This is the story of a beautiful woman who is abused as a child and flees from her father's household as an adult, just to inflict a similar kind of suffering on another child. Boy Novak is the daughter of a rat catcher and cruel, cruel man. Her father has raised her as a single dad and is known to drink on occasion. Drunk or not, Boy has no idea what will set him off. The cruelties of Boy's childhood and young adulthood inspire her to flee from her father's home on the Upper East Side of NYC when she turns twenty. Boy takes a bus to Flax Hill, in New England and finds a home in a boarding house where other single women live. Boy immediately finds friends and comfort in her new home, but that does not stop her from wondering about her boyfriend she left behind. When he goes off to medical school and contacts Boy, she runs from his love. Instead deciding to take her chances with a single father, Auturo Whitman, who she thinks is the safer bet. Boy is afraid of what true love and passion can do to her and instead of giving it a try, she settles on a man who will be satisfied with a wife. Any wife.
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But Boy's marriage to Auturo does not come without its own trials. Auturo has a daughter from a previous marriage called Snow. Snow is a beautiful girl who inspires worshipful behavior in anyone who crosses her path. Boy is fine with the little girl at first, but when she becomes pregnant with a child of her own, everything changes. Boy gives birth to Bird, who is obviously Colored. This shocks Boy because although she does not know much about her own mother, she does know, she was White, just like her father. At first Auturo's family deny being Colored, instead making accusations that Boy herself is Colored, passing for White. But in the end, they do admit that they have been passing for three generations and that was the reason for them moving North to Flax Hill from the South. In the North, no one knew them so it was easy to do.
Upon giving birth to Bird, Boy sends Snow away. She is distraught about doing so, but the idea of her dark daughter growing up in the shadow of her light step daughter distresses her more. Snow is the victim of a cruel stepmother and goes to live with her aunt Clara who was also sent away as a young girl but for very different reasons. Clara was the dark child of a couple passing for White and surprisingly she is not upset about it at all. She raises Snow with her Colored husband, who her family despises for being too dark, and Snow is brought up to be intelligent, loving, kind and of course beautiful. When she returns to Flax Hill after nearly eighteen years of being away, she does so with the demeanor of a queen, which is even more infuriating to those who want to hate her. They hate her for her beauty but find it isn't easy to hate her for being mean because Snow is ever so kind and gracious. Even Bird finds herself conflicted in the feelings she has for her sister Snow. She wants to know her better and wants to love her but finds it hard to love someone who everyone else worships. Bird is a rebel at heart and her goal is to see if Snow is genuine, but this remains ambivalent. What Bird discovers is that Snow is no stranger to being treated like a beauty queen and this she despises. In the end, Boy, Snow and Bird come to face the past and present together.
Best part of story, including ending:
I really loved this story because it did not give everything away. Even in the end the reader is left with a sense of ambivalence. There were questions I still had but mostly they were addressed in some way. What I didn't particularly care for was how the issue of Snow being sent away was never fully addressed by Auturo (her father). To me it just seemed like he would have reacted to her being sent away in some way but he did not. This felt incomplete.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene is when Boy works on a party boat for a night. They have employed all blonde beauties for the night to sail the river and attend to businessmen and executives. I loved the dichotomy painted in this scene. These women were powerful because of their beauty, but also subservient in the way they needed to cater to the men. This was so realistic. This scene explores the blessing and curse of beauty, much like the way Snow's story is explored. It was symbolic of a major theme of the novel. The double edged sword of beauty; the power and curse of it.
Opinion about the main character:
I liked that Boy was confident no matter how bad the decision she made was viewed by others. Boy decided she could not live with both Snow and Bird. Boy felt if she did so, everyday would be a slow death, watching her daughter (Bird) suffer under the scope of her sister (Snow's) beauty. This was never outright stated but it was alluded to. I loved Boy's way of knowing how best to raise her daughter to feel confident, proud and loved. In the end, I respected her cutthroat way of achieving this even if it meant hurting Snow. I think Boy figured that no matter what Snow would be okay because she was so beautiful and perfect that people would always worship her no matter what.