is highly readable, it is not always easy, and the messages are deep and are intended more to provoke thought than entertain. So take that into consideration when choosing this book.

One of my favorite lines, a response to a question about breaking a magic spell (which may mislead you into thinking this book is more fantastical than it is):

"I told her that magic spells only work until the person under the spell is really and honestly tired of it. It ends when continuing becomes simply too ghastly a prospect."

That gives you a small, small taste of the book's themes and thoughts. In other words, I recommend this book, with reservations for your personal reading tastes. If you want light romance and/or fantasy--nothing wrong with that, I am a librarian by training who respects all tastes--this will not satisfy your craving. If you want something off the beaten path, try this.

In other words, if you want literary, this is for you. If you want light romantic fantasy, stay away.

There is a much better review of the book at The New York Times--because this is the type of book they review--here at White Lies: ‘Boy, Snow, Bird,’ by Helen Oyeyemi By POROCHISTA KHAKPOUR. If that article doesn't sell the book to you, not much will convince you to read it.

And while we are here, I never did post my usual new release post about the book either, so for continuity's sake, here is also the official book description:

Named one of 2014’s most anticipated books by CNN, The Huffington Post, Bookpage,, 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.

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