Write Responsibly

October 23, 2016 Discussion Post 0

I’m a lifelong fan of true crime and trashy docudramas, so of course I watch the Investigation Discovery network on occasion. Lately, my favorite show of theirs has been True Nightmares, a very dramatically narrated show that presents three horrifying true stories from the past. I often recognize one of the three cases from each episode, but it’s introduced me to a great deal of historical nightmares I’d never heard about until then, such as the starvation “sanitarium” run by Linda Hazzard during the early 1900s as well as a former Brazilian politician and police officer arranging murders in order to increase ratings on his variety crime show Canal Livre.

The episode I watched last night featured a “Ouija board murder” from 1930 New York. The irresponsible manner in which the story was told has me on the edge of being done with the show.

In a nutshell, Seneca tribal healer Nancy Bowen’s husband Charlie passed away and she was deeply distraught. Due to her inability to read or write, she used a Ouija board with rez schoolteacher and fellow Seneca woman Lila Jimerson so she could talk to Charlie. Jimerson used that opportunity to manipulate Bowen into murdering Clothilde Marchand, wife of an artist Jimerson had been modeling for and having an affair with. Then Jimerson could romance the widower. When hexes failed, Bowen used a hammer to do the job. Both women were maligned in the press because they were Native American and the Marchands were white. (One link said the women were Cayuga in addition to Seneca.)

I only found out about that when I looked up the case for more information. True Nightmares didn’t mention even once that the women were Native American, let alone tribally enrolled Seneca. Apparently, being manipulated into murder by your friend is a nightmare, but racism isn’t?

Talking about this case the way True Nightmares did is like trying talk about Emmett Till’s murder without any discussion of race. You’re not telling his story at all if you omit the fact his skin color is why he was murdered! Jimerson’s affair began because she was a Native American woman and the artist, Henri Marchand, found that his Native American models were more willing to bare their breasts for him if he seduced them. The case gained so much attention because the women were Native American.

I don’t want to have to fact-check every single show I watch on television. If I Google something I saw on the program, it’s because I’m interested in learning more! One of the first damn links I found related to the Ouija board murder made it clear that Charlie, Lila, and Nancy were Native American and members of the Seneca tribe. If I can do that with a Google search, surely everyone involved in the episode’s writing process can do better.

I even looked up the biographies and backgrounds of the actresses who played Lila (Mikayla S. Campbell) and Nancy (Cheyenne Camille). If either woman has publicly stated their tribal enrollment, I haven’t found it. Campbell’s biography only makes note of her Greek, Spanish, Finnish, and Korean background.

If neither women are in fact tribally enrolled Seneca or even Native American women from any other tribe, we can add “irresponsible casting” to the list of the show’s crimes. God knows there are Native American actresses out there who could and would play those roles, but the casting people either don’t look for those women or the women didn’t have the resources to know those roles were even available. That’s systemic racism in Hollywood.

It may seem odd to post about this on my bookish website, but everything I just complained about plays into how I read books now. It’s part of why I decided to rate books on both their overall quality and the quality of their diversity. If an author only describes the skin of POC characters, readers notice. It sets white as the default and POC characters as the Other.

When someone tries to explain it away by saying “well, of course this white person won’t describe the skin of another white person, they don’t see the skin color of someone who looks like them,” I call bullshit. I’m whiter than a girl in yoga pants and a sorority T-shirt holding a pumpkin spice latte screaming “I can’t even!”  If I have to describe a white person to anyone of any skin color, I note their skin color like I note their hair color and what they were wearing.

When writers only describe POC skin, their books lose the racial nuances present in everyday life. I have so much more I want to add to this, but I simply don’t have the words for it as a white woman. Because I don’t have the same experiences as people of color–especially women of color–I probably never will. I can only do my best to listen to their experiences and be their ally when they both want and need me to be.

Whether you’re writing a novel or writing for television, please write responsibly.


Blog Tour Stop & Review: How to Keep a Boy from Kissing You by Tara Eglington

October 19, 2016 Blog Tours, Diversity 0, Reviews 1 ★★★★½

Blog Tour Stop & Review: How to Keep a Boy from Kissing You by Tara EglingtonHow to Keep a Boy From Kissing You by Tara Eglington
Series: Aurora Skye #1
Published by Thomas Dunne Books on October 25, 2016
Genres: Comedy, YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
Source: finished copy from the publisher
Sweet sixteen and never been kissed . . .

That’s Aurora Skye’s big secret. And the way she wants it to stay. She’s not going to give away her first kiss to just anyone. Busy dodging suitors and matchmaking for her best friends, Aurora (not so) patiently awaits her prince.

But everything changes when Aurora is coerced into a lead role in the school production of Much Ado about Nothing. Which means she’ll have to lock lips with her co-star Hayden Paris―the smart and funny boy next door who also happens to be the bane of her existence, always around to see her at her worst.

