A found family of rogue thieves now battle it out for their home turf.
Genre: YA, Fantasy, LGBTIA+
No. of pages: 546
When you can’t beat the odds, change the game.
Kaz Brekker and his crew of deadly outcasts have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives.
Double-crossed and badly weakened, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties.
A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets – a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world.
A great conclusion to this duology. Leigh Bardugo can really craft a story and manufacture a realistic plot that pays dividends to the main cast of characters. I thoroughly enjoyed entering the Grishaverse once again.
It did feel a bit too long, and that was compounded by each chapter following a different character. Granted the plot was moved forward with each chapter, but it needed to re-establish the character, surrounds and frequently indulged in a flashback. It is all valuable and important information, but did bog down the pacing somewhat. I also would have had no idea who was controlling the narrative if it weren’t for the chapter headings identifying who we were following as there wasn’t much difference in the voice of each character.
There is a lot that goes on in this novel, which isn’t a surprise given a length of 536 pages. It’s all wheeling and dealing, out-smarting foes, plotting, while forming a family between this band of thieves and thugs. So there is plenty to enjoy.
We get some great representation: able-bodiedness. Of Kaz with a physical impediment and needing to rely on a cane most times. Wylan, dealing with dyslexia… and body dysmorphia to an extent, as well as identifying as gay. Jesper, a bisexual. And all of them representing different races and persons of colour and religious beliefs. It really lets the reader walk in someone else’s shoes different from their own.
As much as I loved reading these characters and their exploits, and they are dear to my heart, I don’t necessarily like all of them. But it’s a result of the lives they’ve lives and the sacrifices they’ve had to make. ‘Crooked Kingdom’ delivers a realistic masterpiece of facing overwhelming odds to achieve the impossible.
Overall feeling: Diversity and complexity in one read!
Revisiting the Grishaverse with a magic heist and a mixed-bag of miscreants.
Genre: YA, Fantasy
No. of pages: 465
Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone. . . .
A convict with a thirst for revenge
A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager
A runaway with a privileged past
A spy known as the Wraith
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes
Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.
Inspired by an ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ billboard while driving with author friend Holly Black, Leigh Bardugo incepted the magical heist duology that is ‘Six of Crows‘ and ‘Crooked Kingdom.’ I have to admit, the ‘Six of Crows’ duology and the ‘Shadow and Bone’ trilogy had been sitting on my TBR shelf for years, and it was only the advent of the television series that prompted me to finally reading them before its release.
‘Six of Crows’ is set in the same universe as Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone trilogy, but takes place in a different country and follows a different group of characters.
The story follows six outcasts, known as the Dregs, who live in the city of Ketterdam. They are Kaz Brekker, a criminal mastermind and leader of the Dregs; Inej Ghafa, a spy and assassin; Jesper Fahey, a sharpshooter; Nina Zenik, a Grisha who can control the human body or heart renderer (think blood mage); Matthias Helvar, a former drüskelle who hunts Grisha; and Wylan Van Eck, a demolitions expert. The six of them are hired to pull off an impossible heist – to break into the impenetrable Ice Court and steal a valuable scientist.
The book is filled with action, adventure, and plot twists that kept me engaged. The characters are well-developed, diverse, and each have their own unique personality and backstory. The dynamic between the characters full of comradery and tension, with each member of the team having a different role to play in the heist. This group is the epitome of a found family.
The diversity of the characters is expertly achieved, not just in terms of ethnicity and race but also in terms of gender and sexual orientation. This adds a unique aspect to the story and allows for a wide readership to see themselves reflected in the characters. It was also easy to tell the characters voices apart – which given the number of characters, is a tremendous feat.
For me there was a bit of a slow pacing for the first half of the book. To the point I was wondering how this book got such great reviews. Told in multiple points of view, it was after this halfway mark the story really ramped up. Oh, and don’t get me started on how ‘Six of Crows’ ends on a major cliff-hanger… brilliant writing and had me wanting to jump into ‘Crooked Kingdom’ immediately.
