Series: Tales of a New World #1
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on October 18, 2016
Genres: Post-Apocalyptic, YA, YA Fantasy
Source: finished copy from the publisher
Chosen to embrace her true identity. Chosen to follow her destiny. Chosen to change her world.
Mari is an Earth Walker, heir to the unique healing powers of her Clan, but she has been forced to turn from her duties, until she is chosen by a special animal ally, altering her destiny forever. When a deadly attack tears her world apart, Mari reveals the strength of her powers and the forbidden secret of her dual nature as she embarks on a mission to save herself and her people. It is not until Nik, the son of the leader from a rival, dominating Tribe, strays across her path that Mari experiences something she has never felt before…
Now evil is coming, and with it, a force more terrible and destructive than the world has ever seen, leaving Mari to cast the shadows from the earth. By breaking Clan Law and forming an alliance with Nik, she must make herself ready. Ready to save her people. Ready to save herself and Nik. Ready to embrace her true destiny…and battle the forces that threaten to destroy them all.
Diversity: -5 – What the Fuck Is This?
Racial-Ethnic: -5 (this is some goddamn racist shit)
QUILTBAG: 0 (one blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gay character; there’s a lesbian couple, but one of them dies soon after being introduced)
Disability: 0 (one blind girl, heavily fetishized)
This is gonna be a long review and I’m not even covering everything I want to, so I’ve uploaded my notes on Google Drive for easy viewing. Just click the link! All quote citations and page numbers are in that document and based on the US hardcover edition.
Once upon a time, there was Revealing Eden by Victoria Hoyt, a novel that turned white people into the oppressed class and made the white main character donning blackface a narrative necessity. It was rightly called out for racism then and is still ridiculously racist now. If I weren’t already familiar with the Cast family’s brand of racism thanks to their House of Night series, I’d think Moon Chosen was written specifically to out-racist Revealing Eden and all the cultural appropriation and Magical Native American fuckery from the aforementioned series. Between blackface and all the racial coding, Moon Chosen may actually be the most racist YA novel of all.
The Earth Walkers, Mari’s maternal people, are described with phrases like “dirty, earthy skin,” “unrefined features,” “thick-browed,” and “wide-nosed,” among others. Her paternal people are the Companions, aka Tree Tribe, aka Treeple. Mari takes after them, so we can assume that most of them are fair-haired (“hair the color of sunlight”) with “small, straight nose[s]” and “clean, delicate brow[s].” Since she was a child, she and her mother have dyed her hair “dark and muddy, like brackish water” and used clay to alter her features as well as change her skin color. The different in skin tone is so significant that when she washes off all the clay, another character reacts to just how different her clay-covered skin color is versus her natural skin color.
I guarantee you the character isn’t saying “wow, your skin color is so different!” because Mari has tan lines. Mari doesn’t spend much time outside her underground home before the novel’s events.
Cast can try to cover it up by being vague about what color anyone‘s skin is, but THIS IS BLACKFACE.
!!!THIS IS BLACKFACE!!!
I could stop this review right goddamn there and be justified in my zero-star rating for Moon Chosen, but this ain’t even the full extent of this racist clusterfuck. I have four pages of notes in a Microsoft Word document because there’s so. Much. Bullshit.
The reason Mari has to cover her skin is that if her mixed heritage is discovered, she’ll be driven into Companion territory and left there, presumably dooming her to a life of slavery. This explanation comes over a hundred pages into the novel and should be shown rather than told. A much better opening to the novel would be her Clan capturing and punishing some Treeple. Then we would see firsthand what Mari has to fear instead of simply hearing about it from her infodump-happy mother Leda.
Blackface is also indicated by the sledgehammer-heavy racially coded language Cast describes the Earth Walkers and Treeple with. The descriptions of the Earth Walkers as listed above and their traditions indicate they’re coded as people of color, probably Native Americans/First Nations specifically (but with no specific tribe because of course not). The fair-haired Treeple are similarly coded as white and the Skin Stealer people who shouldn’t even be in this book read like descriptions of uncontacted tribes akin to those Michael Rockefeller was studying and documenting when he disappeared in 1961.
Seriously, the Skin Stealers have no place in the novel. If they had to exist–because they seem to exist so the Treeple look better in comparison–they shouldn’t have been introduced until the second book of the series and the Earth Walker/Treeple dynamic should have been the real focus.