Now Aurora is more determined than ever to have her first kiss with the one who’s truly worthy of it. But first she’ll have to figure out just who that person is.

Romantic and funny, Tara Eglington's How to Keep a Boy from Kissing You is a feel-good tale of finding love where you least expect it.

Diversity Rating: 0 – What Diversity?

Racial-Ethnic: 0
Disability: 0
Intersectionality: 0

I got bullied in school. Badly. If you were too, you might have heard the line that “maybe they’re bullying you because they like you!” I can even recall one specific person from high school everyone suggested was bullying me due to a possible crush on me. My response has always been “WHAT THE HELL KIND OF LOGIC IS THAT?” (In kinder words, of course.) If that’s the way the bully expresses their feelings, how would a proper relationship with their bullying victim be any kind of healthy? Because of all that, I’ve never been a fan of any hate-to-love relationships in fiction. They always manage to take a wrong turn or fail to convince me the characters will work.

Then I read How to Keep a Boy from Kissing You and finally got it. Tara Eglington does so much right in her hilarious, friendship-heavy novel that I finally ship a hate-to-love ship! Read more »


Review: The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti

October 14, 2016 Reviews 0 ★★★★

Review: The Purity Myth by Jessica ValentiThe Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women by Jessica Valenti
Published by Seal Press on March 24, 2009
Genres: Adult Nonfiction
Pages: 272
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought
The United States is obsessed with virginity — from the media to schools to government agencies. In The Purity Myth, Jessica Valenti argues that the country’s intense focus on chastity is damaging to young women. Through in-depth cultural and social analysis, Valenti reveals that powerful messaging on both extremes — ranging from abstinence-only curriculum to "Girls Gone Wild" infomercials — place a young woman's worth entirely on her sexuality. Morals are therefore linked purely to sexual behavior, rather than values like honesty, kindness, and altruism. Valenti sheds light on the value — and hypocrisy — around the notion that girls remain virgins until they’re married by putting into context the historical question of purity, modern abstinence-only education, pornography, and public punishments for those who dare to have sex. The Purity Myth presents a revolutionary argument that girls and women are overly valued for their sexuality, as well as solutions for a future without a damaging emphasis on virginity.

[Originally reviewed in 2011 but not imported here properly. I think now is a good time to do so. Only mild revisions!]

The Purity Myth spent years on my TBR due to good word about it as well as my own teenage curiosity about why society slut shames, victim blames, and judges women based on the sex they are or aren’t having. It took me a while to read, but I finally did it! It’s all about how society judges us as women based on how sexual we are regardless of anything else. Whether you’re het or QUILTBAG, the book applies to each and every woman because there is not one of us that hasn’t been affected by the purity myth at one point or another. Heck, I’m asexual and the book still applies to me because it’s also about the sexuality forced upon women against their wills by society. Read more »


Review: Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee

October 13, 2016 Diversity 4, Reviews 0 ★★★★★

Review: Outrun the Moon by Stacey LeeOutrun the Moon by Stacey Lee
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons BFYR on May 24, 2016
Genres: YA, YA Historical
Pages: 400
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
From the author of the critically acclaimed Under a Painted Sky, an unforgettable story of determination set against a backdrop of devastating tragedy. Perfect for fans of Code Name Verity.

San Francisco, 1906: Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong is determined to break from the poverty of Chinatown, and an education at St. Clare’s School for Girls is her best hope. Although St. Clare’s is off-limits to all but the wealthiest white girls, Mercy gains admittance through a mix of cunning and a little bribery, only to discover that getting in was the easiest part. Not to be undone by a bunch of spoiled heiresses, Mercy stands strong—until disaster strikes.

On April 18, a historic earthquake rocks San Francisco, destroying Mercy’s home and school. Now she’s forced to wait with her classmates for their families in a temporary park encampment. Though fires might rage, and the city may be in shambles, Mercy can’t sit by while they wait for the army to bring help—she still has the “bossy” cheeks that mark her as someone who gets things done. But what can one teenage girl do to heal so many suffering in her broken city?

Stacey Lee masterfully crafts another remarkable novel set against a unique historical backdrop. Strong-willed Mercy Wong leads a cast of diverse characters in this extraordinary tale of survival.

Diversity: 4 – This is Our World

Racial-Ethnic: 5 (Mercy is Chinese and Lee accurate depicts the diversity of San Fancisco’s population)
Disability: 2 (a deaf black man appears for a scene and Mercy’s role model Mrs. Lowry is blind)
Intersectionality: 5 (see above; also discussions of how sexism Mercy faces differs from sexism white girls face)

The 2016 US presidential cycle has made it difficult to have any faith whatsoever in humanity and the goodness of people’s hearts. Seeing as one Australian show reported on our election with circus music in the background, I doubt even international readers need me to explain why. We still have a month left of this madness as I write this! This little tangent might seem unrelated, but it really isn’t. Outrun the Moon did what I thought wouldn’t happen until Hillary Clinton’s election as president: It made me believe even the worst people can come together and be good. Read more »


Review: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

October 10, 2016 Diversity 3, Reviews 2 ★★★½

Review: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith RussoIf I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
Published by Flatiron Books on May 3, 2016
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 288
Format: Hardcover
Source: ALA Annual 2016
Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school in Lambertville, Tennessee. Like any other girl, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret. There’s a reason why she transferred schools for her senior year, and why she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.

