By Helen Oyeyemi.
I read this book all in one breath on the way to LA for Christmas, mostly on the airplane. It felt like a short novel.
I was captivated by it though I don’t really understand certain aspects. It’s a strange retelling of snow white where we follow Boy, a young girl abused by her rat-catching father in NYC who runs away shortly after finishing high school. She gets on a bus to a random, small town in Western Mass and ends up staying there, marrying Arturo, a jewelry maker with a daughter called Snow and a dead wife called Julie. At first Boy loves Snow, perhaps eight years old, a sweet little child. But then Boy becomes pregnant and upon the birth of her own daughter discovers that Arturo is actually a light-skinned black man; his entire family passing for white; Boy names her daughter Bird after Snow suggests some bird names.
Upon this passing-as-white revelation, Boy discovers that Arturo has a second sister (or was it cousin…) living in Boston who does not want to pass as white; Arturo’s mother sent her away. We are set up to believe that Boy will ask the sister to take her dark daughter, but instead Boy asks the sister to take Snow. I never understand this decision. Why does she suddenly hate Snow?
We then get a glimpse of Bird’s strange world as a teenager, a dark kid in a small town in the midst of a strange drama. She is super curious about Snow and begins to send her letters; they strike up a friendship.
Boy’s father makes a visit and meets Bird.
Snow comes to visit and befriends Bird, though Boy still hates Snow and now we learn more that Boy thinks people treat Snow like she is perfect and that this breeds in Snow a very pretentious and cruel personality; but is it true?
Finally we a get a twist that Boy’s close friend, a reporter, has been researching Boy’s mother. The reporter had an abortion and wants to write a piece about why mother’s abandon their children. What the reporter discovers is that Boy’s father *is* her mother, that the mother got raped and then perhaps had some kind of personality disorder and transitioned into a man.
This is a crazy revelation that is hard to follow. We end with Boy arranging both Snow and Bird to try to go meet her ‘mother’.
It’s strange because Boy’s mother is set up, based on the research, to be a kind and progressive woman; but Boy’s father is terribly, physically abusive. It’s hard to imagine that kind of switch. And why does Boy want to go see him or her?
We are having a book club on this book so hopefully others will have some insight.