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Kindred by Octavia Butler – A powerful historical/sci-fi; absolutely exceptional in every way

kindred

Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother.

Kindred is a truly outstanding book. Not only is it the first science-fiction written by a black author Рmaking it an incredible piece of black American literature Рbut it is an amazing book by its own merits. And there are many.

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21

Diversity Spotlight Thursday #2

diversity-spotlight

Welcome to my¬†second¬†Diversity Spotlight Thursday! ūüíö¬†This wonderful weekly blog meme was created and is hosted by Aimal at Bookshelves and Paperbacks! For more information about the meme, please read the announcement post here.

My participation in this meme is to help me with one of my reading goals: to read books with a variety of perspectives, especially ones different from my own. Every two weeks I will share with you:

  1. A diverse book you have read and enjoyed
  2. A diverse book that has already been released but you have not read
  3. A diverse book that has not yet been released

I wanted to do a theme for this week’s Diversity Spotlight – so this week’s theme is: books with Asian characters or inspired by Asian mythology.

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42

Let’s Talk About: ‚ÄėIssues‚Äô Stories, Happy Stories & Why We Need Both

issues-and-happy

Earlier this month in October, T wrote a thread on Twitter about criticizing problematic portrayals that are ‘realistic’. The idea of today’s discussion post came to me after reading T’s tweets, and I felt compelled¬†to reflect on¬†my preference of books that tackle marginalized social identities.

In today’s¬†Let’s Talk About, I talk about¬†the importance of reading books that explore social issues, particularly those relating to¬†people of marginalized identities and what they may face and experience, as well as why it is important – in fact,¬†necessary¬†– to have happy stories too.

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31

Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee

notyoursidekick

Welcome to Andover‚Ķ where superpowers are common, but internships are complicated. Just ask high school nobody, Jessica Tran. Despite her heroic lineage, Jess is resigned to a life without superpowers and is merely looking to beef-up her college applications when she stumbles upon the perfect (paid!) internship‚ÄĒonly it turns out to be for the town‚Äôs most heinous supervillain. On the upside, she gets to work with her longtime secret crush, Abby, who Jess thinks may have a secret of her own. Then there‚Äôs the budding attraction to her fellow intern, the mysterious ‚ÄúM,‚ÄĚ who never seems to be in the same place as Abby. But what starts as a fun way to spite her superhero parents takes a sudden and dangerous turn when she uncovers a plot larger than heroes and villains altogether.

Let me introduce to you my new favourite book.

Not Your Sidekick is one remarkable, superpowered book. It has everything that I want in a book: it has superheroes and supervillains, a lovable Asian protagonist, gorgeous friendships, and heart-melting crushes. Though the pieces of Not Your Sidekick may sound familiar, Lee has crafted a beautifully cohesive story that puts a refreshing spin on the increasingly hackneyed superhero narrative. Needless to say, I was enthralled by this book.

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90

Let’s Talk About: My Problem With The Word ‘Diverse’

word diverse 2

I don’t think it needs to be said, but I’ll say it anyway: I’m pro-diversity, and there’s no buts about it. Heck, do you remember when I talked about why I¬†needed representation as a child and need it now as an adult? That still stands; nothing has changed. I still need representation.

However, the more I hear it, the more ‘off’ the word ‘diverse’ feels¬†to me.¬†I keep hearing how people want more ‘diverse’ characters, and how this book had a ‘diverse’ character which made the book awesome. I don’t doubt those opinions (on the contrary,¬†I am confident they are pure in intention) but it is strange seeing characters – representations of¬†people¬†– described as ‘diverse’.

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0

Black Looks: Race and Representation by bell hooks

black looksI owe bell hooks. I have owed bell hooks ever since my encounter with her writing in my final year in university, wherein we analyzed¬†the importance of intersectionality and the potential problems of white feminism¬†and how it has a tendency to be a form of cultural imperialism with the guise¬†of ‘equality’. In other words, I have loved bell hooks ever since her words empowered me as a PoC feminist.

Black Looks: Race and Representation¬†by bell hooks contains 12 essays that centralize its focus and analysis on blackness and representation of blackness in the media. As an intersectional feminist, I think it is necessary praxis to listen, understand and broaden one’s awareness of a range of issues that affect different people of colour so that we can be good allies. And though this book is predominantly about blackness, the sentiment and¬†Black Looks¬†is accessible, educational and still relevant today, even though it was written in 1992.

Something that particularly stood out for me was hook’s observation that solidarity is often formed via shared pain – that we can develop connections with others through our experiences of pain, namely self-hatred, overt prejudice and issues of identity. However, hooks argues that it is equally important – or¬†more¬†important – that we, as¬†people of colour, should also construct language that is positive, and about loving and affirming what makes us different in the realm of white supremacy.

Though critical consciousness is necessary, and it can be painful to confront and change our internalized racism and self-hatred, hooks asserts that self-affirmation, supporting one another and recognition that our experiences are not monolithic are important in resisting oppressive systems that privilege and favour whiteness. This particular point served as an important reminder for me to not only bring awareness and arouse consciousness in those around me, but to also actively support and affirm my PoC peers and encourage self-love.

