Boy, Snow, Bird

Helen Oyeyemi

A wicked stepmother, a bullying rat-catcher father and Snow White in 1950s-60s small-town America.

Oyeyemi writes with a style as naïve as any fairytale, and just as magical. Like all the best folklore, Boy, Snow, Bird has something lurking, dark and dreadful, bullying below the surface. In this case, it is racism, racial passing and secret identities. The titular triumvirate of Boy, Snow and Bird—the main, all female, characters—enable Oyeyemi to explore women’s search for approval from, and disappointment in, each other.

The author holds the reins of the plot so lightly that, at times, it canters off-course to dip its head in the horse trough and propel the reader from the saddle. But Oyeyemi’s wit encourages us to climb back on:

His name was Rocco, and he knew how to lean in and light a girl’s cigarette with a look and a smile that had me stubbing my cigarette out whenever his attention was elsewhere.

The dialogue often displays the kind of quick-fire repartee last heard in off-beat 1930s comedies starring Carole Lombard. Its return is long overdue.

What would you do if I kissed you right now?” “Sock you in the solar plexus.” “Do you even know where to find the solar plexus?” “No, but I’d keep going ’til I got there.”

Just one issue with an otherwise outstanding read: the ending is marred by the inclusion of Frank Novak’s backstory which doesn’t sit well.

Sparkling and truly original.

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