So. Your Favorite Books Are Problematic. Now What?

It has definitely been a while since we’ve had a nice solid discussion, and in the year 2019, I’ve taken the time to really think about why I write or why I wrote discussion posts.

I’ve taken down a few from last year, and reread others, and in 2019, I want to do better. And better means

  • less reactionary (big oof)
  • more thoughtful + nuanced
  • braver. eloquent. reasoned.

I’ve shied away from writing discussions, because all of my discussions are conversation starters now, not conversation reactions. And this means being at the forefront of a conversation, which is a big responsibility.

It means Twitter notifications, it means comments, it means replying and answering questions. And I love talking with people, but when your Twitter notifications overload and you physically cannot keep up with chatting with your friends . . .

It’s a responsibility. Which is why I’ve taken a lot more care in 2019, and although that mostly meant avoiding discussions in the first half of the year, I hope to bring discussions about responsibly in the second half. By letting the topic stew in mind for months before hand, by starting it when I can handle the response.

Which brings us to today, and the first of my rekindled occasional-Thursday discussions:

So. Your Favorite Books Are Problematic. Now What?

I’ve been thinking about this since January, especially with a lot of realizations on my part about some of the books I loved when I was younger.

Books like . . .

  • Eleanor & Park, which is extremely racist to Koreans & biracial Koreans
  • Cinder, which has questionable Asian representation and worldbuilding
  • The Grishaverse, which has bad Shu (aka East Asian) rep and magic yellowface

And so many others. These are the most stark to me, because all of them include negative portrayals of identities very close to my own (I’m East & Southeast Asian), yet these were also some of my favorite books when I was 14.

And there are so many other formative YA novels that are extremely popular, and also portray some minority group(s) badly.

YA is constantly growing and expanding and evolving. We’ve become more diverse, more sensitive, and more curated to the reader and the people who find a safe space in the genre.

And books like these–books published in 2012, 2013, 2016 even that are beloved and extremely popular among many readers–can also harbor a lot of harmful tropes.

If many of these books were published in 2019, they’d probably go through a decent number of changes. Leigh Bardugo says there are things she would have done differently with regard to the representation in The Grisha Trilogy, which she’s hoping to correct in the film adaptation.

(Which, admittedly, is something I’m nervous and very doubtful about in the film, but the fact still stands that if published in 2019, the story would have changed.)

Because publishing knows that in 2019, we’re not taking as much bullshit anymore. We’re not letting people get away with hurting us time and time again.

(Okay, we definitely still are being hurt sometimes, but we’re letting less people hurt us.)

But these are our favorites. They hold a special place in our hearts. They’re almost untouchable.

Key word: almost.

Because, well, I’d like to touch them. (That sounded bad, sorry.) I want to talk about them. I want us to do something about this, instead of letting things slide past because they’re beloved.

And sure, some people aren’t going to listen. But I really hope you do.

Are you saying we should cancel them?

No, actually. I’m not.

I know you wanted to scream “cAnCeL cUlTuRe!!!1!!11!” at me, but not today, Satan.

I don’t think mass-cancelling them will do anything. I don’t think issuing a community-wide “Six of Crows is officially cancelled for bad Asian rep!!!” statement will do anything productive, nor will it help us do better in the future.

(And some people see themselves in that rep. I don’t, but some people do, and I respect this.)

I do think, that some people might want to individually-cancel books, in different extents.

I certainly have. I’ve personally stopped promoting or interacting with anything Rainbow Rowell has written, because I’m hurt by not only her faults in the past, but her refusal to acknowledge it in the present.

That doesn’t mean you have to. I know so many people are excited for Wayward Son, and good for you. I just can’t do it, and I think everyone respects this.

So what are you saying?

I’m saying that first, we need to talk about their flaws.

We need to acknowledge it. Authors, readers, and publishing alike.

