The BUZZ: Amazon Best Book of the Month, March 2014
The GIST: Boy, the ironically-named Grace Kelly look-alike, lives in 1940‘s Manhattan with her abusive father. He catches rats by day, and beats her at night. As her beauty grows, so does the abuse. At nineteen, fearing for her life, Boy runs away, boarding a bus that ends up in a small Massachusetts artisan community. There she finds friendship, work, and love. Arturo Whitman is a widower, and father of the ethereally beautiful Snow. The child is adored and admired by all, especially Boy. When Arturo and Boy marry and have a daughter, their lives are unexpectedly altered. The baby arrives dark-skinned with African American features, revealing the Whitman’s hidden heritage. Bird’s birth uncovers more than that, including the family’s other secrets, and Boy’s own deep-seated wounds and buried misery. The Snow White fable hides in between the lines to remind us of the dangers of vanity.
The WRITING: Spooky. Think Edgar Allan Poe and the brothers Grimm. The story and characters are riddled with holes that eventually get filled in, but you have to be patient. No spoon feeding here. Oyeyemi makes you wait and work for it. She tackles racism from the sidelines, examining the worship of white and the scorning of black in our culture. Mirrors are a character in the story. Boy, Snow and Bird all have mysterious relationships with their reflections. We are compelled to question how our appearance creates our identities in our personal world, and how the physical appearances of others shape our definitions of them. The author wanders through the complexity of feminine identity in a culture that idolizes youth and equates value with beauty. Her conclusions are not pretty. Our secrets and lies make us ugly, and destroy our relationships. The selfish, shallow steps we take lead us down the path of isolation, where we create rippling rings of destruction.
BUY or BORROW?: Buy it. Especially if you read as slowly as I do. This is not a quick read, but I think it deserves the time it takes to follow Oyeyemi’s tale of the connection between vanity, racism, and narcissism.
QUOTE: “For reasons of my own I take note of the way people act when they’re around mirrors.”