So much of the transgender experience is hidden, but that doesn’t mean it is any less worthy of love. Enjoying the diverse reads and #ownvoices novels coming out – it widens my perspective and helps my heart grow.
I was thinking over the BLM movement, and casting an eye back to an article I had written in 2014 regarding Indigenous characters in popular Australian YA fiction (you can read it here) and how the landscape has evolved recently.
This is not going to be an article on politics, or black deaths in custody, but rather what I have witnessed in the publishing landscape and my own personal experience throughout my reading lifetime around discrimination that has held back diversity.
It’s great to see POC representation much more prominent in today’s new releases. Diversity in race, gender, sexual orientation… it only serves to enrich and educate the reader. Which, apart from escapism, are the main reasons I read in the first place.
I still want to see more Australian Indigenous characters represented in our literature, particularly YA where we are introducing younger readers into literature.
In Australia, as in the US, only certain stories are allowed to take centre stage in our literary culture and the universal subject is still presumed to be a white, middle-class, cis-gendered, heterosexual and fully-abled male. The more deviations from this (limited and highly problematic) notion of personhood you possess, the more estranged from the centre you become.
“Thanks to a recent report from Macquarie University we know that within the genre of fiction in Australia, 65.2% of literary fiction writers, 76.2 % of genre fiction writers and 86.9% of children’s book authors are women. This makes those graphs showing that men get far more reviews than women all the more infuriating. But, as yet, we don’t have the figures for racial or ethnic diversity.
How many Indigenous writers are published each year? How many non-white writers are published? And what kinds of books are being published?
Part of this lack, I think, comes from constraints placed on writers who are “othered” by the industry. For example, I think that it is probably easier for an indigenous author to be published if they write about epic struggles, rather than breezy romantic comedy. Likewise, I think that migrant writers will have an easier time getting into print if they follow the well-established trope of the happy, grateful migrant.” Natalie Kon-yu Lecturer in Creative and Professional Literature and Gender Studies, Victoria University.
For a moment I want to take a short side trip to discuss the culture of discrimination, assimilation, and the Christianising of the indigenous population that I personally witnessed as a child. It may shine a light on the culture Indigenous people face in the community at large, let alone in the publishing landscape.
Police would routinely round up local aboriginals about our outback town of Alice Springs, (where there is an intersection of close to 60 tribal lands) because business owners would report them as a nuisance, (note: not breaking the law, but just a hindrance to them conducting their business, or an eyesore) then the officers would throw them into the back of the paddy wagon and see if they would bounce. I had friends in school who were of the stolen generation. The church would remove young indigenous children from their families to be educated (*cough*civilized*cough*) in order to save their souls. Because native Australians apparently had no souls. But what did all this assimilation really mean? It meant the indigenous population could then be cooks, cleaners, governesses, manual labour. No right to vote, to own property, just some form of indoctrinated slavery… short of being owned and sold off for money. I’d even heard first hand of how aboriginal women (and girls) were frequently raped. People held their breath when walking past them in public because they smelled awful. I won’t mention the names and slang parents and friends had for our native Australians. They were a joke, less than, diminished. And this is what they would let a child see and know about. Role models like police, priests and nuns, nurses, doctors, parents, business owners, they all exhibited this behaviour for children to see, out in the open on a daily basis. Think about that… this was deemed appropriate for kids; imagine the things that were inappropriate. It make me shudder.
