I should stop reading the backs of books. It’s disappointing when stories don’t live up to their own pitch. Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird isn’t terrible, but it’s a long way from what the back cover suggests. Here it is, so we’re all on the same page:
In this extraordinary new novel, Helen Oyeyemi’s, the prize-winning author of Mr. Fox, brilliantly recasts the “Snow White” fairy tale 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 Arturo Whitman, a local widower, and becomes stepmother to his winsome daughter, Snow.
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. Individually and together, Boy, Snow, and Bird confront the tyranny of the mirror to ask how much power surfaces really hold.