Monday, September 19, 2016

Unpopular Opinion: A Rant on #Diversity

In my ASL class on Monday, we did receptivity practice with numbers. Someone signed a bunch of numbers at a moderate pace, and we had to write down those numbers on a whiteboard. While it first seemed straightforward, many of us found that it was actually really hard to split our attention between the signing and the writing. Taking my eyes away from the signer meant I was missing something – either the facial expressions or the signs themselves. I had to be a much more active receiver of information.

When one of my classmates brought this up and noted how difficult it was, our teacher Brian responded like, "Yes! Exactly! Now you get it."

Not only does effective communication require a certain level of visual attention, but think about how signing gets affected by poor lighting, people who don't face you when they speak, multiple people speaking at the same time...

For hearing people, these things don't really affect our ability to communicate. That's not true for deaf people.

It made me start thinking about accommodations. Lip-reading is an accommodation. Vocalizing can be an accommodation. Sometimes hearing aids and cochlear implants can be an accommodation.

Deaf people frequently have to accommodate hearing people. The reverse is much less frequently true; the hearing world does whatever the hearing world wants. The hearing world says, "We are the norm, and you have to figure out how to bend to our ways." (Sometimes the hearing world gets their feelings hurt when they are called out for being ableist. Sometimes they vehemently deny it. Sometimes they rationalize their behaviors.)

I think the same is true in other situations between privileged and non-privileged groups – so often, the non-privileged community has to accommodate the other. Like when the well-meaning privileged people start asking questions and making requests (because it's not like Google is a thing that exists):

"Why is X bad?"
"Why is Y good?"
"Can you explain...?"
"Tell me what I did wrong!"
"Tell me what I can do better!"
"Walk me through the hundreds of years of history & oppression so that I can understand what's wrong with this situation! Don't forget your sources!"

There's a certain exhaustion to being "diverse."

(Ugh. I really hate that word. "Diverse." It's an easy, lazy buzzword that absolves people from having to try. All you have to do is retweet a Diversity Tweet or post a Diversity Hashtag and suddenly you're exonerated from your racist, ableist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, etc. ways! Congrats!!!!)

To be clear, I'm not knocking diversity. I am part of a "diverse" (ugh) community. I love being who I am. I'm genuinely glad that I come from a family of immigrants. I like the way I was raised. I like my perspective in life. I like my family's history. I like the values I've been brought up with. I like our culture and traditions.

I'm not saying that being "diverse" (ugh) is a burden.

I'm saying that in a world where you are different because of the way you identify, it can be exhausting to have to negotiate the world with that identity. (I'm saying that it's mostly other people who make it exhausting. I'm specifically saying that constantly accommodating other people is exhausting.)

And THEN when you're not being asked to accommodate – when you're not being asked to explain everything ever to people whose feelings are hurt – you're frequently being reduced to an object by those who are attempting to embrace diversity.

Take #MSWL, which stands for Manuscript Wish List, which is where agents/editors post book submissions they'd like to see in their inbox. There's some interesting requests ("a fresh new spin on REBECCA"), and then there's a lot of this:

"I'm looking for more diversity in MG and YA!"
"Looking for: diverse voices."
"Diverse, fresh fantasy!"
"Syria! Just, anything related to Syria!!!!!!"*

Oh. My. God. I hate when editors and agents and self-proclaimed diversity warriors make broad sweeping statements like this.

Here's what I'm hearing: "It doesn't matter what it is! Just diversity! Anything! Go team! OK!"

It strikes me as incredibly self-aggrandizing, and it feels like the people making these requests just want to claim their diversity/relevance cookie without even trying to understand why it matters and what's wrong with the industry as it currently stands.

Telling the stories of underrepresented people is not a trend. We're not a marketing ploy to boost your sales, or position you as socially/politically/culturally aware and relevant. We're not objects to collect – your token Asian girl, your token trans character, your token fat protagonist. DO NOT BE THE PUBLISHING EQUIVALENT OF DONALD TRUMP'S DIVERSITY COALITION. It won't ring true.

Listen. I am all for representation. But representation has to be meaningful – the point is to let readers see themselves in the books they read. And right now it appears there's a very low bar for diversity in stories – the kinds of requests coming from people in the industry make me feel like we're going to see a lot of misguided literature published in the name of being diverse.

I hope I am proven wrong. I hope I am just being pessimistic and cynical.

I'm going to continue keeping an eye on this whole diversity movement, and I'll continue to support "diverse" authors and "diverse" stories until I see the word "diverse" so many times that it stops making any sense. (I'm already halfway there.) I'm going to rethink purchasing and reading books written by people who have shown, time and again, that they don't care about inclusiveness, representation, intersectionality...

I'm going to end this post here because I'm tired of writing and talking about diversity. Like I said, it is EXHAUSTING.