Once I hit my teens, the culture was changing. Maybe it had a bit to do with the capitalisation of the Aboriginal culture through tourism. Aussies were proud to tout Dreamtime, tour sacred sites, sell dot artwork and digeridoos, spears, and wangaras… but you didn’t actually see an indigenous Australian running the show, or reaping the profits of such endeavours. In school we learnt Arande (an aboriginal dialect) as a part of our language course, bush survival skills and bush tucker from local aboriginal elders. The government were starting to offer benefits and handouts to the local aboriginals, and we never saw any more families being torn apart ‘for their own good.’ There were purpose built Aboriginal communities on the government dime… so some progress, but still a way off from the respect native Australians deserved as people. If you stood up for the Aboriginal population and the discrimination they faced, you were laughed at, dismissed, labelled a hippie. It was such a mixed message. So growing up in Australia, in particular, close to Aboriginal tribal lands and settlements, our native Australians were treated abhorrently… and this is firsthand knowledge, behaviour that was out in the open for everyone to see. Gosh I hate to even imagine the type of abuse and discrimination that went on out of the public eye.
My friends (and now family members) are Aboriginal and people of colour, and I was so confused growing up. Why did we treat people that way? Why did grown-ups think it was okay to hurt someone else? Coming of age in a small outback town was intense tutelage in race dynamics. We were isolated. I’d only ever met German or Swedish back packers, a number of Vietnamese of Chinese locals (and they experienced the same discrimination) apart from the Aboriginals: when I finally left home and moved to the city and discovered the wider world, Torres Strait Islanders, Maori’s, my brain just about exploded. Why did we dismiss or exclude our immediate neighbours?
I don’t need to mention that women in the workplace were mostly relegated to secretaries and department store sales if they dare step away from child-rearing. Being gay was seen a weak and an anomaly; publically shunned, ignored, or turned into a joke. There was no diversity of the LGBTQIA+ banner. It’s sad to say but all those terrible ‘80’s movie stereotypes weren’t too far removed from my reality. And to be honest, I don’t think I ever met anyone confined to a wheelchair, blind, chromosomally challenged – those individuals were removed from mainstream schooling to a place with specialised services, or home-schooled. Effectively erasing their existence from the youth’s consciousness.
I was scared to say anything about my experiences, because even though I was a child, a spectator, what does it say about me? I witnessed this discrimination and, frankly, criminal activity and did nothing.
As an adult and teacher I try my best to be inclusive in my ethos – elements of feminism and Aboriginal culture in all areas of the curriculum. Fair representation in literature, history, culture, politics, role models. Teaching awareness and critical thinking. I act with my vote, I act with my dollar. I’m not able to take to the streets and scream about the injustices, throw controversial topics of conversation in the faces of my peers and bosses. That would put an end to my career, label me as combative. Instead, it’s about a balanced conversation, opening people’s eyes rather than an in-your-face confrontation. Maybe it’s a part of my upbringing. Learning to manoeuvre in the background. Instigate change in increments. There is also an element of not throwing stones at glass houses – an all-out assault calls for retaliation. I see it in our politics, in cancel culture… slow and steady stand of principles wins the race. We’re seeing many of those role models of my childhood being replaced with a more educated and diverse culture (or they are simply dying out.)
It gives me hope. Hope that our society is becoming more one. Human beings. Slowly removing bullying, hate culture, discrimination, racism. I’m starting to see reflections of this in literature. Representation like I’ve never seen it before. Old points of view in history challenged. Culture being preserved. Identity cherished.
Movements like BLM aren’t necessarily about literature and representation, they are about civil rights, abuse, murder, discrimination… but the knock on effect is that we are starting to see the rest of society take a good hard look at themselves. Am I participating in a culture that allows discrimination to go unchecked? What can I do to help instigate change for the better?
That’s what I hope most of us are thinking. It’s the world I want to live in. Granted not everyone has these views, and this discussion is only from my life’s perspective as Caucasian. But I hope it challenges you to think about the underlying attitudes behind the lack of diversity in popular literature. About not forgetting the past. About having the courage to stare the ugly truth in its face and knowing things have to change… and how to go about implementing that change.
My family in itself is diverse. We have people of colour, over 7 nationalities, diverse genders and sexual orientations.