If you can’t even acknowledge that some people are hurt by X book’s rep, we have a problem. If you can’t even take note that the Shu rep in Six of Crows is harmful to some people, this is an issue.

I think, as fans of popular series, we want to live in a bubble. Fandom is great because it does end up correcting a lot of things, which I think is cool. (There are a lot of fandoms out there that can do a better job than the author–take Harry Potter.)

But that doesn’t negate the fact that the original work has issues, and I think readers need to at least say that they understand that there are issues, instead of being willfully ignorant.

Okay, and then?

And then, it’s up to you as a reader to decide what you’re going to do.

Every single case is different. If you’re just going to acknowledge the issues, and keep reading and moving on with your life, I’m not going to stop you. That’s your choice.

I personally cannot do that.

Each book is different, and each author and their reaction is different, and this influences how I react.

  • I don’t recommend Cinder on my blog or social platforms anymore, although, I sure do love the series and reread it and talk about it privately.
  • I won’t touch anything associated with Rainbow Rowell with a ten-foot-pole until she apologizes.
  • I don’t really talk about Six of Crows publicly, especially because she doesn’t need my support anyways. I still read & chat privately, although King of Scars has been slow.
  • I’ll probably never read anything by Cassandra Clare.

And it’s not just this. It’s little moments, like when I’m on Netgalley–was that author ableist on Twitter? Eh, maybe I’ll request something else.

I have to make hundreds of decisions on how to spend my limited time, money, and resources, and frankly I just don’t have the time to perpetuate certain things publicly.

That’s not to say you can’t, nor that you have to do what I do, but I think consideration is key.

You get to decide what you support publicly. Sure, you might not condone racism, and certain people will argue that supporting a book that supports racism wouldn’t necessarily mean that you support racism.

But I mean, you’re also perpetuating it, by putting it in the hands of more readers who are encouraged by the harmful themes.

This is obviously an opinion, and one I’m not looking to debate today, so we’re going to carry on as if it’s fact.

But, mini aside if you want to read it, my thoughts on this debate:

If we’re going to make the conditional statement that diverse books positively influence readers and help teens and make a good difference in the world, I think it’s irresponsible to say that the converse isn’t true, if the conditional statement is true.

Saying that racist books don’t influence readers feels wrong. Saying that books that support incest don’t influence readers feels wrong. Saying that books with harmful themes don’t influence readers feels wrong.

Yes, teens and readers are able to separate fiction from reality. But it’s always going to seep through, even just a little bit.

Everyone agrees that diverse books make a good impact, and having all white cishetallo books would negatively affect readers. Therefore, having racism or something else would also negatively affect readers, no matter how much you say that readers can separate fiction from reality.

Fiction will always be a reflection of reality, and kidlit is so formative in how people grow up, as well, that I personally disagree with those who deny the converse. But that’s just opinion.

So . . . you’re saying I don’t have to do anything, but you’re also putting the weight of racism on me. What gives?

Okay. Glad you pointed that out.

I think it’s impossible to only read unharmful books, especially when you read a lot of books. There’s so few of them, and so many books do something wrong.

It’s all about balance, and balancing out your gives and takes.

I like to think of things as pluses and minuses, and each plus and minus is a different size.

Some things are smaller minuses, because they’re not as severe or as harmful or as blatant. Say Cinder‘s use of Asian culture isn’t as harmful as Eleanor & Park‘s very blatant racism. It’s a small minus vs. a big minus, respectively.

Pluses can come in many forms. By being a supporter of diverse books from diverse authors online. By donating or monetarily supporting diverse groups and authors. By boosting and doing so much more.

If you want to support Rainbow Rowell, go ahead. I’d also love to see you support #OwnVoices Korean authors to balance that out.

You don’t have to do anything, of course.

This is my own weird form of how-do-I-handle-my-faves-being-problematic.

Because after many months of thinking, this is where I am. I can’t stop anyone from supporting books with hurtful themes, and it’s unreasonable and unproductive to do so.

