Thursday, February 19, 2015

Diversity in Reviewing YA - Malinda Lo Tackles How Diversity Is Treated (And Mis-Treated)

In this four-part essay, YA Author Malinda Lo explores some of the biases about diversity that she's seen in YA book reviews.

In Part One: That Diversity is "Scarcely Plausible,"

Malinda unpacks (and critiques) reviews like the Kirkus  review of Shannon Hale's Dangerous that called it "...a tale seemingly tailor-made to forestall complaints about lovelorn teen heroines and all-white casts of characters."

Malinda writes,
"It reveals a believe that simmers beneath all those critiques of diversity as implausible: the belief that nonwhite, LGBT, and disabled characters are simply unnecessary; that adding in these perspectives derails a story; that "reality" is white and homogenous."

"It should be blindingly clear that I disagree with this belief. It's frustrating to see it crop up again and again, coded beneath reviews that criticize diversity as "scarcely plausible" in one phrase while describing it as "praiseworthy" in the next. Diversity is not "praiseworthy": it is reality. Reviews that deny this fact of life are well behind the times, and they do a massive disservice to the majority of children in the United States who are not white."

In Part Two, Malinda addresses "So Many (Too Many?) Issues," making visible the "...invisible ceiling on the number and type of issues deemed suitable for inclusion in a realistic YA novel..."

"This demand for simplified narratives with threads that can be "smoothly" tied up in a "genuine and heartfelt" manner is an insult both to people who have instersectional minority identities, and to young adult fiction as a genre. In the real world, identities and lives are complicated."

In Part Three, "A Lot To Decode," Malinda explores reviews that "... suggest that novels about non-white/non-Western cultures should be tasked with informing white readers about those cultures." She also explores the politicizing nature of glossaries (which was fascinating):

"Including a glossary situates white/Western culture as dominant. It immediately renders the culture depicted in the book as unintelligible and foreign. Simultaneously it tells a white/Western reader that this foreign/unintelligible culture can be easily understood through a few definitions found at the back of the book. Including a glossary creates a reading experience that codifies white/Western culture as central and simplifies non-Western cultures."

In Part Four, "Readers May Be Surprised," Malinda calls out reviewer assumptions about race and homophobia that are revealed in reviews, and concludes with the point that

"The book review landscape is littered with these microaggressions. All of these microaggressions add up to support an environment in which particular beliefs are held as given: that readers are predominantly white; that books should explain their diverse content to those white readers; that too much diversity is unbelievable. These beliefs act to limit representations of diversity. They create a palpable feeling among writers - especially minority writers - that writing diversity is risky for their careers. They reinforce an industry that also, unfortunately, generally shares these beliefs."

By exposing how YA reviews may be holding diversity back, Malinda clearly hopes YA reviewers will take to heart the impact of how they address diversity in their future reviews of books that include People of Color, LGBTQ and Disabled characters and themes.

It's an important series to read and consider.

Illustrate and Write On,

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