I am seeing change for the better. Seeing diversity represented in the industries I work in, in literature. But every now and then the old attitudes raise their head… like when we were shopping, my friend a POC, the shop assistant hovering over him in the store like he was about to steal something. It’s not okay. Not acceptable. But thankfully in my community I see much less of this behaviour than from my childhood. I check people in their jokes or slang. Because those attitudes harm my family.
I hope we are going to start to see statistics on writers from diverse backgrounds – not just male and female. Witnessing the diversity trend in publishing at the moment warms my heart. It makes all those feelings of injustice from my youth have meaning. That I was not alone.
What is the percentage of your diverse reads? Look at the books you’ve read: how many are female authors, authors of colour, ownvoices authors, how many have a diverse main character?
With the world in a weird place right now – politics kinda scaring me, cancel culture burning through the internet, pandemics, weather catastrophes, huge social issues around discrimination and questioning a person’s right to live… and many of us are out of work, stuck at home wondering about our future, the security of our homes and families. My little list of goals for 2020 feel so trivial and somewhat irrelevant. This list was made in a time when I wasn’t fearing if I could put food on the table, have access to medical care, or being able to keep my house. But I know the planet will get through this. There will be a time of getting a back to normal – even if it is a new normal. So I will keep this list and track it for now. But depending on the direction of our communities and climates I may have to change and revisit my priorities towards the latter end of the year. So, for now, here’s an update on where I’m at on all things related to my reading and writing goals…
I’ve managed to get my TBR down from 453 to 417 so far with no new book purchases. With reading as widely in genre as I possibly can and the COVID-19 shutdown, I’ve managed to get a lot more reading accomplished, finishing off neglected series, discovering some more enjoyable reads, and it’s re-ignited my love for reading again. Though, admittedly, I haven’t made any inroads into my promise to include text books and reference material: mainly for professional development and feeding a curious mind. But I will get there.
Books I’ve managed to complete for June 2020
Scribe and scribble:
I have been determined to get my word count up and finish some projects this year – with three novels waiting final edits and 2 novels both at the halfway point… I have been writing, but in comparison to the previous three years I’m not getting as much work done. I know I took April off writing when sick, but I’m going to have to seriously pick up my game if I want to reach my goals. And this is the most important goal for me! I have to take a conservative look at my habits, stop making excuses, and put my head down and work!
The online certification in marketing that I wanted to finish in March is still waiting to get completed… it’s starting to feel boring and repetitive, but I just have to suck it up and get it done. With all this isolation, it was a prime time to knock off this achievement and I have dropped the ball. On a different note, I’ve been doing a lot of research and networking with other authors and the publishing industry, so it has not been a complete waste. Knowledge is knowledge.
The shutdown has meant no social interaction in person – which was the whole point of me including this in my goals list. Being a writer is pretty isolating and I was missing catching up with friends and being a social butterfly. Having some fun. Attending some writing conventions or workshops. Welp, nothing has happened here. Doh! Damn virus! Though I managed to catch up with nearly all my friends and family online as they suddenly had time to chat, skype, and email. So at least everyone knows I’m not dead.
All of the creative projects that I have earmarked have also screeched to a halt. Mainly because of the money I would need to spend (and shops I’d have to visit) to complete them. And with all my household out of work and social isolation still in place, getting my creative on has proven difficult. Though I have started making a list of new projects that I can complete without spending money or leaving the house… though it just feels like I’m adding to the list rather than completing the ones that I’m halfway through. For now, I’m concentrating on writing and raising our household’s income. The fun stuff is going to have to wait.
Everyone started having online garage sales with the self-isolation to help many losing their source of income. So it felt like the market was saturated and I was hesitant to join the fray. Plus I’m having to pick up the slack with the rest of the household unemployed. I can still earn and operate my business online, so I’ve been bidding for more writing gigs and leaving this clearing out of clutter and selling online business until I have the time and people are feeling confident with spending again.