To construct language that affirms our identities, to encourage self-love and acceptance in our ourselves and each other is so important, especially when most of us who grow up surrounded with images that elevate and celebrate whiteness and diminishes or reinforce stereotypes of non-whiteness will feel pain, confusion and alienation. Supporting each other, our brothers and sisters, is something vital to bridge those gaps of alienation and to heal those wounds.

hooks also talks a lot about representation of blackness in the media, and how sexism intersects with racism in such portrayals. She also shares her experiences with her discussions with other people of colour, especially black women, and also the white people she taught in her classes. A particular statement she makes, which I deeply agree with, asserts:

Within white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, forgetfulness is encouraged.

Too often have I heard people make calls to forget about history, that the past is the past, and to ‘move on’ from the past — never mind that the effects of the past, of history, of memories of violence enacted on people of colour, remain; still hurting us, and the very violence people¬†abhor and discourage happen today. From that, bell hooks offers an important discussion on the importance of memory, solidarity and¬†resisting erasure.

To those who are not black and do not know the struggles of blackness (and may struggle with this book), it is especially important for us to read, listen, absorb and understand. I took much from this book. I encourage people to read this book if they want to gain insight on perspectives and approaches on blackness, gender and sex, media and identity.

Rating: 4/5

Book Information
Book Name: Black Looks: Race and Representation
Author: bell hooks
Pages: 200
Publisher: South End Press

0

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Girl in TranslationI feel like I should read more diasporia/immigrant experience novels because, for the most part, Girl in Translation was a validating, emotionally engaging and a comforting reading experience. I also feel like Girl in Translation has given me the push that I needed to find more immigrant experience literature, in an attempt to understand a variety of perspectives.

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok tells the story of Kimberly Chan, a young Chinese girl who emigrates to America from Hong Kong with her mother, and her new life that follow Рliving in poverty and working in a sweatshop, the conflict of beliefs and worldviews, and the prejudice and experience as a foreigner.

There were so many things that I identified with in Girl in Translation.¬†Although I am not an immigrant but am a citizen in my¬†country, it’s incredible how close our¬†experiences aligned regardless. The language barriers,¬†the alienation and becoming the alienated, or the deep-seated fear of being too different as well as losing yourself in the attempt to be the same as everyone else – these are experiences most diasporic/immigrant children will have at some point in their lives, which is why it is necessary and important to talk about.¬†As Hanisch said, ‘the personal is political’.

Something that¬†Girl in Translation¬†does well is how Kwok, for the most part, seamlessly integrates the Chinese perspective into her narrative. Kimberly’s surprise, naivety and confusion of Western thinking was extremely important – not only for me, because I grew up surrounded by the Western way of thinking – but for others also, as it should challenge what we consider and endorse as normal. The narrative encourages the reader to¬†analyze what we unconsciously normalize and perpetuate as hegemony. In a way, I feel like this is an attempt to dismantle the idea that the Western way is the better¬†and default way. Kimberly’s resistance to these social norms and ideas is important in this book, as it also confronts the reader with the raw experience of what it is like to be a foreigner in a place that is supposed to be your home.

Kimberly’s dedication and ambition to give her Mother a better life was something that really touched me. As an individual that chooses and upholds values of filial piety – the feeling of ‘duty’ to one’s parents and family – this is something that hits close to home. Though this isn’t thoroughly explored, the clash of Western and Eastern values and being caught in the middle can sometimes be painful and extremely confusing, e.g. Chinese ‘face’ versus the Western ‘do stupid shit while you’re young’.¬†Though Kimberly comes out of this conflict a little differently than what I imagined, that resolution and coming to terms with who you are is a rite of passage all diasporic/immigrant should face.

As many reviewers before me have said, though the book starts off extremely well and hits hard on the details of immigrant experience, the further this book progresses, the more it loses its boldness and its way. I hoped that Girl in Translation would remain an exploration of her experiences as a Chinese growing up in America (not just in childhood), but half way it becomes a bittersweet romance. And although one could fairly argue that the romance is a part of growing up and exploration of unique experiences, I had hoped that Kwok would explore psychological and socio-cultural struggles further, because your teenage years are the most confusing identity-wise Рand what better time and place to write about them?

The second half felt like a compromise for the poor, poor people who couldn’t bring themselves to understand the trials and challenging perspective of the first half. Furthermore, Kimberly seems to relent to the Western way so easily that it’s amazing she had those emotional experiences in the first place. Knowing my own experience and the experiences of many others, this felt unrealistic to me. This was the most disappointing¬†aspect of the book. The only consolation was that, in the end, Kimberly confronts the Eastern perspective¬†through another character, though this is done so poorly that it’s almost condescending – for anyone who doesn’t understand the character in question’s¬†perspective and why he said the things he did, he would have been portrayed as an¬†asshole, which would have undone any attempt to develop an emotional connection through intimate experience with the reader.

Maybe I expect too much from this book, because Girl in Translation began as the book I never wrote. Maybe I should resolve this by actually writing my own book. Sigh.

Nonetheless, though¬†Girl in Translation¬†has an ending that does its beginning no justice (mind you, it’s not entirely disappointing; there are some merits), it’s an important novel, and perhaps a starting point for people with like experiences to reach out to each other, connect¬†with each other and develop a sense of solidarity through these shared experiences.

Rating: 3/5

Book Information
Book: Girl in Translation
Author: Jean Kwok
Publisher: Riverhead
Pages: 304