Friday, June 22, 2012

Discussion: Stereotypes and Being White

I can be a horribly unfocused person, and I allow a ridiculous amount of time to pass between finishing a book and reviewing it. So while typing reviews it is not uncommon for me to head over to Goodreads and scroll through others' comments to get myself back into the story so I can write about it. Just recently I was doing this and noticed a blogger whose opinion I highly value differed from mine in the extreme. Now I realize we all don't all agree on everything nor should we want to. However, when someone whom I look to for recommendations is so upset by what she found in a novel I thoroughly enjoyed, I can't help but needing to know why.

The blogger I'm talking about is Steph Su, and the book in question is Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo.

I was a little surprised when I saw Steph wasn't even able to finish this novel, so I had to read her entire review to know why she felt so strongly. I could definitely understand her issues with Alina - the self-doubt certainly grated on my nerves at times. I could also understand her view of "telling" statements - it would have been nice to show the reader what the palace and the queen were like. And I could understand the questionable research - my lack of Russian history and culture is abominable so I won't pretend to know better, but there were a few eyebrows raised while reading.

All of these things were fairly obvious to me, too. Steph, being a more critical reviewer than I am (and I say this with the utmost respect - there is no other blogger who makes me think about writing and plots and character development as she does), was bothered by things I saw but looked past. We're different, and that's okay. However, Steph actually got angry with the stereotypes she found in this book - stereotypes I didn't even recognize. This really made me think.

I am white. I come from a middle class family. Other than being a woman, I have never really experienced prejudices. Obviously this is a good thing for me; my life has been relatively easy. However, this fact, of which I truly have no control, makes me feel guilty at times. How often do I look past stereotypes because they don't affect me? Am I perpetuating the cycle by standing silently aside? These are the sorts of thoughts going through my head since reading Steph's review.

Now Steph's review did not change my opinion of this novel. Despite its flaws, it swept me up and into another world and gave me a want for more high fantasy. I loved this story way more than I anticipated, and I will eagerly await its sequel. What Steph's review did was make me think about stereotypes in a new light. I hope it brings even more discussion and we might all learn how hurtful even unintentional stereotyping can be.

*I contacted Steph regarding this post and received her full support in referencing her thoughts and opinions.

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