Hello guys !
As more and more people pick up diverse books, more of us are reviewing them. And besides the obvious characters, plot, writing, pacing, worldbulding (when it’s SFF), there’s the added element of representation, because when we say diverse books, we say diverse characters, which means minorities are represented, and well… we want those to be good and accurate. But “reviewing” representation can be complicated, especially when the book is ownvoices (a book representing a marginalization the author is part of, which you can learn more about here, on the creator’s page) and even more when we as reviewers are not part of the minority.
What I’ve noticed (and also have been guilty of before) is that we sometimes get carried away and nitpick representation that actually is accurate and personal to the author and people who live the same circumstances, and some reviews can fall right into offensive territory because of the lack of sensitivity. This is not me saying that we shouldn’t be critical of ownvoices books, I just think that the marginalizations should be left to ownvoices reviewers to dissect, which I’ll explain the why and how of a little further down the post.
So, here’s the thing. One character of one minority cannot cater to every person of said minority which makes it impossible for us, as reviewers from outside the minority, to grasp some nuances and experiences that play into making the representation true to some and not so true to others. So if even ownvoices reviewers cannot agree on the representation, how can we as outsiders *know* when that representation is good?
I want to specify that I am not talking at the blatant bigotry that goes unchallenged in text, that, we can and have to point out (see my post about our responsibility towards readers). Some things are just too obvious to miss and I have already touched on content that’s clearly problematic on here before. What I’m talking about here is nuance. Nuance and intersectionality.
Intersectionality is what shapes a person’s experiences, their life, their opportunities, their interactions with people. So even when reviewing a marginalization that you share with the character, keep in mind that their other marginalizations are entangled and indissociable from it, and shape not only how they live with it but also how people from their entourage respond to it. As an example, if you are a non-muslim queer reviewing a queer muslim’s representation and find it harsh or offensive, for any number of reasons, you should keep in mind that the fact that you don’t share religions makes your experiences vastly different. Same goes for other and all marginalizations that intersect.
All of this to say that intersections can make books slightly outside your lane even as an ownvoices reviewer for one of the marginalizations. Which is okay. It doesn’t mean you can’t critique the parts of the character that you share, it just means that you should do so with care. I saw conflicts rise in the book community because of this exact same reason, people reviewing one side of the representation while forgetting how the other sides can affect it, some of which allowed me to make mistakes and learn from them, lessons I am hopefully sharing with you today.
This is what I want everyone (myself included) to remember when reviewing books that represent them in a way but not in others. The fact that it’s not authentic to your experience doesn’t mean that it’s wrong or bad, it’s just different, and others can and will relate to it and cherish it.
Be honest but keep it respectful.
If a character is of X and Y marginalizations and you share X with them, you can say “Even with me being X, character wasn’t relatable to my experiences because of them being Y” or “because of them doing said and said thing that I can’t see happening in my own circumstances/are opposite to what I could/did experience” or even “X made me really uncomfortable as a reader by Y but this may be realistic from the perspective of an ownvoices reader, so be careful if this would make you uncomfortable”. What’s important to keep in mind is to not invalidate someone else’s experiences just because they don’t match yours. Again, some types of representation are just wrong and offensive, and I’m not talking about them here.
When the book doesn’t represent you in any way and you see that the community that is represented is divided on the representation (re: some like it, some don’t), what you can do is say “Some X people like the character and see themselves represented, while some don’t and were hurt/offended/etc… by it, for a, b and c reasons, so if you are X be careful going in” It isn’t your place to choose a side, or choose which people are right because the fact is, both sides are right, and both sides’ opinions and feelings are valid. It’s just that experiences differ and we shouldn’t expect anything different from responses to representation.
Boost ownvoices reviewers
When you do not share any kind of marginalization with a character and the book is really out of your area of expertise, the best course of action is to leave it to ownvoices reviewers, because at the end of the day, as much as you learn about a minority, there are things that only lived experiences can teach you, which you lack in situations like these. Here are some ways:
- Link their reviews with yours.
- If you see them discussing it on Twitter, retweet and give them more visibility(when it’s okay).
- When asked about the representation, direct the person to an ownvoices review/reviewer.
So, I think this is it. I didn’t want to make this post longer or more rambly than it already is. I hope I got my point across as to what to do when reviewing books outside your lane.
I am not saying you shouldn’t point out when a thing is potentially hurtful, what I am saying though, is that in some cases what can be hurtful to some isn’t to others, or what can be accurate to some can be completely inaccurate to others and as a reviewer outside a minority, the best you can do is shed light on both sides and leave it to ownvoices reviewers to decide.
Another thing before I wrap this up. I am also not saying that ownvoices books are above criticism, lord knows that authors can ace their own marginalizations while hurting others in the process, so if you see this, you can and should point it out.
That’s it until next time.
What do you think is the best course of action when it comes to reviewing books outside your lane?
Hope you enjoyed, write to you soon.