But I can encourage the world to balance your sins out. And acknowledge them, at the very least.

So. Your favorite books are problematic. Now what?

  1. Acknowledge their issues.
  2. You decide how to deal with the minus that publicly supporting it will bring.

What are your thoughts on this? How do you handle your faves being problematic or hurtful?

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43 thoughts on “So. Your Favorite Books Are Problematic. Now What?

  1. For me, the big factor is how the author acknowledges criticism and if they seem to want to do better. If they don’t seem to care, that’s when I stop recommending their books and posting about them. It’s hard to be perfect and get everything right; most of us are all just trying to do better, and I understand that. I don’t understand ignoring criticisms and concerns from people you might be hurting.

    But yes, acknowledging flaws as a reader is also SO IMPORTANT. I think it can still be a favorite book–I LOVE Ender’s Game, for example, but you will never see me promoting Orson Scott Card–but we all have to acknowledge where that book came from and the problems associated with it. It’s a difficult thing to handle, but I think you’re right that every person needs to decide for themselves what they do with problematic books/authors and accepting the consequences of those choices.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That makes a lot of sense the way you approach it! I think acknowledgement by the author is defintiely a huge part (why I am still very hurt by Rainbow Rowell–bc she refuses to apologize or say anything about it).

      Growth is totally important, and cancelling an author can stifle giving opportunities to grow. I think individually cancelling someone is up to each person–but community-wide cancellation stifles giving people the opportunity to do better in the future.

      (And hard same with Ender’s Game! The story is a favorite, the author is a Mess)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. When I initially read ELEANOR AND PARK, I really enjoyed it, and loved that Park was biracial. The racists parts simply didn’t click with me until years later when the fiasco resurfaced again. Since then, I’ve removed my review and my rating of it on Goodreads. I’ve seen Koreans love the book while others dislike; I’d never want to invalidate how someone feels positively toward the book, so it’s hard. It’s frustrating, too, when the author doesn’t acknowledge what’s happening around their book.

    I definitely agree with you in that if some of those books were published now, it would be questioned and scrutinized even more than in the past. I think a good thing to do is to acknowledge that it’s problematic. We can still enjoy it, I think, but I also believe if we recommend it to others, we should let them know as well.

    I’ve noticed, though, and maybe this is because I’m in the YA book community, that there are so many things YA doesn’t get a “pass” on while “adult” books can have a similar content but don’t face a lot of backlash. Maybe that’s just my thinking, though.

    And I also think we need to pick and choose our battles. I wish I could be more vocal on these issues, but sometimes the words don’t come out correctly and I just find myself agreeing with what others say. But I also become physically uncomfortable when people start arguing, especially on social media because things can be so misconstrued. I also internalize things a lot, too, which can affect my mental health in a negative way.

    Anyway… Great post as usual, Vicky. 🙂 You always give your readers a lot to think about.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, the same thing happened to me with E&P, and it’s part of the reason why I find it *so* dangerous. Because for me personally, it started to lead me on a bad path of viewing myself as an Asian person, and that’s *extremely* harmful and the opposite of what should have happened. (Which is why I personally blacklist RR)

      I think part of the reason why YA doesn’t get a pass as much is because this *is* literature for kids. Teens are minors, and our brains are still growing and developing until 25, if I remember correctly, but definitely 18 and 21. I think this, and the fact that adult is more hostile to minority groups, is why YA is put under so much more scrutiny–because there are more people who care here, and greater impacts of negative rep.

      And picking & choosing battles is so right! Please never feels pressured to be vocal about something. I don’t think anyone should sacrifice their mental health to talk about something, and it doesn’t fall on you. (It took me 6 months to get back in the groove of things).

      Thank you, Nicole! I’m glad you enjoyed & it proved thought-provoking.