Work that body:
I was actually starting to make progress with managing my health and fitness until the COVID-19 shutdown. My gym only opened last week. Though I was taking daily walks in the bushland behind my house, using the elliptical, and following some fitness workouts on YouTube, I’ve actually gained weight and lost mobility with the frequent flare-ups of my back injury and no access to specialised gym equipment and my chiropractor. I’m actually a little miserable at this back-slide.
My goal to start expanding my digital platform has made a little progress. More development in specifics of the ideas and their execution, but I still need a bit more knowledge to pull it off – unless I pay someone for it, and right now we’re watching our pennies. Plus I’d rather have the knowledge and control over my own business and intellectual property as much as I can. I’d hoped to have achieved more in this area by now, but I’m giving myself a break because of needing to concentrate on boosting my income and a few health issues taking up my time.
Overall, progress towards my goals for 2020 has been damned poor! But you know the world is a much different place now than what it was in January. Some of these goals may have to change to fit the climate… it’s just a bit of wait and see at the moment. Mainly everything is being swayed with members of this household trying to return to work, shops and businesses being closed or restricted in how they operate, public places still closed or restricting numbers… there are a lot of roadblocks but I’m trying to stay positive and control what I can so that I am moving forward and taking steps to realise my dreams.
How has the current world climate affected you reaching your goals – are you putting them on hold too? What unexpected roadblocks do you now have to overcome?
Is there still a lot of discrimination or is it just fear and dysphoria? Or is a thing of the past?
I had this idea a couple of years back after beginning to read more diversely, and with the latest coming out and worldwide publicity around Nikkietutorials, curiosity of how trans and intersex protagonists are represented in mainstream literature is back in the forefront of my mind. We even have what I think is the final season of ‘I Am Jazz’ which has just started airing and a trans character in ‘Supergirl.’ I also loved the representation in shows like ‘Pose’ and ‘The Fosters.’ Just to mention a few – so there is definitely an accepting and welcome addition of transgender and intersex representation in the mainstream media – but I wanted to explore it further and take a look at the publishing industry (and my own personal reading habits.)
There is also the concept of ‘own voices’ books, written by transgender and intersex authors – which can be a more authentic representation of their own community and experience. I’ve read novels with leading characters who identify as transgender or intersex penned by cis authors, and I must admit it’s very hit or miss with how I enjoy the narrative. Half the time they are a tiny bit offensive or dysphoric without meaning to be. It says more about the authors’ education about this niche community that it does about someone who has actually lived through the experience. And thus, the novel reads like its demographic is skewed towards enlightening cis gendered readers. Deep discussions with members of the LGBTQIA+ community always praise the efforts and inclusion on the surface, but if you have a deep discussion with these readers, the details are often off-base.
If you search for the terms transgender or intersex when looking for your next read you will typically get a list of non-fiction titles. Socio-political or psychological focused papers, autobiographies, and erotica. Where are all the great stories that just happen to have a transgender or intersex protagonists that are fiction which are not revolved around coming out, transition, or sexual intimacy? Believe me, they are out there, you just have to really look. The only place I was able to find a decent collection of current releases are from blogs or Listopia on Goodreads. And if you compare the lists to general fiction current releases… the average transgender and intersex list sits at 100 books, the average general fiction list in anywhere from 1,000 to 4,000. Which boils down to a 4-10% representation on the current market. Which is an interesting figure because that is what psychological journals are quoting as the percentage of people identifying as transgender or intersex in the real world as a general benchmark – whether that is accurate or not today is a different debate. But it felt like a significant correlation. Looking through my own library (which is skewed by the availability of literature and available funds to purchase books) sits at approx. 5% (up from 4% in 2018) out of a 22% share of LGBTQIA+ titles.
I am definitely thankful for the changes in attitude to transgender and intersex characters. Twenty years ago it was rare to read a novel with their representation, and if they were present, they were usually treated as evil, a freak, a sex worker, or the comic relief. The ending of their storylines usually culminated in tragedy too. It was dehumanizing. The trend is definitely skewing towards greater representation, more realistic, well-rounded characters, and positively ending storylines.