That’s another way Cast racially codes the two core groups of the novel: the fair-haired, fine-featured people are the enslavers, the dark-haired, thicker-featured people the slaves. One quote explicitly outlines why the Treeple do so, painting them as a well-meaning people who genuinely believe they’re helping:
“We care for them. We give them purpose. We protect them, even from themselves. Yet they are so base that over and over again they flee our safety and care and, heedless, rush to their destruction. […] What can be done with such creatures?” (p. 61)
So Cast wants to be a Good White Woman(tm) and deconstruct racism in her novel. Well, it’s clear from the content that she doesn’t understand shit about how racism actually works. People who enslave others don’t have or even need a “good” reason like giving them a purpose to do so; they’ll make up their own reasons and characterize the people they’re enslaving as lazy, dumb, or otherwise subhuman. They convince themselves of this so thoroughly that even when presented with evidence to the contrary, they’ll still hold onto that belief.
The quote above and the Treeple’s perspective in the novel in general humanize racists just as badly as that new A&E show “Generation KKK” and all the fluffy features on fascists, white supremacists, and the like that have been coming out lately. Cast even tries to put the language of racism in the mouths of Earth Walkers when she has an Earth Walker character say that a Treeple boy they come across “isn’t a person.”
I bet Cast is someone who would say racism against white people is a thing (it’s not).
On to another device that contributes to the racial coding of the Earth Walkers as POC: Night Fever. This illness’s origin is never explained, but it affects the Earth Walkers by infecting the women with depression and the men with madness that can drive them to rape women. For this reason, men and women in the Clan live separately. The only fix of for the Clan’s Moon Woman to Wash them of Night Fever every three night’s or so. The illness’s gender-specific nature shuts trans and nonbinary people out of yet another novel.
Night Fever’s effects on the Earth Walker men in particular invoke the beastly, predatory black/native man image we’ve seen in films like 1915’s The Birth of a Nation and other media. Better yet, Mari goes on to blame the men and call them animals who should be put down because they choose not to be Washed most of the time. Mari has the ability to Wash them, but she chooses not to and in fact intends to abandon her Clan, leaving them with no Moon Woman at all after her mother’s death.
Because yeah, Mari is a terrible human being with no real personality or redeeming qualities. Had Cast been willing to make Mari face the consequences of decisions like abandoning the Clan that needs her, she could have made for an excellent anti-heroine. Alas, Mari is presented as flawless and faces no consequences whatsoever. She’s completely willing to abandon her people to madness, depression, and death. Her characterization is inconsistent, as seen when she’s murderously angry at a character one minute and decides in the next to help the same character.
Another character who could be incredible if they faced consequences and were interpreted differently: Leda. A saintly mother/mentor, she is the only person Mari interacts with on a regular basis and is the one to tell her what the Clan will do to her if they find out her father was a Companion. Much more interesting: an interpretation of Leda as a tyrannical mother figure who wants to keep Mari to herself, so she lies/exaggerates to her daughter about the dangers of being exposed and controls the Clan with an iron fist. She’s the only trained Moon Woman of their Clan, after all. They need her to Wash them.
I swear to God I’m wrapping this up. The worldbuilding, in two words, is fucking disastrous. Moon Chosen is a far-future post-apocalyptic tale. In a massive infodump by a Treeple storyteller, we learn that the Sun “belched its displeasure” (that is an actual goddamn quote) when the people got too obsessed with technology and wiped out most of the planet, presumably via global warming after knocking out all the satellites and electricity.
Though the Treeple live in trees, status in their tribe is dependent on whether you have a dog. BECAUSE DOGS IN TREES. The dog system of there being Shepherds and Terriers and Leaders is never explained adequately and makes you wonder if only two breeds of dog survived the belching sun’s apocalypse. Infodumps that can either be integrated better or eliminated altogether add at least a hundred pages to a novel that’s already suffering from long stretches where absolutely nothing of importance happens.
As a final niggle: the poetry used to call on the power of the Sun and the Moon is just bad. Dear God, you could make a drinking game out of trying to read these without laughing or cringing.
OKAY. I THINK I’M DONE.
Am I insulting Cast personally with much of this review? Probably, yeah. But due to a combination of this novel’s content, the content of her deeply racist House of Night series, and how she actually treated someone who criticized her for using the r-word with alomb, I feel confident saying this novel’s racial issues represent Cast’s own beliefs. It’s sad to see books like this still coming out after all the hard work done by We Need Diverse Books and independent advocates for diversity in children’s literature.