      Like

  3. Vicky, this is a fantastic post. I really appreciate how clearly you’ve laid everything out, and that you’ve gone ahead and tackled the age old “then what do I do about it?” question. I hope a lot of folks spend some time thinking about this and then actually do something with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Meaghan! And yeah, I hope people take some time to think about how they talk about their favorite books, in our modern scope of YA lit

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I had no idea Six of crows had bad representation though I did suspect with all the diversity Leigh was putting on each character that something couldn’t be right. But I loved the first book and was planning to read the second, so now I will take that into consideration (I’m saying this but i just about don’t want to read the book anymore becuz that fact is stressing me out lol).
    Otherwise, I love your methods and I love this discussion. I’m planning a series of discussion on diversity in YA spanning from non-ownvoices writing about POC, LGBT+, mental illness, etc. I know bad rep happens almost always even when you are own voices but it has a higher chance of being really bad from non-ownvoices and so I thank you for bringing this up as it helps me personally speak better about these factors. it’s really hard on my part to support and love something that hurts others, i personally find it so inhumane of me to do and bad rep is no joke. I really thank you for informing me about Six of crows as I’m new-ish to the YA book community and never heard such a thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No worries! I think it’s fine to read Six of Crows, but it’s not fine to call it the paragon of diverse fantasy, especially since it’s harmful. Saying that Six of Crows has great disability rep is super cool. Saying that it has good fat rep is cool too. Saying that it does *all* its rep well is a lie.

      I don’t think you have to stop reading the series, unless you want to. Just balance out your +s & -s and acknowledge that Crooked Kingdom does a magical yellowface. Critical reading is great.

      And good luck with your series, and tahnk you! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. What you say makes sense. Not all the rep is good and I’ll acknowledge that. Magical yellow face sounds really awful though, saying this as someone who really despise black face. If I do decide to read it I’ll be sure to mention it to whoever haven’t read it yet.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m saddened about the fact that many (mainly international) readers
    seem to make a ‘trend’ of calling out books to be problematic. This is
    not happening so much overhere in my country, maybe it’s because it’s
    our culture to not dramatize things? I noticed that this thing is
    increasing and I often think: “why can’t we just enjoy the story and
    get lost in it? Why do we ALWAYS need to moan and groan about (a lack
    of) representation? Why do we always have to find representation?”
    Maybe it’s me, and I definitely don’t want to sound rude, but I enjoy
    the story for the story and the writing and I’m not caring much for
    representation. Lately it seems nearly all books and authors are
    problematic which disturbs the joy of reading honestly. And sometimes
    of writing an English book review or scrolling through book Twitter. I
    understand people want/need to find representation, but it feels like
    they are shoving it through other readers’ throats and if you like a
    ‘problematic’ book, you get trolled or whatsoever. I still will enjoy
    Cinder and The Grishaverse and honestly I didn’t notice the ‘flaws’
    you mention. Maybe it’s because I’m European, don’t know.

    Again, this is nt an attack towards you Vicky, just an observation.

    Like

    1. When you say “international,” I’m assuming you mean “American.”

      I think you’re confusing lack of representation with *bad* representation.

      Problematic books don’t lack representation. They portray minority groups badly. This is why they’re problematic.

      As a person of a minority group, I find it hurtful when I read something that portrays me badly. For me, when I read someone of my cultural group portrayed badly, it jerks me out of the story. It’s personal and I can’t just ignore it and “enjoy the story and get lost in it” because someone is being hurtful on a character that’s a close representation of me.

      This post isn’t about a lack of representation, or shoving representation down people’s throats. It’s about when the representation is bad.

      Even if it was about getting more representation–how would you feel if every single character in all the books you read were black? Would you say “I’d love it if there were more white characters” or would you just “enjoy the story and get lost in it”?

      I realize that it can be hard to understand because, and I don’t mean this in an offensive way, but the majority of literature written in English centers around white people. I think if the tables were turned, you’d feel the same way.

      It’s true that almost everything is problematic. The point of this post *isn’t* to troll people. It’s to provide alternate solutions to counteract when books are problematic. You don’t have to do anything or stop reading, but at least acknowledge that other readers found The Grishaverse to be harmful.

