Tag Archives: books

Lying on the Cover

by Guest Contributor Neesha Meminger

There’s been a great firestorm of controversy over Justine Larbalestier’s cover for her recently released novel, Liar. Ms. Larbalestier is the Australian-born author of How to Ditch Your Fairy and other fantasy/sci-fi titles. She has a wide fan base. She is married to Scott Westerfeld, best-selling author of the Uglies series. Together, they are a veritable, YA fantasy/sci-fi powerhouse.

The frukkus around Liar is because, in the book, the character describes herself as “black with nappy hair” which she wears short and natural. The cover image is of a white girl with long, straight hair.

Some have argued that the model could be of mixed race, or just a light-skinned black woman. The fact of the matter is that regardless of what she could be, within a racist context, most people looking at that cover would assume the model was white. Besides which, she clearly does not have short, nappy hair.

On her blog, Larbalestier has a picture of WNBA star, Alana Beard, who she thinks is more like what her character should look like. According to a report on Mediabistro’s Galleycat blog, Larbalestier was initially thrilled with her cover. They state that, back in April, she put this up on her blog:

“This cover was so well received by sales and marketing at Bloomsbury that for the first time in my career a cover for one of my books became the image used for the front of the catalogue . . . Apparently all the big booksellers went crazy for it. My agent says it was a huge hit in Bologna. And at TLA many librarians and teenagers told me they adore this cover.”

If this is true (I haven’t gone through her backposts), as an author I can relate to the excitement she must’ve felt at all the hoopla surrounding her book (okay, not really relate, because I haven’t ever experienced that, but it must’ve been awesome). But as an author of color, I’m saddened that the first thing to occur to her wasn’t how inaccurately her main character was depicted and what the implications of this could be. Continue reading

Reflections on Lola [The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao] (Part 1 of 2)

by Latoya Peterson

*Note – Spoilers and lengthy.*


My mother would never win any awards, believe me. You could call her an absentee parent: if she wasn’t at work she was sleeping and when she was around it seemed all she did was scream and hit. As kids, me and Oscar were more scared of our mother than we were of the dark or el cuco. She would hit us anywhere, in front of anyone, always free with the chanclas and the correa, but now with her cancer there’s not much she can do anymore. The last time she tried to whale on me it was because of my hair, but instead of cringing or running I punched her hand. It was a reflex more than anything, but once it happened, I knew I couldn’t take it back, not ever, and so I just kept my fist clenched, waiting for whatever came next, for her to attack me with her teeth like she did to this one lady in the Pathmark. But she just stood there shaking, in her stupid wig and her stupid bata, with two large foam prostheses in her bra, the smell of burning wig all around us. I almost felt sorry for her. This is how you treat your mother? she cried.

And if I could have I would have broken the entire length of my life across her face, but instead I screamed back, And this is how you treat your daughter?

Things had been bad between us all year. How could they not have been? She was my Old World Dominican mother and I was her only daughter, the one she had raised up herself with the help of nobody, which meant it was her duty to keep me crushed under her heel. I was fourteen and desperate for my own patch of world that had nothing to do with her. I wanted the life that I used to see when I watched Big Blue Marble as a kid, the life that drove me to make pen pals and to take atlases home from school. The life that existed beyond Paterson, beyond my family, beyond Spanish. As soon as she became sick I saw my chance, and I’m not going to pretend or apologize; I saw my chance and eventually, I took it.

If you didn’t grow up like I did then you don’t know, and if you don’t know then it’s probably better you don’t judge.

You don’t know the hold our mothers have on us, even the ones that are never around – especially the ones that are never around. What it’s like to be the perfect Dominican daughter, which is just a nice way of saying a perfect Dominican slave. You don’t know what it’s like to grow up with a mother who never said a positive thing in her life, not about her children or the world, who was always suspicious, always tearing you down and splitting your dreams straight down the seams. When my first pen pal, Tomoko, stopped writing me after three letters, she was the one who laughed: You think someone’s going to lose life writing to you? Of course, I cried; I was eight and I had already planned that Tomoko and her family would adopt me. My mother of course saw clean into the marrow of those dreams and laughed. I wouldn’t write to you either, she said. She was that kind of mother: who makes you doubt yourself, who would wipe you out if you let her. But I’m not going to pretend either. For a long time I believed her. I was a fea, and I was worthless, I was an idiota.

The Wildwood, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

My eyes drank in every word of Wildwood, the second chapter in Junot Díaz’s novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. On the plane from Baltimore to Austin, the narrative gripped me solidly by the throat, turning a casual curiosity about Oscar into a desperate longing to hear more from his sister Lola.

When the plane touched down, my sweatshirt was crunchy with the salt from shed tears and I had run through six napkins while the story unfolded. I grabbed my bags, and called my boyfriend who had been badgering me about reading the novel for some months now.