S/o to all my people who regularly speak out and write thought posts on this stuff. I admire you.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Trade Me by Courtney Milan

Title: Trade Me (Cyclone #1)
Author: Courtney Milan
Publisher: Courtney Milan
Publication date:  January 19, 2015
Rating: ★★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

Tina Chen just wants a degree and a job, so her parents never have to worry about making rent again. She has no time for Blake Reynolds, the sexy billionaire who stands to inherit Cyclone Technology. But when he makes an off-hand comment about what it means to be poor, she loses her cool and tells him he couldn’t last a month living her life.

To her shock, Blake offers her a trade: She’ll get his income, his house, his car. In exchange, he’ll work her hours and send money home to her family. No expectations; no future obligations.

But before long, they’re trading not just lives, but secrets, kisses, and heated nights together. No expectations might break Tina’s heart...but Blake’s secrets could ruin her life.

I have NO appropriate words to describe how much I loved this book, even with its lackluster resolution. Every time I think about Blake and/or Tina, I just want to puke in enthusiasm.

I mean, an Asian female MC in a new adult book?

An Asian female MC in a new adult book who is actually bright, and driven, and sex-positive, and proud of her family, and not fetishized, and compassionate, and socially aware? A character that I can actually relate to??!?

Pinch me. I must be dreaming.

Tina Chen is the main reason I picked up this book. I needed to read a new adult novel that was not all about white people. And you know what? She struck a deep chord with me.

I always, always love a female MC who shies away from love and commitment. I love a girl who thinks relationships are dangerous, who believes in protecting herself (and her family) first. I AM THAT GIRL. And Tina is that girl. She has to grapple with safety and risk, and contend with her interest in the perfect-by-traditional-Western-standards Blake Reynolds.

Blake is fascinating. He's imperfect and flawed in ways that matter. Despite his ignorance and privileged upbringing, he respects people. He makes mistakes but he learns and tries to do better – he is everything I wish the people of the Internet would be. (Ahem.)

Tina and Blake are compelling on their own, but when they're together, it's impossible to drag your eyes away. Their dynamic is so interesting – the back and forth, give and take. They make each other feel understood. They make each other feel good. They call it like it is. They speak openly. They don't play games. It's so goddamn refreshing to see two intelligent adults acting like intelligent adults in a relationship. How annoying is it when the key conflict in a story could be resolved by a couple actually communicating with each other? There's none of that nonsense here. The conflicts and challenges they face actually matter; they're complicated. There's no easy way out.

Blake is a complex person with a complex relationship with his father; for better or for worse, it colors his life and the decisions he makes, and it is because of this that the "issues" in this book don't feel like "issues." The problems and solutions, as Blake says, are "all tangled up, knitted together so firmly that you can't excise the problem without blowing the solution to bits." Courtney Milan has certainly knitted together a story where that's the case, though I do wish the "solution" had been somewhat less anti-climactic. The end came together rather quickly and rather too conveniently – before I knew it, the story was over. I wish we had gotten to see a little more romance between Tina and Blake. Softer, slower moments. A little more lingering instead of a constant rush forward.

Maybe because of the way it was written – with scenes that propelled the story forward – I read this book in 5 hours. I devoured it. And on my commute to work this morning, I started reading it again. To savor it. To revisit and reconsider my thoughts on relationships. To bask in the existence of a well-written Chinese female character. A well-written Chinese female character, written well by a non-Chinese author. (I mean, whaaaa???? Side-eye emoji. Side-eye emoji. Side-eye emoji.)

This is the part where I don't really know what else to say. Trade Me made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me feel like I was learning something. It was a really smart book. It made me feel seen. It made me have some degree of faith in humanity. (No joke.)

Read this book if you're tired of never seeing yourself in books.
Read this book if you want to see relationships based on mutual respect.
Read this book if you like your parents.
Read this book if you don't.

Read this book if you think stories should mean something. Because this one does.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's prompt: Top Ten ALL TIME Favorite Books Of X Genre.

HA. What a joke. I don't have ten "all-time favorite" books. Ten is an impossible number. There's, like, 30 books on my favorites list. And then I have to subcategorize from there: is it a forever favorite, a nostalgic favorite, or a favorite-because-it-was-perfect-for-my-life-when-I-read-it? If I read it again today, would I still love that book? Did I only love that book because it defined my life at a specific time? Does it matter?

It's complicated. And I realize that perhaps I give way too much thought to these Top Ten Tuesday prompts, but... such is life. I CAN'T CHANGE WHO I AM. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I did my best to narrow it down to my top ten all-time favorite young adult novels. And even that got a little squishy. (What about the books that were never reeeaallly classified as YA, because YA didn't exist when they were published? What about ________?! That's definitely not YA but it's absolutely one of my ALL-TIME FAVORITES!!!! etc.)