      I think you might want to take a moment to reread some of the post, because it’s not about trolling people for liking problematic things. It’s about embracing the fact that something you love *does* have flaws, and moving forward with this.

      I hope this helps explain things.

      Liked by 3 people

  6. I love this post so much!!! I really do think that it’s okay to read books with bad representation and love them, as long as you — like you said — make sure it balances out. Acknowledgement, recognition, and respect are also super important; I know that when I went through the whole SJM stan experience, I was really frustrated by how none of them seemed to recognize my hurt or respect it, when it’s simple to say something along the lines of “I didn’t find it to be hurtful but I recognize and I’m sorry you did”. And you know I love Six of Crows, and while I personally didn’t find the rep to be hurtful (and I recognize it is for others!), I never ever recommend it in “my favorite Asian books” or whatever — since the “rep” is very minimal lmao — and I’d rather boost other amazing Asian books. But truly, this is a fantastically written post, Vicky, and I’m glad you’ve been taking care of yourself with discussion posts ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. AHHH thank you may! yeah, I think a balance is necessary. I do think though that if you want to call yourself an ally/advocate/activist for diverse books, it’s not enough to just use a +/- system, bc that can devolve into hypocrisy, depending on how it’s used (i.e. reads lots of super SUPER bad books and only boosts diverse books). I think recognition is super important and I’m really glad you enjoyed! And yes–2019 is gonna be the year of mental health & blogging being balanced!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This is such a great post! I’m a big believer in being critical of the things you love, maybe even more so than things you dislike. There are *so* many books that I love that I recognize are problematic for different reasons, and I try to point those out in my reviews/support.

    I love how you talk about how some minuses are bigger than others. For me, a small minus (especially if the author was unaware of it) probably wouldn’t sway me from reading a book, but a big minus or several small minuses from one author probably would. Honestly, achieving 100% perfect representation is just not feasible. Nothing can cover everyone’s experiences, and what hurts one person might not hurt another. It’s so important to acknowledge that things are problematic while still enjoying them.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. This is such a great post! I completely agree with you. Maybe an author made an uninformed mistake once, but if they don’t apologize, I don’t want to support them (at least publicly) anymore. Thank you for posting on this very important topic!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. ah also, I’m writing a post on diversity in YA and I pingbacked your post (lmao not even a word). I’d appreciate it if you could check it out once it’s published!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I dont know how I’m supposed to say what Im gonna say so I’ll just say it. I lnow E&P is problematic… But I’ve never read it and im not sure how to go about that? If you understand what im saying? Ive read Carry On and I absolutely love that book but is it still “wrong” to promote it? I know you said you can still support authors and their works but I feel guilty about it. You dont really have to answer it was just something I thought about while reading this… (This is my first time reading your blog and I love it fyi!!!!)

    Like

    1. I guess the conflict comes with the fact that promoting anything associated with RR will likely have a small effect in bringing exposure to E&P. It totally makes sense, and it’s not wrong to love Carry On. I think that I personally avoid publicly promoting it (esp bc the E&P harm is personal to me, and the fact that Carry On is a v popular book & doesn’t really need my voice), but you don’t necessarily have to? I think, if you wanted to do something, boost some #OwnVoices Korean writers and read their works and support their books. It’s totally normal to feel a bit squicked if an author does something bad. If you wanted to go further, maybe not talking about RR is another step (it’s true that she probably doesn’t need the support). It’s up to you to do what feels right! And ahh, thank you! I’m glad you love it <333

