Highlights from #WeNeedDiverseBooks

I went through the #WeNeedDiverseBooks tag on Twitter (which is trending, by the way) and picked out some of my favorite posts to share. It’s one thing for me or any blogger to write a post about the need for diversity, but it’s a whole other thing to have so many people to come together to speak up about it. This is one of the greatest things about social networking. Even five years ago, having this much attention brought to the problem wouldn’t have been possible. 2 3

 

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#WeNeedDiverseBooks

With perfect timing, a new campaign is rolling out this week on May 1st in an attempt to connect people concerned with diversity in books across platforms. They ask participants to take a picture of themselves or a friend holding a sign that says “we need diverse books because _____” with a personal filling in the blank. They hope to get the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks to trend on Twitter and Tumblr to bring attention to the problem.

Diversity Representation

People of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and people with disabilities are highly under-represented in Young Adult literature by both characters and authorship.  The blog Diversity in YA analyzes how the young adult books on Publishers Weekly’s 2013 best seller list hold up with there diversity representation. Over all, the results show that representation is still as low as it was in 2012.

Lets Talk About Fan Fiction!

I’m not here to talk about why fan fiction is super awesome and you should all go read it. In fact I’ve never really read any (mostly because I’m sure if I start I will never be able to stop), but recently the way that fan fiction is treated by critics and how that affects the credibility of authors who have written it, particularly women writers. While I may not personally be a fan of fan fiction, I do understand the appeal of it, and I will maintain my belief that there is no genre that is inherently more valuable or credible than another. Mostly I’m here to argue that a person’s association with fan fiction should not discredit their work.

Recently I’ve noticed that there are more well known authors that got their start in fan faction. I don’t know whether there has been an actual increase or it just became apparent to me or if the media has just been making a bigger deal out of it because of the growth of the fan fiction community. Either way, there are a lot more than you think. Of course, the most well known and most joked about instance is that Fifty Shades of Gray by E.L. James started out as a Twilight fan fiction, but much better example of an author who has made it big after fan fiction is Cassandra Clare, who was fan fiction famous before before publishing her best-selling series The Mortal Instruments. In, 2001, before the first Mortal Instruments book was published, Clare was accused of plagiarism which caused a huge scandal that supposedly included Clare bullying many of her critics* and continued in the fan fiction community even until the release of the Mortal Instruments movie. Essentially, Clare used quotes and even whole passages of other authors works in her fan fictions with out citing them, and then later used pieces of her fan fiction in the Mortal Instruments. While reacting to these claims with bullying and inappropriate language is unacceptable, I wonder if these claims even have grounds to begin with. For one thing, fan fiction, if you’re going to get really picky, is inherently plagiarism. You’re taking another persons world and characters and using them for your own ideas. Furthermore, authors make references and homages to other works all the time, if it’s acceptable in big budget Hollywood and literature then it should be even more forgivable in fan fiction. Bestselling author and friend of Cassandra Clare, John Green commented on this fact, stating that his books probably come closer to crossing that line than the supposed plagiarism in Clare’s.

Cassandra Clare and E.L. James aren’t the only author who have received hate because of fan fiction. Here, Sarah Rees Brennan writes about her experiences of being accused of plagiarizing from the show Supernatural in her novel The Demon’s Lexicon. I don’t want to entirely restate Brennan’s opinions, but one of her main points is that women who wrote fan fiction in the past are unfairly criticized, hated, and deemed unworthy of the literary community.  Yet people like John Green would never receive this kind of hate. Neither would Neil Gaiman, a widely loved and esteemed author who has written Sherlock Holmes fan fiction. As Brennan mentions, when it’s literary men it’s not considered fan fiction it’s considered a “respectful homage”. Why the double standard?

*disclaimer: I can not comment or give an opinion on whether or not any accusations on Cassandra Clare’s character are true as I did not experience these events.

Why are white boys the “norm”?

