Boy Snow Bird Summary

Helen Oyeyemi

Boy Snow Bird

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Boy Snow Bird Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Boy Snow Bird by Helen Oyeyemi.

Nigerian-British novelist Helen Oyeyemi published her first novel, The Icarus Girl, at the age of nineteen. Her work is often inspired by fairy tales, mythology, and folklore. Boy, Snow, Bird (2014) is an alternative retelling of the Snow White story where the wicked stepmother has a full backstory that encourages compassion. Oyeyemi weaves themes of generational trauma, aesthetic misjudgment, and the danger of fully believing any single myth. Boy, Snow, Bird received positive reviews from many publications.

Set 1950s America, the novel concerns the trials of three woman. Boy is the stepmother; Snow is the stepdaughter;and Bird is the thirteen-year-old heroine. Boy, Snow, Bird touches on the American phenomenon of “passing,” which was dramatically and famously told in the American novelist Nella Larson’s novel Passing (1929).

Boy Novak, the main character, is a white, beautiful, adolescent female. Her father, who works as a rat exterminator on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, routinely abuses her. In 1953, twenty-year-old Boy runs away from her father. She takes the first bus leaving New York and decides that wherever it stops is where she will call home. The bus terminates in Flax Hill, Massachusetts.

Living in a tenement house, Boy befriends the jeweler and designer Arturo Whitman and investigative journalist Mia. Arturo Whitman is a widower and has a daughter named Snow.

Whitman and Boy start a passionate love affair, due in part to Boy’s fascination for Snow, who is mild-mannered and easy to love.Whitman proposes to Boy. She jokes that the serpentine bracelet he gives her is something an evil step-mother would wear. The happy couple are married quickly, despite objections from Arturo’s mother, Olivia. A few weeks into their marriage, Boy learns that Whitman has an older sister, Clara, who is shunned by the entire family.

Boy gives birth to a girl; she names the girl Bird. Boy, however, is shocked to see that Bird is black (or “colored” in the novel). She confronts Whitman, who admits that his parents were African-Americans from Louisiana who passed for white. Boy pushes him on, and he also admits that his first wife, Julia, was white-passing, and the couple were relieved when Snow had white-looking skin and blonde hair.

As time passes, Boy’s fury grows in tandem with the town’s unfair reaction to her black-looking child, Bird. She grows jealous of Snow’s easy life passing for a white person.At wit’s end, Boy looks for advice from her estranged sister-in-law, Clara. Clara instructs Boy to hand over Bird so she can raise her as black. But Boy rejects the idea. Instead, she asks Clara to watch over Snow for a short period of time; she does not tell Clara or Snow that she intends this stay to be permanent.

Thirteen years pass. It is 1968, and the novel focuses on the life of Bird.Bird has since grown up as the only daughter of the Whitman family. She knows that her family can hardly stand her “colored” features, especially her grandmother, Olivia. The only reason Bird’s life is not more miserable is due to the protection from Boy, who insists that her daughter be treated with the same love and admiration afforded to Snow.

Snow writes from Clara’s house begging to be let back into the family; she believes (rightfully so) that she did nothing to warrant the exile. One day, Bird discovers all the letters that Snow has written to her mother, Boy. Bird reads one letter addressed specifically to her. She steals all of the letters and, in secret, writes back to her half-sister, Snow. The two bond through fairy tales and their respective lives, and they each make plans to be friends. Overtime, Bird convinces her mother to let Snow come for a single home visit.

Meanwhile, Frank Novak, Boy’s father and Bird’s grandfather, kidnaps Bird while she is in her backyard. He tells her more about their family’s dark history, but seems to keep certain things to himself. Then he leaves forever.

The entire Whitman family is reunited for Thanksgiving. Boy begs Snow’s forgiveness for the exile. She even suggests that Snow punch Boy in the face as retribution. Snow forgives her and begins life with the rest of the family in Massachusetts.

One day, Boy’s friend, the investigative journalist, Mia, tells her that it was she who gave Frank Novak Boy’s address. Mia was writing an article about women who are unable to be mothers. Curious about Boy’s origins, she tracked down Boy’s mother, which turned out to be Boy’s father, Frank.

Mia discovers that Boy’s mother was raped by an acquaintance for being a lesbian. Until the rape, she was an intensely bright feminist and doctoral candidate. After the pregnancy that delivered Boy, Frances transitioned into a man called Frank.

Mia presents her research to Frank, who admits that this history is true. He decides that it is time to reveal the past to his daughter. That was his intent when he broke into the Whitman’s backyard and kidnapped Bird. But he was unable to come out with it.

With a greater understanding of what her abusive “father” put her through, Boy, along with Bird, Snow, and Mia, travel to New York City to comfort Frank/Frances.