      Like

  10. Vicky, as always, I loved this post. Your whole idea of “pluses and minuses” is exactly my approach to problematic books, like we’ve talked about before. And I’m really grateful that you mentioned your own experiences of realizing that some of your favorite books are problematic—it’s definitely reassuring to know that everyone has had this sort of experience.
    I think that with books like Six of Crows, where some representation is really good (disability rep!) and other representation in that same book is really problematic (East Asian rep!), it’s important to make that distinction—especially if/when recommending the book. And I think that it’s also up to us, as readers and reviewers and recommenders, to make sure that there are more “pluses” in the world than “minuses.” So when recommending a book like Six of Crows or the Grisha trilogy, it’s important to acknowledge its flaws—and, even better, to offer up a book that gives good representation of the thing. (“Hey, I know you love the political intrigue of Six of Crows, but since the East Asian rep isn’t great you should try Descendant of the Crane for some amazing court drama and Chinese mythology. Plus both have bird-related titles!”) I know that whenever a friend asks for recommendations as a whole, I’m gonna try to go for the best “niche” books that I can think of… since it seems like everyone else suggests the same generic fantasy books. (You know that there are several authors I have in mind when writing that statement.)
    Full confession: I am ridiculously excited for Wayward Son because Carry On was one of the first queer books I read when I was still figuring out my own sexuality, so it’s always had a special place in my heart. Second full confession: I didn’t realize how problematic Eleanor & Park was until people recently brought the situation up again, and I’m legitimately disgusted that Rainbow Rowell refuses to acknowledge her actions and how they’ve hurt Asian—especially Korean—readers. As a result, I’ve tried to stay mostly silent about Wayward Son and instead scream about upcoming books with good queer and good Asian rep… like Girls of Storm and Shadow. Plus, as I’ve grown as a person and as a reader, I’ve realized that I’m someone who will always prioritize authors that are good people who try to learn from their mistakes instead of justifying actions that harm the very readers they’re supposedly trying to “give a voice.” And there are just way too many good, interesting, dynamic, and diverse books that continue to be announced and released for me to waste my time and energy on a series and author that hurt other readers like me. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Liked by 1 person

    1. AWW OMG NAT YEAH I think almost everyone has that moment where they find out that something they love is kind of bad, and it’s in how you react that really determines your ~good vibes~. And yeah, I think time is definitely money and prioritizing things that are meh is not generally worth it. (I LOVED THIS COMMENT THANK YOU)

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I don’t know how I feel about this, because a lot of my favorite books have extremely flawed characters or flawed fantasy societies.

    I loved reading Bleed Like Me, but that book was all about a SUPER unhealthy, co-dependent relationship and kind of condoned self-harm. It had all types of issues, but did I love the emotional affect that book had on me? The way that it pulled at my heart strings and made me cry and relate? I DID! But reading books like that can make people think that those types of relationships are okay, and I am NOT okay with that. But I could RELATE to it, and it was so important for me to know other people felt like that.

    So I really don’t know how to feel about all of this. I love flawed characters, I love when fiction feels like reality and the fact is, reality is flawed. I enjoy books where one group of people are treated less-than because they are a different race in a fantasy world, that reflects reality. I don’t want these types of issues OUT of books, but I think these kinds of topics need to be handled tactfully and responsibly.

    Like

    1. Yeah, I think part of the thing is that you CAN show shit happening because it happens in real life, but there’s a question of whether or not a work condones it. Are there resources? How does the author approach the topic? What type of sensitivity reading happened? I think it’s okay to show flaws but it’s not okay to give off the message that certain things are okay. It’s why THE BLACK WITCH was such a problem–it’s not that you can’t show racism in a society, but HOW you approach that racism is the question. Do you have privilege and are you at least being a good ally? Are you profiting off of the pain that you’re giving your characters? I think it’s a huge question on a case by case basis, and a lot of it will end up seeping into how an author reacts to something.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think that some of these topics are so important and need to be looked at from ALL sorts of angles. I think that it’s important to look at how you feel after reading. After reading Bleed Like Me, I KNEW that relationship was unhealthy, but at the same time I was in a similar relationship and I kind of felt like it said that being in a relationship like that was okay….

