Ohhhhh boy. This book. This was the last pick of the local library book club of the year, and it was much anticipated. It has received much acclaim, NPR said great things about it, and but for me, and my book club, it widely missed the mark. It was NOT loved. Or liked even. At this club we (about 16 folks) go around the room and give a score to a scale of 5 and this one didn’t even get past three. And there were a few zeroes. On that scale I personally gave it a 3 for creativity and a 2.5 overall and was probably being a little generous.
This is supposed to be a modern fairy tale that tackles race relations in the 1950s in a new and imaginative way. Boy (a woman named Boy) runs away from her abusive father and finds herself in a new city, trying to find her place in the world. She ends up as a stepmother to the lovely Snow, and later has her own daughter, at which point she discovers that her husband has been “passing” as white, which leads to her choosing to send Snow away as she mothers Bird. Even writing it out, it’s clear that there is a LOT going on here.
For me the main issue was that she was trying to do waaaaaay to many things, and none of the things she did wrapped up in a satisfactory way. Not that plot points and character arcs need a bow on them, but so many things were dropped or never fully explained it was very frustrating for the reader. I felt like I must have been missing something, to be as confused and unsatisfied as I was, it just felt a bit above me, but as I mentioned, by book club had the same assessment. Also, the narration is confusing and disjointed, it was often hard to tell who was talking. So, add all that together and you have quite the head scratcher. A few chapter’s in it became an exercise of will and teeth clenching to finish it.
And the ending? That is where it really comes off the rails. It’s one of those things where an abrupt bombshell comes out of nowhere, and you flip back and reread the last 10 pages to make sure some of them aren’t stuck together. It is jarring, and unexpected and left me feeling kind of icky about the whole novel.
I see what she was trying to do in a few places, but for me this was a wholly unsuccessful novel. I might give another of her books a try, but only a few chapters. No more teeth clenching for me.