And then she meets Grant Everett. Grant is unlike anyone she’s ever met—open, honest, kind—and Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself…including her past. But she’s terrified that once she tells Grant the truth, he won't be able to see past it.

Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that she used to be Andrew

Diversity Rating: 3- Closer to Reality

Racial-Ethnic: 0
QUILTBAG: 5 (Amanda is a trans girl written by a trans woman; there are also a lesbian girl and a bi girl in the book)
Disability: 3 (Amanda has previously tried to commit suicide; Grant’s mom has her own issues)
Intersectionality: 3 (Amanda has to deal with a great deal of transmisogyny once it all comes out)

Read more »


Review: The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

October 3, 2016 Diversity 0, Reviews 0 ★★

Review: The Testing by Joelle CharbonneauThe Testing by Joelle Charbonneau
Series: The Testing #1
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Children on June 4, 2013
Genres: Post-Apocalyptic, YA, YA Dystopian
Pages: 352
Format: eBook
Source: Bought
Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Isn’t that what they say? But how close is too close when they may be one and the same?

The Seven Stages War left much of the planet a charred wasteland. The future belongs to the next generation’s chosen few who must rebuild it. But to enter this elite group, candidates must first pass The Testing—their one chance at a college education and a rewarding career.

Cia Vale is honored to be chosen as a Testing candidate; eager to prove her worthiness as a University student and future leader of the United Commonwealth. But on the eve of her departure, her father’s advice hints at a darker side to her upcoming studies--trust no one.

But surely she can trust Tomas, her handsome childhood friend who offers an alliance? Tomas, who seems to care more about her with the passing of every grueling (and deadly) day of the Testing. To survive, Cia must choose: love without truth or life without trust.

Diversity Rating: 0 – What Diversity?

Racial-Ethnic: 0 (there’s one black guy and he dies pretty quickly)
Disability: 0
Inteersectionality: 0

To be honest, I only bought The Testing because it was free and I was mildly curious. Post-apocalyptic dystopian novels like this aren’t my thing. Nor are they my thing if you separate them into post-apocalyptic novels and dystopian novels. Still, I wanted to see what it would look like if we put the SAT/ACT on steroids and made the test a life-or-death situation. It went about as expected, by which I mean it was nonsensical and pretty bad. Read more »


Review: Perfect Liars by Kimberly Reid

September 23, 2016 Diversity 3, Reviews 0 ★★

Review: Perfect Liars by Kimberly ReidPerfect Liars by Kimberly Reid
Published by Tu Books on May 15, 2016
Genres: Mystery, Suspense, YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 384
Format: Hardcover
Source: ALA Annual 2016
Andrea Faraday is junior class valedictorian at the exclusive Woodruff School, where she was voted Most Likely to Do Everything Right. But looks can be deceiving. When her parents disappear, her life and her Perfect Girl charade begins to crumble, and her scheme to put things right just takes the situation from bad to so much worse. Pretty soon she's struck up the world's least likely friendship with the juvenile delinquents at Justice Academy, the last exit on the road to jail and the first stop on the way out.

If she were telling it straight, friendship might not be the right word to describe their alliance, since Drea and her new associates could not be more different. She s rich and privileged; they re broke and, well, criminal. But Drea s got a secret: she has more in common with the juvie kids than they d ever suspect. When it turns out they share a common enemy, Drea suggests they join forces to set things right. Sometimes, to save the day, a good girl's gotta be bad.

Diversity Rating: 3 – Closer to Reality

Racial-Ethnic: 4 (Andrea and her brother are biracial; Xavier is Korean; I believe Gigi is Latina)
Disability: 0
Intersectionality: 2 (plenty of acknowledgement of how different Andrea’s life is from Xavier’s because of her family’s ill-begotten wealth)

Tu Books is probably one of my favorite publishers and yet this is the first time I’ve read one of their books. Seems silly, I know, but their dedication to publishing diverse, representative books and the truth that flows from their Twitter feed daily has always impressed me. Meeting the tweeps behind the account at ALA was lovely and my copy of Perfect Liars has a dedication that I’ll likely remember the story behind for the rest of my life!

But to cut to the chase, I didn’t like Perfect Liars very much. It’s a deeply introspective caper and will need just the right reader to appreciate that. Read more »