Reviewing Books Outside your Lane

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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.

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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.

Outside your lane 2

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.

Be impartial

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.

Here’s a list of marginalized bloggers. And here’s a list with reviews from trans/non-binary/genderqueer folks.

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.

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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.

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14 thoughts on “Reviewing Books Outside your Lane

  1. Yes!!! It’s the ‘cards on the table’ thing again. I think a lot of the problems that occur come from reviewers not being willing to admit that they either don’t have a definitive viewpoint on something, or don’t know everything about, well, everything!

    This happens a lot in the queer community – there are times when I’ve seen some things labelled as bi-erasure where I read them as other queer identities, or sexual fluidity. I don’t ignore the fact that some people felt there was bi-erasure, and I add appropriate links and details where and when I can. My objection is when people tell me I’m wrong for reading things as moments of fluidity, or erase fluid people entirely by implying (or sometimes actually saying) that it’s a choice.

    I think we need to be careful when telling people that they aren’t coming at things from an #ownvoices perspective. Because sometimes they *are.* You can’t always tell without knowing a person’s life-story whether this is something they have personal experience with or not.

    Anyway, that comment became a lot more ramble-y than I intended! Oops! Great post 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • YES THANK YOU !! You put it so well !

      You are absolutely right. You might disagree with people from your community but you don’t have to invalidate how they feel just because of that.

      Yes of course, I’ll never tell someone that they’re not reading from an ownvoices perspective unless it comes from them.

      It’s okay haha, i love replying to long thoughtful comments. Thank you 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My only marginalized identity is being gay with various mental health issues, and perhaps being a woman raised in a conservative Christian household, which means I “pass” or at least know how to pass and cover splendidly. That also made me really good from a young age at identifying with people who had vastly different experiences in life, especially if they felt they had to hide parts of themselves for their own safety. All that to say, most of the books I review are vastly “outside my lane” of personal experience. I try to read then review knowing it’s impossible to have all the answers. And it’s ultra frustrating reading some reviews where people say “that would never happen” or “people don’t talk like that” or “the author is just being political/politically correct/snowflake/whiny” or any other variation. Cause, excuse me?? Unless you are that person with those experiences, you have no idea!

    Lol, anyway, love this post and how you draw attention to these very important considerations ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s exactly my point! Most books we read are outside our lane simply because we don’t stop at the books that represent us but read beyond that. And it really irks me how some people dare to judge something that’s completely outside their experience and framing it as unrealistic.

      Thank you, I’m happy you do 😊❤

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I really enjoy this post! It’s a problem I struggle with a lot, being that the only minority I am a part of is being jewish, but wanting to read books about all different kinds of people. I think the way I review it is emphasize that I am NOT a part of this minority and therefore can not attest to the accuracy of representation. I don’t want to pretend that I know what an accurate representation of a minority is if I’m not a part of it. But it’s good to know that others struggle with reviewing books outside your lane as well and to have strategies to review it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh my god, this is such an important post. I see so many readers outside of a marginalization shitting on ownvoices they have no understanding of, and it makes me so sad. I’m so happy you wrote this post; I think this can be so helpful for others.

    Liked by 1 person

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  8. Well said. I agree that #Ownvoices books aren’t above criticism, but we need to be respectful of how the author has represented their own perspective about their own culture. Everyone’s experience is different (so even someone who shares an identity needs to be careful when they sit in judgment of how someone else has portrayed their culture).

    Liked by 1 person

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