I do have to say that there is a great deal of acceptance out there. And it warms my heart. People are people. Love is love. We are seeing that reflected in representation in our publishing material, film and television, and the wider community in general. Yes, there are still opposing voices, but as loud as they get, their manifesto is getting tossed out the window in favor of a more inclusive and accepting environment. And something makes it feel like we are heading for that Star Trek future.
So what does it all mean? I think is shows how society’s attitudes are changing, how that change is reflected through representation in art and culture, books and movies. It’s allowed for the discussion and importance of own voices literature. It is also opening doors for other minority groups into inclusivity. It leaves me feeling positive for how the human races collective consciousness is evolving, and how we are getting a wide array of poignant reading experiences.
What was the last book you read with a transgender or intersex protagonist? Can you add to these titles of new and upcoming books with transgender/intersex protagonists?
I’m attempting the quarterly goals thing again this year, (inspired by Jenna Moreci – check out her YouTube video here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67VbahiISDo) it helped increase my productivity in 2019 – even if I was a bit lazy in posting my updates… well, posting in general. I think after doing too much of the same thing for five years now, it was feeling stale. So, I’m trying to mix it up a bit, do a slight facelift and hopefully breathe some enthusiasm back into my online activity.
I was surprised once I posted my Goodreads challenge earlier that there were no autobiographies, memoirs, or non-fiction titles; so I plan on getting back to including some of these in 2020. Again variety is the spice of life – no wonder my reading felt somewhat lacklustre.
I shall also be including some text books and reference material: mainly for professional development and feeding a curious mind.
I am also hoping to increase the number of diversity reads and novels written by Australian authors. Mainly because they are the type of books I enjoy the most, and help support my local economy,
And lastly I made little to no progress in finishing series I started years ago – got to get that TBR down.
Plus I’m still bargaining with myself that I can only buy less than half of the number of books that I read. It was torture doing this in 2019, but if forced me to actually read some of the books on my shelves. Consequently my wish list has grown exponentially, but my bank balance is greatful.
Scribe and scribble:
2019 has been one of the better years for writing in a long time, and I plan to continue this trend in 2020. I want to at the very least get another four chapters written on my WIP. (My goal is to complete the first draft this quarter, but 4 chapters is more realistic.)
I’m looking to add a few more feathers in my cap this year. I’m part way through a digital marketing course and want to finish it by the end of March. I also want to start something new and I’m eye off SkillShare… has anyone taken any courses from this platform? Has it provided you with practical skills that have translated in furthering your professional career?
Being a writer, and living in a remote location I sometimes feel like a hermit. So this quarter I want to attend at least one writer event, and one social event. I know I haven’t set the bar very high, but I’m starting slow. Plus its a guaranteed success… right?
I was very lazy last year and have several unfinished projects… so I want to finish something. Sew a garment, restore some furniture, renovate a room. Just one thing other than writing.
There is so much stuff stored around this house that is never used or no longer needed. And a good percentage of it is brand new. So I’m challenging myself to start listing items for sale. Probably on eBay. Reduce the clutter and provide a little extra pocket money.
Work that body:
I started a new fitness regimen halfway through last year and had a small amount of success, so I’m taking it up a notch this quarter and want to start seeing some bigger results. I like how healthier eating and fitness has kept my mind alert… now I want my waistline to shrink!
I also want to start expanding my digital platform. I’ve had ideas for years now but still to implement any… this quarter I plan to cease the day!
If I can achieve at least half I deem it a success and do a happy dance, if not I’ll have the shame of announcing it publicly and everyone will know what a lazy human being I’ve become. See you in three months for a recap and a new list of goals.
Wish me luck!! I’m also sending out creative vibes and motivation to help you reach your 2020 goals.