        I don’t know if I agree with you, at least with The Black Witch. But at the same time, your experience and opinion is TOTALLY valid.

        I had a very different experience with The Black Witch and personally found the characterization and character ARCs to be amazing. I felt like the characters changed so much and I felt like it was really powerful. It really put me in the shoes of someone who had racist beliefs and then overcame those beliefs once they learned the other side of things. I know the book received a lot of backlash for it, but I think it approached a difficult topic from the perspective that everyone immediately damns, and showed that people are not irredeemable, that even if they are hateful that maybe they can change. That people can change. It was an extremely powerful read for me for all of those reasons. The gradual changes brought so much insight on how it was to grow up believing certain things and then to have your beliefs challenged and slowly changed. I just read Serpent and Dove and felt like it kind of explores the same kinds of issues, except I don’t feel like the change in beliefs was as believable or felt as authentic.

        Like

  12. Though I initially enjoyed it, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is problematic too. The girls are biracial to make them more acceptable and so the author doesn’t have to go into depth with Korean culture. Lara Jean and her sisters are the only Asian representation in the book and they live with their white father surrounded by whiteness. The Korean mother was killed off by falling on a wet floor. And they only interact with their mother’s family around Christmas time. They don’t interact with any Asian kids at school and all 5 of the boys Lara Jean has loved are white. The book is loosely based off Jenny Han’s high school experience yet as a fully Asian woman she made her lead half white and someone who is not growing up surrounded by Korean culture.

    Like

    1. I don’t fully agree with this critique. Although I think it’s definitely questionable to write a biracial character when you’re not biracial, I also think that Jenny Han should be treated the same way for doing this as any white author.

      I don’t think it’s fair to make the statement that Jenny Han wrote them as biracial to avoid writing about Korean culture, unless she’s said so herself. You don’t know this unless she’s said so. It *is* a problem to write biracial characters when you’re not biracial, but in the context of the time–when Asian authors are few and white authors have rampantly messed up representation–it makes sense that she’d try to appeal to the white standard of publishing. We can’t fault Asian authors for writing white stories in a time where they had to do whatever they could to get a foot in the door (it’s also counterproductive to force diverse authors to write #OwnVoices only now, as well), but this doesn’t necessarily excuse Jenny’s actions.

      I also think statement this is subtly invalidating to diaspora and biracial Koreans. It’s a reality that there are Asians who go to predominantly white schools in America. There are Asians in a school who don’t talk to each other. I don’t think it’s fair to expect that this one representation of a diaspora Asian experience–and a biracial one, at that–must show Asians talking to each other and dating non-white people, especially when in America there are lots of instances of Asian & biracial Asian teens who do not clumps together or date each other or interact.

      Biracial Asian-white people exist, and some *do* live in predominantly white areas and grow up with very little Asian influences. It’s a reality for lots of people, and I don’t think that this is a dilution of Asianness. It’s another facet of Asianness.

      Should Jenny have written a biracial character without being biracial? Probably not. But I also don’t think it’s fair to invalidate the biracial experience by saying that biracial Asian characters *have* to have Asianness around them. Not all do, and there are people who *do* grow up not surrounded by Koreanness, and that’s valid.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Yesss Vicky this was such an amazing post and you are truly one of the greatest bloggers out there! I definitely agree that it’s so hard for a book to be completely free of problematic elements. And Idk what this says about me but most of my fave books are considered problematic to an extent, like Six of Crows and Carry On. Since I did see myself in Soc, I still choose to love it, but now I’m definitely hesitant to yell about it when people ask for diverse fantasy or diverse books in general because it’s not the only one out there. but with Carry On.. yeah, I now acknowledge that it’s a m/m written by a cis white woman and it commits bi erasure. I appreciate the happiness I got from it when I read but I try my best to talk about it and recommend it less. I also stopped considering it a fave. I also have never read E&P by the same author but I’ve seen some line, and as an Asian person, all I can say is.. yikes. I really love how we as a community firmly believe that liking something problematic doesn’t mean that you’re endorsing it. I really think that we shouldn’t take what brings people joy away from them, and I’m just really irked when some people just blatantly choose to ignore the allegations or defend the work. Like, no. Im just so so happy that we are discussing this topic as a community and I agree with all of your points here whole-heartedly ❤

