If you don’t know it yet, April is the autism awareness month. Cait @ Paper Fury wrote this amazing posts that explains her experiences in writing autism and anxiety #ownvoices in her newest book, The Boy Who Steal Houses. I think that post has a lot of amazing points that can be applied to #ownvoices writing in general and that’s what inspires me to write this post.
Diversity has become such a huge topic in the mainstream media, and YA literature does not escape this fight for more inclusion and representation on what we’re reading. Many authors started to have more representation in their books and as the number grows, we also started to see more and more #ownvoices authors pouring their own experience into their books.
However, as Cait has pointed out in her post: ONE #ownvoices experience ≠ everyone in that marginalization’s experience. And that means the experiences portrayed in that book will not be relatable to everyone in that group, in fact, it could be totally different! Yet I see quite often how readers label a diverse book with low rating just because it doesn’t resembles their own experience, to the length of labelling the book problematic.
While I am not an author (and I don’t have an aspiration to be one), this mindset could be really toxic to those #ownvoices writer. These people pour their hearts and story into books, for people to read and hopes can give some representation needed and instead, they are being judged because it doesn’t meet everyone’s experiences. What we need to understand and stresses out more is unrelatable experience portrayed in the book does not mean the book is bad or unrealistic. For example, also as Cait’s said, autism is a spectrum. This means, not everyone will have the same manifestation. I have a cousin that can hold jobs and family, but I also have a classmate that needs assistance in class, can’t hold his tongue, and had at least 2 breakdowns each term.
Anxiety also manifests in different severity and depends on different triggers, as with depression. Again, I have friends that can’t do their work when they are in depression because they can’t even find the will to get up and go to class, much less do the work. But I also have a friend that is a high-functioning depression, as in she throws herself to her works and works normally. If the book portrays the high-functioning depression instead of portraying depression with its “normal” red flags, it doesn’t mean it is a bad book! Maybe the author has different experiences with depression and just because it doesn’t relate to yours, doesn’t mean theirs (and others) experiences are invalid.
While I agree with calling out problematic books, where representation are treated as checkboxes, token characters, plot points to further the story, and damaging stereotypes, I also think we should be more critical and cautious before we deemed a book as bad. Is it really bad, or is it just not meeting my experiences? And if it doesn’t meet mine, does it represents anyone? And finally, does the author actually part of the group or does any research before writing about the topic? Because usually, even when the author is not part of the group, they do research with people that’s part of the group and therefore, the writing is based on those people experiences. Bottom line is, I think critically thinking about the representation is important before labeling a book of having a bad rep just because it doesn’t relate to your personal experiences, as you may invalidate other people’s experiences by doing so.
That’s all for today folks, just a quick post as I’m really busy this week and writing this in a rush (I apologize if I use wrong word choices or if you need clarification). What do you think about this topic? Have you ever read a book where the representation is not what you experienced at all? How do you react to it?