“Why didn’t you mention Lola?” I asked.

“Who? Oscar’s sister? Why is that…oh.” His voice suddenly bloomed with recognition and we sat in silence for a few seconds. Continue reading

The Politics of Wizards and Vampires

by Guest Contributor Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, originally published at Write.Live.Repeat

Twilight, the movie, comes out this week. It is based upon the bestselling novel by Stephenie Meyer, and, like the book, is said by many to be the “next Harry Potter,” meaning it is the first young-reader book series to come close to the astronomical sales of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Meyer still has a lot of catching up to do, having sold “just” 17 million books worldwide, compared to Rowling’s 400 million.

While both sets of books deal with children and their adventures with the supernatural, that is where the similarities end. Potter is aimed at a slightly younger demographic (9 to 12) and is loved by boys and girls alike; Twilight appeals mostly to older girls (14 to 19) and their sexually frustrated mothers.

The most startling difference between Twilight and Potter, however, is not demographical; it is ideological.

Put simply, Rowling and Potter live on the left; Meyer and Edward dwell on the right. Continue reading

On Race and YA Lit

by Guest Contributor Neesha Meminger

Young Adult (YA) literature has exploded in recent years with the phenomenal success of the Harry Potter books, the Chronicles of Narnia, Tuck Everlasting, Lord of the Rings, the Gossip Girl series, The Princess Diaries, and the more recent Twilight series to name a few right off the top of my head. There are some who look down their noses at YA lit and don’t consider it real literature. But, given the success of the aforementioned novels and series, I blow a big, fat raspberry in those people’s general direction.

Kidding. But, seriously. My guess is that the reason all those titles, and many, many others in the YA or MG (middle grade) categories have been so successful is that they reach across age barriers. If you look at the audiences for Harry Potter, Gossip Girl, Lord of the Rings and Twilight – books and movies – you’ll find fans ranging from nine-year-olds all the way through to the middle-aged, paunch set. The same cannot be said for high literary novels, or children’s books. YA and upper MG novels are right smack in the middle and appeal to that vast swath of almost-adult to inching-out-of-adulthood readers. There are often subtle, mature themes, and usually no gratuitous violence or sex.

I write YA because that is a time that ideals were still strong and fresh.

When I write, it is as if I was on the cusp of adulthood where things were still simple: good and bad were easy to define, as were right and wrong. It was a time when my inner life was more vivid than my outer and there were constant, brutal clashes between the two. It was a time where creativity was wild, unencumbered by the expectations and restrictions of adulthood. Anger, pain, joy – all were raw, enormous forces. It is still the place I go when I am seeking unrefined, unfiltered Truth.

My first novel, a YA release, comes out in March, 2009, and the road to getting it published has been full of surprises. I belong to a group of first time authors with Young Adult (YA) and Middle Grade (MG) novels coming out in 2009. We are all working together to promote our first novels. We share resources, commiserate about bumps and bruises along the way, and rejoice in one another’s accomplishments. It is completely voluntary, and no one is obligated to do anything they don’t want to, except participate in whatever capacity they can. The group is a wonderful social and networking space with some amazingly talented authors and many future stars.

And yet, something about the group caught my notice.

I don’t have any hard data or statistics in front of me, but several weeks ago as I was answering questions for my first online author interview, I was startled to realize that I was one of three YA authors of Color debuting in 2009. Continue reading

Casting Out: Exploring the Racialization of Muslims

by Special Correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie

I just finished reading Sherene H. Razack’s Casting Out: The Eviction of Muslims from Western Law & Politics (2008). And I gotta say, it blew me onto my ass.

Razack is the author of several books, including Looking White People in the Eye: Gender, Race, and Culture in Courtrooms and Classrooms, and her work in race theory definitely shows in Casting Out. She uses plenty of theory and excellent cross-racial examples to illustrate that what’s currently happening to Muslims in the West (racialization that results in “the expulsion of Muslims from the political community, a process that takes the form of stigmatization, surveillance, incarceration, torture, and bombing”) has happened to other groups before.

She first argues that Muslims are racialized through “race thinking”, which “divides up the world between the deserving and the undeserving, according to descent.” The racialization of Islam and Muslims is something the editors and I have been wanting to address on Racialicious for awhile, but I haven’t quite known how to begin; Razack’s book provides the perfect springboard.

Islam is represented in mainstream media as South/West Asian brown-skinned people who are bearded and turbaned or veiled and hidden: this racializes Islam.

Continue reading

Open Thread: What are We Reading?

by Latoya Peterson


I already know the Racialicious community likes to read. But exactly what kinds of books are we reading?

Here’s what I’ve been paging through over the past few weeks.

