Stephan Lee
March 05, 2014 AT 05:00 AM EST

Boy, Snow, Bird

Current Status
In Season
Helen Oyeyemi
Riverhead Hardcover

We gave it an A

With her fifth novel, 29-year-old Helen Oyeyemi has fully transformed from a literary prodigy into a powerful, distinctive storyteller. A play on Snow White, this bizarre fairy tale feels off-kilter and magical from its opening page. On a snowy night in 1953, downtrodden blond heroine Boy Novak escapes the clutches of her sadistic father and takes refuge in a Massachusetts town. There she marries Arturo Whitman, a widower raising a lovely raven-haired girl named Snow. When Boy and Arturo have a daughter of their own, Bird — who, to Boy’s surprise, is born black — it’s revealed that Arturo comes from a line of African-Americans passing as white. For reasons that aren’t exactly evil, Boy falls into the role of the image-obsessed stepmother and banishes Snow to live with Arturo’s secret dark-skinned sister, raising Bird herself. The story evolves in transfixing and surprising ways from there, all the while meditating on race and beauty. A

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