Soooo... okay. I fudged it a little. But rules are meant to be broken, right? Right.

1. Charmed Thirds by Megan McCafferty

I'm pretty sure most of the Jessica Darling lovers hate this book. Charmed Thirds is my favorite. It's soul-crushing and heart-breaking and has countless moments and lines that I'll never, ever be able to get out of my head. (Just a reminder that Marcus Flutie is probably the fictional love of my life.)

2. This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen

Not surprisingly, Dexter Jones is also on my list of boy crushes. I feel like I've touched on this before, but Remy Starr is ME. I mean, she's the exact opposite of me (ESTJ? vs. INFP), but emotionally, SHE'S ME. And this book changed the way I look at relationships and vulnerability.

3. Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta (goddess of everything!)

I can't even think about this book without wanting to cry. The whole Lumatere Chronicles series is gorgeous and intense – if you haven't read Finnikin of the Rock, then drop everything and do so NOW – but Quintana is perhaps my favorite, favorite, favorite Marchetta character ever. And that's really saying something, because MM writes so many wonderful characters with magnificent stories. So many passages that still punch me in the gut.

4. Missing Angel Juan by Francesca Lia Block

Francesca Lia Block was a HUGE deal to me when I was sixteen years old. When I read Witch Baby, the second in her Dangerous Angels "series," it was like I had a moment of awakening – of yes, finally!, someone who sees me for who I am. Missing Angel Juan was kind of revolutionary for me because it made me realize that I could be loved – even with my weird, messy, wild thing, snarl ball ways – but that I could also be okay on my own, and that it was important to know how to be alone and to have healthy relationships.

5. Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler & illustrated by Maira Kalman

I read this in college and re-read it and cried for days. Min's writing style reminded me of my own. Her experiences felt like ones that I had had. When I read this book, I would totally have written sincere, guileless letters to a former love. Why We Broke Up was the perfect mix of quirky romance and startling honesty, and it just hit me unexpectedly in all the right ways.

6. Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith

I don't know if I'll ever really be able to articulate what makes this book so important to me. Instead I'll toot my own horn and link you what what I think is the PERFECT playlist for it. I'll also include what I wrote in a previous Top Ten Tuesday post:

Hilary T. Smith is amazing for writing this book about people living with mental health issues. It doesn't tiptoe around anything but neither is it your standard clinical categorization of "so-and-so suffers from this and that." It's a barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world, in more ways than one – yes, it's about mental illness, but it's also about life and how we choose to exist in and interact with the world. Unexpectedly, Kiri and Skunk have become one of my absolute favorite literary couples. They're both so imperfect and screwed up and uncontainable and dealing with their own traumatic memories, yet they help one another become healthier and happier without forcing each other to be different.

7. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

I guess this is what people would consider a window book – I must have read this when I was twelve or thirteen years old. It opened my eyes to the idea of nonconformity. It made me realize it was okay to be different. I know the world is different now, and probably every kid grows up today being told that it's okay to be different (the perks of being raised by Gen X/Gen Y, I guess), but for me it was a life-changer.

8. Wild Things by Clay Carmichael

Not strictly YA, but it's an incredibly underrated comfort read. It's whimsical and so human. So many elements still linger with me, from the description of Uncle Henry's incredible sculptures, to the detached chapters written from the perspective of a feral cat, to the colorful characters and their relationships. It's really, really great.

9. Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

I know. This one is probably a weird pick, but I swear to god it changed me. In Siege and Storm, everything was shades of gray. You didn't know who was really bad, or who was really good, and it messed with your head (and your heart, ouch, ouch), and it's just such a perfect reflection of life. (Click here for my short review for Siege and Storm.)

10. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Finally. The Little Prince. Again, LIFE-CHANGING. I finally watched the film adaptation on Netflix a few weeks ago – it was all wrong, ALL WRONG – I knew it would be, but I still bawled watching it. The Little Prince is a classic. Relevant from childhood to adulthood. It means the world to me.

Bonus! (because I really wanted my picture rows to be nice and even)

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill is very much settled in the land of adult/literary fiction, but I died reading this book. It made me angry and incredibly depressed and blew me away and I underlined basically the entire book.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is perhaps my favorite Neil Gaiman book. Eerie and quaint and sad and sweet... The perfect comfort read for a self-proclaimed weirdo. If you haven't read this before, add it to your fall reading list. With a cup of tea or hot chocolate, it'll feel 100% spot-on.

So, those are my favorite young adult(-ish) books. I feel pretty good about the accuracy of this list. Do you feel like you know me better now?! (Probably not because I already talk about these books all the time anyway.) Have you read any of these books I mentioned? Did you like them?? What are your all-time favorite YA books & why?