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Book Pairing: ‘Postcards from Cookie’ and ‘Boy, Snow, Bird’

book pairing clarke oyeyemi

One thing I love about being a reader is when two books connect unexpectedly. Last month I had one of those moments of book serendipity with two seemingly unrelated reads, Postcards from Cookie by Caroline Clarke and Boy, Snow Bird by Helen Oyeyemi. Both books, written by women of color, explore race, adoption and identity in some ways that I wasn’t expecting.

I actually read Boy, Snow, Bird first, based on the glowing reviews of several other bloggers. The book is a fictional recasting of the myth of Snow White, although the way Oyeymi plays with that story is more inventive than that. The book begins in 1953 when Boy Novak runs away from her abusive father and ends up in a small town in Massachusetts. After she marries a local widower, she becomes the stepmother of a beautiful little girl, Snow Whitman. When Boy’s first daughter, Bird, is born with dark skin, it becomes clear that Boy’s husband and his family have been keeping a secret, passing as white for years.

Postcards from Cookie, a memoir, also starts with an adoption. Caroline Clarke grew up knowing that she was adopted, but never felt any need to learn more about her birth mother until she was an adult, concerned that she might pass health problems to her children. Although the adoption agency could not give Caroline the name of her birth mother, they provided enough details that she was able to figure out that her mother was Carole “Cookie” Cole, the daughter of musician Nat King Cole. After working up the nerve, Clarke contacted Cookie. Most of the book takes place after that contact, exploring the way their relationship developed and was challenged as they grew to know each other.

What struck me about the two books is the way they both ask important questions about what it means to be a mixed race person. In Boy, Snow, Bird, the Whitman family works hard to hide their race from their neighbors, assuming that’s the only way they will be accepted. That, in some ways, turns out not to be the case, although it it something that Boy has a difficult time with.

When Caroline Clarke was adopted in 1964, her African American parents raised her believing she was black. Being African American was part of her identity. When she finds out from Cookie that her father was white, making her a mixed race person, it causes some tension as Clarke tries to come to terms with what a mixed-race identity might mean in a contemporary setting. I thought those questions of race and identity were explored effectively in both books from different angles.

Both books also have many things to say about the idea of motherhood, adoptive and biological, and the relationships that develop between mothers and their daughters. I don’t want to talk about that too much for fear of spoilers — especially for Boy, Snow Bird – but I did want to just mention it as another way I saw threads between these two books.

I’m not sure if these two books would be so connected in my head if I hadn’t read them back-to-back, but I really couldn’t stop thinking about them together. I love bookish connections like that!

Disclosure: I received both of these books from their publishers for review consideration. 

{ 13 comments… add one }

  • bermudaonion (Kathy) April 22, 2014, 8:15 am

    They both sound terrific to me but Postcards from Cookie appeals to me more since it’s a memoir.

  • Sue April 22, 2014, 9:04 am

    “Boy, Snow, Bird” was such a delightful surprise. A couple of critics I had read said the book suffered in the last two parts, but I disagree. Each section reveals exactly what it needs to so that the characters are explained and authentically believable.

    Your comments lead me to read “Postcards” as well.

  • Katie @ Doing Dewey April 22, 2014, 6:35 pm

    Great review! The serendipity of finding two books that connect is something I love too. I also really like intentionally pairing things, whether that means non-fiction with fiction, an original and a retelling, or a book and it’s movie adaptation.

  • Jenny @ Reading the End April 22, 2014, 8:40 pm

    Oh Boy, Snow, Bird — terrific book, I thought. I loved the way it explored identity and what identity meant or could mean. Really the best of Helen Oyeyemi’s books so far.

  • Words for Worms April 22, 2014, 9:00 pm

    I’ve read neither of these books, but I do love it when books pair themselves up like this. It’s always such a fun little surprise.

  • tanya (52 books or bust) April 23, 2014, 8:44 am

    I love it when two unexpected books pair themselves up like this!

  • Jennine G. April 23, 2014, 12:33 pm

    That’s a really cool connection. I love when that happens!

  • Monika @ Lovely Bookshelf April 23, 2014, 2:41 pm

    What a great pairing. I haven’t read either book, but they both sound fantastic. Thanks for sharing!

  • Kelly from Readlately.com April 23, 2014, 3:00 pm

    I’ve heard such wonderful things about Boy, Snow, Bird! I want! This reminds me of Shannon’s post about the Word Exchange and Smarter Than You Think – but hers is about the way that books bleed into each other and then repel each other’s theories.

  • Care April 30, 2014, 9:40 am

    A terrific pairing for a Book Menage, maybe. I have had a few book connections lately but nothing quite as connected a pairing as you present here. (Example, I read two books back to back that were both exactly 252 pages – how often does that happen?)

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