Books:

You’re So Money: Live Rich, Even When You’re Not
, Farnoosh Torabi
Home Girls Make Some Noise: A Hip-Hop Feminist Anthology, edited by Gwendolyn D. Pough (and others)
Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop, edited by Jeff Chang
The Outlaw Demon Wails, Kim Harrison
In the Miso Soup, Ryu Murakami
Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies, and the Truth About Reality, Brad Warner
Hungry Planet: What the World Eats, Peter Menzel

Eyeing for next month: Shock Doctrine (Naomi Klein), Pleasure (Eric Jerome Dickey), Kushiel’s Mercy (Jacqueline Carey), Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny (Amartya Sen)

Manga:

Death Note, Vol. 3
xxxHOLiC, Vol. 11
Godchild Vol. 3


Magazines:

Shojo Beat, Fast Company, Elle, Colorlines, Women’s Health, Glamour, Shape, Self, Black Enterprise, Marie Claire, Lucky, Kiplingers

Your turn. Don’t be afraid to list the fluffy stuff.

It’s Baaack: Sweet Valley High Redux

by Guest Contributor Nadra Kareem, originally published at The Whirliest Girl

Years ago my mother was an avid reader of the Harlequin Romance series, while I read what some would view as the young adult version of those books—Sweet Valley High. From about fourth through sixth grade, I was obsessed with the central characters of the series, a pair of blond, blue-eyed Southern California twins named Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield. Now, I’ve learned that the books, first published about 25 years ago, are back. The series has been updated to include references to contemporary technology, such as email, the Internet and cell phones. But the most controversial change is that the Wakefield sisters will now be a Size 4 instead of a Size 6. The downsizing of the girls’ much touted tan frames has sparked debates on Feministing.com, as well as at the Dairi Burger site, a blog named after fictitious Sweet Valley’s favorite teen hotspot.

I’ve been unsettled to read comments from visitors to these sites who say that the Sweet Valley series is to blame for their development of eating disorders. The readers say that the books ingrained in them the notion that Size 6 was the ideal. This isn’t surprising because, in each book in the series, the twins’ size and height (5 feet 6) are emphasized. What I’ve forgotten in adulthood, however, is that the books actually contain character after character with dietary habits that fall under the umbrella of bulimia or anorexia. One mother’s use of diet pills during pregnancy is responsible for her daughter being born deaf. And characters constantly criticize each other for doing things like eating full plates of food or looking fat in their jeans. Those who aren’t thin are almost always viewed as being impaired, if not downright sub-human.

Wrote one visitor to the Dairi Burger Web site:

“Here I was, thinking I was the only one who developed an eating disorder after reading SVH. This is fucking hilarious!”

From reading the site’s revisionist retellings of the books, not only does the Sweet Valley High series promote dysfunctional eating, they are also filled with episodes of attempted rape and sexual abuse that are completely forgotten about later. As if that weren’t enough, the books are filled with classist/racist/heterosexist rhetoric.

“I don’t know how she can date him,” a character says about a classmate who is dating a Latino student. “He’s so ethnic and working class.” Continue reading

Claudia Kishi, Fashionistasian

by Guest Contributor Jen, originally published on Disgrasian

We were recently turned on to What Claudia Wore, a paean to the smart, sartorial stylings of fictional character Claudia Kishi, from the children’s book series The Baby-Sitters Club. Wikipedia describes the Japanese-American teen as someone who comes from a “scholarly, conservative family” (sounds about right) and is “particularly bad at spelling” (hmmm…). WCW’s author Alex points out time after time how very “now” Claud’s fashion choices are–from leggings to vests to rakish hats to oversized tops–and we couldn’t agree more:

PHANTOM CALLER: (breathy) What are you wearing?

CLAUDIA: I’m wearing an oversized chambray button-down, a Navajo-striped vest, and a bitchin’ side pony. I’m also armed with pepper-spray, asshole.

CLAUDIA: Black tights and knee-high boots for spring? Sure. Mochi ice cream, anyone, before we get this blowjob party started?

NEW GIRL: Claudia, please, tell me what you think of my outfit.

CLAUDIA: Keep the Timberlands. Burn everything else.

MEAN JANINE: What are you doing with your life, Claudia? All you think about is clothes, clothes, clothes. What about your grades? How are you going to get into an Ivy League school when you’ve failed the seventh grade? Don’t you want to be successful like me?

CLAUDIA: Dude. Four-eyes. Chillax. Don’t you know how much that bob haircut ages you? You look like Mom after she squeezed us out, stopped having sex with Dad, and started hording the Rocky Road ice cream all to herself. Your outfit’s halfway to Sexy Secretary, but you might consider throwing on a big Alaia corset belt if you wanna get past second base.

(beat)

Can I borrow that high-waisted skirt when you’re done with it?