The Best Books of 2014
When Boy Novak arrives in the sleepy New England town of Flax Hill in the winter of 1953, she's on the run from her abusive father, a rat catcher on Manhattan's Lower East Side. After slowly settling in to her new community, 22-year-old Boy marries Arturo, a widower, and becomes the stepmother to his beautiful raven-haired daughter, Snow Whitman, adored by everyone in town. When Boy gives birth to her own little girl, Bird, the baby is noticeably dark-skinned—revealing that Arturo's family, assumed by Flax Hill's residents to be white, are actually light-skinned African Americans. To avoid the inevitable comparisons between the half sisters, Boy sends Snow away to be raised by her aunt.
In Boy, Snow, Bird, Helen Oyeyemi spins a surreal retelling of the Snow White story, embedding West African folklore into the familiar plot line to consider what beauty means to its beholder—and to those who behold it in the mirror.
The novel is narrated first by Boy, then by the precocious and sharp-tongued Bird, and then again by Boy—who, in reflecting on the state of black-white relations in the 1960s, says, "It's not whiteness itself that sets Them against Us, but the worship of whiteness." Oyeyemi's superbly inventive novel examines the thorniness of race and the poisonous ways in which vanity and envy can permeate and distort perception.