320 pages, 8.23 × 5.62 × 0.87 in
March 4, 2014
The following ISBNs are associated with this title:
ISBN - 10: 0143187430
ISBN - 13: 9780143187431
Read from the Book
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof.*** Copyright © 2014 by Helen Oyeyemi1 Nobody ever warned me about mirrors, so for many years I was fond of them, and believed them to be trustworthy. I’d hide myself away inside them, setting two mirrors up to face each other so that when I stood between them I was infinitely reflected in either direction. Many, many me’s. When I stood on tiptoe, we all stood on tiptoe, trying to see the first of us, and the last. The effect was dizzying, a vast pulse, not quite alive, more like the working of an automaton. I felt the reflection at my shoulder like a touch. I was on the most familiar terms with her, same as any other junior dope too lonely to be selective about the company she keeps.Mirrors showed me that I was a girl with a white-blond pigtail hanging down over one shoulder; eyebrows and lashes the same color; still, near-black eyes; and one of those faces some people call “harsh” and others call “fine-boned.” It was not unusual for me to fix a scarf around my head and spend an afternoon pretending that I was a nun from another century; my forehead was high enough. And my complexion is unpredictable, goes from near bloodless to scalded and back again, all without my permission. There are still days when I can only work out whether or not I’m upset by looking at my face.I did fine at school. I’m talking about the way boys reacted to me, actually, since some form of perversity caused me to spend most lessons pretending to a
From the Publisher
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 lightskinned 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.
About the Author
H elen Oyeyemi
is the author of five novels, most recently White Is for Witching
, which won a 2010 Somerset Maugham Award, and Mr. Fox
, which won a 2012 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. In 2013, she was named one of Granta
’s Best Young British Novelists. She lives in Prague.
“Helen Oyeyemi is one of the few storytellers who seems on intimate terms with the language of myth, swims in it with apparent ease, and teases exciting possibilities from the old stories with her hypnotic command of prose.” - Globe and Mail“Oyeyemi is hugely talented, as fearless as she is funny.” - Toronto Star“Another potent and vividly written tale by Helen Oyeyemi.” - NOW Magazine“Oyeyemi wields her words with economy and grace, and she rounds out her story with an inventive plot and memorable characters.” - Publishers Weekly (starred review)“Oyeyemi has fully transformed from a literary prodigy into a powerful, distinctive storyteller…. Transfixing and surprising.” - Entertainment Weekly“The outline of [Oyeyemi’s] remarkable career glimmers with pixie dust…. Her latest novel, Boy, Snow, Bird, continues on this bewitching path … the atmosphere of fantasy lingers over these pages like some intoxicating incense…. Under Oyeyemi’s spell, the fairy-tale conceit makes a brilliant setting in which to explore the alchemy of racism, the weird way in which identity can be transmuted in an instant—from beauty to beast or vice versa.” - The Washington Post“Oyeyemi’s writing is gorgeous and resonant and fresh … Charm is a quality that overflows in this novel, and it works under its best definition: as a kind of magical attraction and delight. Oyeyemi casts her word-spell, sentence by sentence, story by story, and by the end, the oppressive lair has opened up into a shimmering
1. Helen Oyeyemi’s novel Boy, Snow, Bird was inspired by the story of Snow White but ultimately takes the imagery from that famous fairy tale in a direction of its own to explore big ideas not just about beauty, but also race, gender, and identity. How did you approach the novel? What drew you to it? Were the storytelling elements or themes that kept you reading the same ones that brought you to Boy, Snow, Bird in the first place? Did your perception of the story change as you read it?
2. Stylistically, Oyeyemi mixes social history and everyday reality with fable, folklore, and magic realism, allowing them to collide. Discuss the use of these different elements and the overall effect of their combination.
3. Helen Oyeyemi carefully works through various arguments that might be made about “passing” as white. What are some of those arguments? What do you think about the Whitmans decision to pass and the way they go about it? Is passing dishonest if it isn't an active decision?
4. Consider Boy’s initial reactions to Snow. Why is she drawn to her? How does their relationship change once Boy marries Snow’s father? How does it change after Bird is born?
5. When Boy sends Snow away, what is her motivation? Who is she doing this for? Snow? Bird? Boy? Why? Do you see her decision as an act of love or cowardice? Is she treating Snow cruelly or is she showing compassion for Bird?
6. This is a novel inspired by the fairy tale, not a retelling. Where do you see the influences of the Snow White tale? Which characters, which plot points? Where does it differ? Did the moments of similarity or divergence surprise you?
7. The original Snow White story, like most fairy tales, has a clear villain. Is the same true of Boy, Snow, Bird? Do you see Boy as a villain, in the wicked stepmother role? Or Boy's abusive father? Or even Snow?
8. We read Boy and Bird’s perspectives, but we never hear directly from Snow. Did you miss hearing her perspective? Why do you think it was omitted? What do you think her own story might tell us?
9. The book ultimately asks: what is it that identifies us racially? Is it our color? Our genes? Our history? Our culture? Having now read the book, how would you answer this question?
10. Mirrors figure prominently in the story, as they do in Snow White, but Oyeyemi uses them differently and takes the idea of doubles and reflection much further. Consider all the different ways she uses the idea of reflection and mirrors. Which example struck you as most powerful?