It’s no secret that there is a double standard in literature that states that girls can and should relate to boy protagonists in the media they consume but boys should stay away from all things girly. I could go on and on about my opinions on this, but SorayaChemaly gives  every thing that I would like to say on the matter in this thought provoking article. She talks about why this trend is harmful to girls as well as why being forced into over masculinity is harmful to boys and she delves some into the importance of media representation for marginalized groups.

Why I Like Mockingjay

I (like many people) am a pretty big fan of the Hunger Games. I could go on and on about how the series as a whole comments on society in America, all together has interesting and well-rounded characters, but we can mostly all agree on that. However, I’ve had several friends tell me that they didn’t like Mockingjay and since the movie is coming up relatively soon I thought it was a pretty good time to explain why I think I disagree with them, and what we can understand by analyzing why some people don’t like the book. The way I see it, the people who do not like Mockingjay are missing the entire point of the book and, in a way, are just solidifying that point: that there is no black and white, good guys or bad guys, in a war.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

Before I can talk about why I like the book, we need to look at why a lot of people do dislike it. See, the typical Revolution Action Movie Trope has taught us to expect an exciting story of glory and blood, with an underdog rebellion with whom we can sympathize. Take for instance, the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars or the main characters in the Matrix. Going into Mockingjay we’re excited that Katniss is finally with the mystical rebels of District 13, we think she will finally truly get to be the Mockingjay and whoop some Capitol butt. However, we are quickly trapped along with Katniss into a world of PTSD, sly political undertakings, manipulations and a whole lot of hiding in a cabinet. We want some justice for the horrors our beloved protagonist went through in the Hunger Games but instead we see her forced into more make overs when she begrudgingly agrees to be the Mockingjay (heck, she’s not even being a proper hero!) and the battles that do happen are anything but glorifying, they’re devastating and terrifying. This breaking of people’s expectations leaves them disappointed. We have to analyze why it is we have these expectations and what it means that Suzanne Collins chose to break them.

We expect the resistance to be gritty underdog with appropriate morals. We expect an ‘American Dream’-esque story of success. We expect the hero to be reluctant, but still passionate about the cause. We expect – for the most part – the good guys to be good guys and the bad guys to be bad guys. All of these expectations are left unfulfilled in Mockingjay. Katniss has spent the entire series being forced into situations that she doesn’t want to be in, and every time we think she will get a reprieve she’s thrown to the sharks again. We (and Katniss) think that who ever wins the Games is golden for the rest of their lives, but being a Victor takes away what little freedom Katniss had forcing her into a relationship with Peeta and eventually back into the Games. We think the revolution will finally allow Katniss some say in her fate, but instead she’s thrown into yet another authoritarian government that uses her just as much, if not more, than the Capitol. We find out that the Resistance is far from better than the Capitol, and it’s really frustrating. We want it to fit into our little story molds, but it just doesn’t and neither does the real world. The point is, that both sides of the war are out for themselves, they don’t stand on any moral high ground, and they don’t have our hero’s best interest at heart. We see reflections of the Capitol in District 13’s actions: forcing Katniss into make overs, televised broadcasts designed to depict Katniss as they see fit, cruel treatment of prisoners. The fact that they design a set, and do Katniss’ makeup to make her look as if she is a dramatic war hero directly comments on the shallowness of it all: that’s how we readers want to see her. We’re forced to consider that maybe all the things we see on screen aren’t necessarily true. As more and more atrocities occur, our trust in President Coin disappears until Katniss kills her. Even then the system is corrupted because Katniss doesn’t even have a say (or seemingly much interest) in her own trial.

So, what can we take from all of this? Mockingjay shows us that there really is no glory in war, but there is astounding death, loss and tragedy. Especially in war, there is no clear cut good and bad. Katniss’ is not immune to the effects of death and tragedy, just because she happens to be a ‘war hero’. She’s filled with so much hatred, that she does what seems to be unthinkable to us readers and votes to put the country through one final Hunger Games. Ultimately, everyone has light and darkness with in them; darkness can be overwhelming but it’s always possible to find the light again. I think those are all pretty important lessons.

Buy Mockingjay on Amazon