My thoughts, They May Change: Which books to review

Monday, September 3, 2018

I have this list of books I've been reading, some of them have been on my TBR list for a while, and others are new to me. I started this blog because I thought I needed some direction with regards to my book reviews and which books I was reviewing. I wanted to choose a platform that was important to me, that had meaning to me. I chose diverse YA and MG books because we are now beginning to see the books I wished were available to me as a child and teen.

That being said, as I've immersed myself into book culture, and as the conversation of diverse books and own voices books have become prevalent, my brain has been doing some work. There was a time, when I didn't care who wrote a book, I could only name like three authors and one of them was Shakespeare. If I saw a book with a brown girl on the cover, I went for it. I didn't care if the book addressed her culture, I didn't care if the book was written by a POC, I didn't care if the book even mentioned that she was brown, the cover of the book gave me all the fulfillment that I could ever hope for.


That was 12 year old Kym. 23 year old Kym, who had just decided to become a librarian was basically the same. I struggled so hard with my physical identity that I was starving for books with girls who looked like me. To anyone who knows me, it's not a surprise that most of my friends are white, I love them, and I don't care what color their skin is. However, no matter how diverse my friends are in other ways, if those difference aren't on the outside of your body, moving through the world is a little bit different. And, if those differences are on the outside of the body, unless they are genetically permanent (skin color, or other physical difference like scars, birthmarks, or burn scars [I say burn scars because when I was younger I was burned by boiling water all down my back, I'm lucky that you can hardly tell but not every one is so luck. End of random life story]), it's still different. (I hope I didn't lose any of my friends just now, this is just my truth). In a world that "didn't see color" I NEEDED to see color.

Now, Kym is 2 months from being 31 years old, and things have changed. It's not enough for me to give a character brown skin. Does she have natural curly hair, or does she perm it? What do her parents cook for Sunday dinner? Does she put lotion on her dry skin in the winter? What kind of community does she live in? Is she one of the only black kids at school? Is that a problem? Has a boy every told her that he doesn't date black girls? Newsflash, if she grew up in a mostly white community, you bet he did. Or he told his friends. I promise you. Look, funny enough, I kind of hate books that focus primarily on the fact that a character is black, and all of their problem stem because they are black, and people constantly want to remind them that they're black. There is a time and place for books like that. That being said, you can't decide to make a main character a person of color, and just leave it at that. Even doing something as small as having the character tie a scarf around their head when they're going to sleep. Or reminding their white boyfriend, no you can't touch my hair, or pulling it back because the humidity is real, and so if frizz and shrinkage.

Barry Lyga is darn good at these things. Barry is a white man, and he has a book series called I Hunt Killers. The book is about a white kid, but that white kid has a black girlfriend and she wont let him forget it. He can't touch her braids without permission. She wears a bonnet to bed, and her white boyfriend doesn't freaking care. Her father doesn't like her white boyfriend, not because he's white, but because as a father, he's afraid for her. These are subtle details that don't even BEGIN to make up who this girl is as a person, but those details were slid into the book, and make her a real black character.

So, here's why I'm writing this post. I've recently read some books, one of which I've written the review for and is scheduled to drop next Wednesday September 12. The Book is called Song of the Current and the main character is brown. I think biracial. The only reason we know this is because it's mentioned once, another person mentions how "different" she looks, and she constantly ties up her curly hair in pubic, and pulls on it's strands when she's distracted (totally against the rules of natural hair btw, it's dries the hair out, but anyway). It wasn't enough for me. Look there are no rules for being black. We don't all think the same way and do the same things. But if you're going to make a decision to make your MAIN character a minority, please do something with it. Please have a reason, otherwise just make them white and move on. We won't mad. I still would have read the book and enjoyed it.

I reviewed the book anyway. I didn't even put in my review that our main character was a POC because although she was... there wasn't a whole lot to remind us of it. There are some POC who don't want non POC writing about POC (I just used those letter a lot). I'm not one of them, because I remember 12 year old Kym and 23 year old Kym, and how important just knowing a character was brown was to me. I just want people to make deliberate choices and if you make a choice that involves a characters race, don't forget about that race, once you establish it in the book.

Now look, this book was fantasy. It didn't take place in a wold with the KKK and Roots, so maybe that's why the author didn't address the characters race more than a literal handful of times. And if that's her reason, then that's fine. It's your world, and you can write it however you want. As a woman of color, I just wish there had been more. And I wonder if I do my POC readers (if I even have any) a disservice. Do I do my white readers a disservice by harping on something that was kind of addressed with the hair hiding and curl pulling, and "you don't look like your from here's" that the book did provide. I don't know. I'm still figuring this all out. This has just been pulling on my brain and I can't seem to let it go.

Thanks for hanging in there readers who may or may not exist. My blog helps me center my brain.

1 comment:

  1. Really interesting post, and I'm glad you shared your thoughts! I happen to have read both books, and can definitely see what you mean about the difference between how Jasper's girlfriend is portrayed and how Caro is portrayed. I've also seen some commentary about how the frog-girl (?) on Caro's boat is kind of problematic.

    If the only way you know a character is not white is because their skin color is mentioned, but in all other ways they read as white, that's not true representation. For a white author to choose to create a POC character but then not flesh them out at all is just lazy.


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