Happy Friday, bibliophiles! I’ve been writing out this post in my head since Tuesday night, so here goes nothing…
The other day, I was reading Aditi’s post about 20 of the most popular YA books on Goodreads. Veronica Roth’s Carve the Mark was among the ranks, and she mentioned that there had been several reviews saying that it had some racist elements, and had a problematic depiction of chronic illness. I had to do a bit of a double take; I read that book at least two years ago, but I didn’t remember anything like that. My whole memory of the book was hazy, really, and even though I’d given it a four star rating back then, it was probably one of those books I just sped through because I was just thinking something along the lines of “haha sci-fi go brrrrrrrrrrr”
And so I read some reviews–some from bloggers that I follow, some from strangers, and there were indeed a lot that pointed out several problematic elements and stereotypes. I found myself being incredibly ashamed of my past self for not noticing them. I’ve been going back and forth between removing my rating, and I never got to the sequel and thought Divergent was overrated, so I doubt I’ll be picking up a Veronica Roth book in the future. But I ended up putting myself between two spaces:
First off, nobody’s perfect. As much of an intersectional feminist that I strive to be, I still make mistakes. We all do. I’m sure everybody’s had an instance like this one.
But secondly, I still must acknowledge that I have privilege, and that this privilege is part of why I didn’t spot the highly questionable elements there. And since I am privileged, I have to do my best to better myself, and read more carefully, and become better at spotting and making note of problematic elements.
I’d like to think that I’ve gotten better at reading carefully since I read Carve the Mark, but this example also jumped out at me as something that’s controversial. I read Mosquitoland a few months back; I thought it was a well-written novel, but there is some highly questionable–and I mean HIGHLY questionable and offensive representation of Down syndrome, and some problematic elements regarding the depiction of Native American characters, as well as some poor handling of sexual assault. I still hold the writing highly, but I know that I have to also recognize that Mosquitoland, though powerful, is still a deeply flawed novel. No matter its impact, there is NO excusing some of the content of this novel. (if you’re interested in someone else’s thoughts on the matter, I’d highly suggest checking out The Inside Cover’s Mosquitoland, Three Years Later: A Coda.)
All this got me thinking about reviews. Part of what’s key to reading/picking your reads more carefully is reading reviews before you dive in. Of course, you have to be careful to avoid reviews that have been paid to get a 4-5 star rating (for bias); the 3-2 star range is usually the most reliable source for me, as they usually cover the good and the bad in equal amounts. (1 stars tend to dive into rants, which I fully admit to doing, but it’s better to see both the pros and cons, personally.) It’s just like checking your news sources: seeing both sides of the argument, and getting perspectives from reviewers who have lived some of these experiences. It’s what made me take The State of Us off my TBR, and a few others.
And sometimes, there’s no way out of it. I went into An Absolutely Remarkable Thing expecting a read as great as everybody seemed to say it was, but I ended up being infuriated by how poorly the bisexual representation was handled. (Personal opinion, here) Hardly anyone (except for one reviewer, so shoutout to them) noted the bury-your-gays trope, as well as the killing off of most of the POC characters (all but one or two) in Four Dead Queens. There will always be times when we’re roped into something problematic, even if we’ve read a variety of reviews.
The bottom line? Don’t beat yourself up about reading a problematic book, but don’t brush the problematic parts aside like they don’t exist. If you see something uncomfortable depicted in a novel, talk about it, whether it’s in the comments of a review or in a review of your own. Let your voice be heard, but recognize that all of us have at least a little bit of privilege.
Alright, let me step off the soapbox for a minute. I also have a short announcement: I have A BUNCH of books that I’d like to review soon, so as well as my Book Review Tuesdays, I’ll be packing several books into mini-reviews, starting next week. So stay tuned…
That’s it for this post! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!