    Like

    1. Ahh, thank you Caitlin! I don’t think it’s productive to take things away/cancel them completely, but how we end up working about it is what really matters. I think you can’t call yourself an ally/advocate/activist if you ONLY use the plus/minus system, because that can delve into hypocrisy. (i.e. continuing to read & support really problematic stuff & act like by boosting diverse books, you’re cancelling out the negative). For me, it’s less about whether it brings people joy, and more about the fact that taking it away will ultimately not get us any further in activism for diverse works, it will only make people mad.

      I do think though that in some extents, supporting certain problematic works IS an endorsement, though. Supporting an author with a history of sexual harassment who doesn’t own up to it is telling other readers that you don’t really care if they’ve been sexually harassed. You’ll chose fiction over people being hurt.

      So yeah. Thank you for taking all the time to think about this!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Welp, I’m happy to say that I’ve never read any of the above mentioned books and now I never will (and obviously won’t be recommending them to anyone). Even if I had interest in them previously so thank you for your insight, this post and this discussion. Also, as a non-POC I feel it is really important, for me, to listen and respect the opinions of POC and try to take others feelings into account especially when it comes to racial issues. Again, thank you for this post and the fact that you are trying to help others see the problems without being mean/hateful about it and trying to have a legitimate conversation about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahhh yeah! And omg yes, I think listening is so important and it’s really nice that you try to prioritize that! I’m glad this really vibed with you, thank you for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. This was so well said! I often struggle with knowing what’s harmful to certain groups and what’s not. That’s why I’m always listening to #ownvioces reviewers and readers. Then if the book is problematic, I assess how I feel and what I’ve read. I adapt a similar method to the plus and minus. If it’s a big minus, I cut ties—like SJM. If it’s smaller ties and see the author doing work to apologize and do better, then I continue my support—like Leigh Bardugo. I loved this discussion, thank you for writing it 💖

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I haven’t read Eleanor & Park which I am very glad for! Of course, when we’re young and have no access to social media it is hard to discern which books are good or bad. For many of us minorities, back then we loved the reps because to us, bad rep is better than no rep at all!

    As a writer, I’ve read both bad and good books. While I haven’t purposefully reached out for the problematic books, reading them has taught me how to better my writing. However, I draw the line at harmful and disrespectful rep.

    It’s okay to enjoy a problematic but we should ask ourself why do we enjoy it? Is there another book that is comparable to the problematic one, which has better rep and could be a support for a diverse author?

    With authors, I don’t immediately hate them when they write problematic themes but it irks me when they try to excuse themselves or belittle the community’s concern.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah! I think this is why kidlit is so important, because it’s really formative and a lot harder to tell right and wrong, when what you consume DICTATES what is right or wrong. And the self-reflection bit you talked about is soooo important. It’s curious to see what specific problematic things people enjoy, and how much of that reflects different things in our world & experiences. I think the “is there something better we can support?” bit sooo important too. I’m really glad this was a thought provoking read, Cam & you said so many great things ahhh

      Like

  17. Such a good discussion post! I’ve not read anything besides Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell because of the reviews I read regarding the racism in Eleanor & Park and her refusal to acknowledge and apologise for it. I love your approach to it though – the pluses and minuses and the degrees to both.

    I know there are multiple ‘problematic’ books I love for nostalgia reasons, and if I ever talk about them on public platforms, I acknowledge that. Or at least I try to.

    Like you say, it is about balance, and finding one you are comfortable with – and I feel also being open to learning more and listening to other people’s voices if they say something is harmful but you may have missed it.

    Liked by 1 person

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