It might be a point of difference, a plot point, but mental illness in YA and literature can help save lives through education and lifting the veil on depression and related conditions. Before the person suffering takes drastic measures of their own…
I have a (secondary) character in one of my WIPs who suffers from depression, it provides one of the main characters in the story with motivation and characteristics important to their arc. However, while taking a break from framing out the second half of the novel, I jumped on social media for a nosey and catch up with friends. Two things happened that have me questioning my mentally ill character… first, a teenage girl in my family circle dealing with her own mental illness and a ton of online bullying; and secondly, the suicide of an idol. Part of the contributing factors leading him to his death were the continual hate he was getting online – he never felt good enough.
It really hit home. I truly don’t fully understand what it is to be depressed enough to take your own life. I’m much too proactive and positive for that. It must be such a desperate and lonely place to be. And I wish others did not have to experience such a painful and debilitating emotion.
Professional psychologists attribute some of this to a chemical imbalance in the brain, as well as finding the coping mechanisms to train your thought patterns… it all sounds so clinical in the face of such a devastating state of mind.
I know there is no easy fix for something like this, but I always wonder why the two people mentioned above in particular don’t take some control of their exposure to the hate? Granted, they are the victims, and by right should not have to limit their activities. But why in the heck don’t they just delete all social media accounts? Or block the trolls? Online haters feel safe in anonymity; and the numbers and reach of these kind of people are incrementally greater online. Why not just switch off, unplug, and concentrate on you. On what you can control?
I understand asking that of today’s youth would be like removing a limb – but wouldn’t you rather value your mental health than put up with idiots and haters? It has become such a huge problem that we are dealing with since the growth of online communities. Depression, anxiety, and bullies are a dangerous mix – it can lead to suicide, substance abuse, or fatal retaliation. Thankfully there are ways to deal. Help lines, organisations, peer counselors, teachers, parents, friends, doctors, mental health professionals. While life online has exposed people to more hate, it has also connected us to real help. Plus, we can control what we are exposed to with security settings, blocking profiles, reporting abusers to moderators. It’s not a hopeless situation. And seeking help online isn’t as difficult as reaching out in person. There is no shame or embarrassment.
I feel like including characters in my writing, and reading about them in fiction, can help educate people about this issue in an informal and personal way. I may not fully understand the things that go through someone’s head suffering depression, but with some research maybe I can help a reader feel like they are not alone, show them ways to handle these strong feelings, and seek out the help they need? Some of the novels I’ve read have certainly educated me in handling grief, bullying, depression, and anxiety. It’s also shed light on other mental illnesses and disabilities and how individuals cope with them in their lives, like bipolar, schizophrenia, being on the autism spectrum. When I was a child, things like this were taboo. Never mentioned. But what I see today is that dealing with mental illness doesn’t have to be struggled through alone. People can overcome the difficulties. And it’s more common than you think.
It hurts my heart to see such a dark side of humanity laid bare when I think of those driven to take their own lives from bullying and hate. We don’t need to do that to each other. And to anyone surrounded by shadows and clouds, feeling worthless and alone – don’t believe those feelings. Don’t give in. You are a special, unique individual. A part of what makes this universe tick. Even though these words are coming from a complete stranger through a screen of some kind – you are loved.
Charlie likes to stand out. She’s a vlogger and actress promoting her first movie at SupaCon, and this is her chance to show fans she’s over her public breakup with co-star Reese Ryan. When internet-famous cool-girl actress Alyssa Huntington arrives as a surprise guest, it seems Charlie’s long-time crush on her isn’t as one-sided as she thought.
Taylor likes to blend in. Her brain is wired differently, making her fear change. And there’s one thing in her life she knows will never change: her friendship with her best guy friend Jamie—no matter how much she may secretly want it to. But when she hears about a fan contest for her favorite fandom, she starts to rethink her rules on playing it safe.
I really enjoyed this book, it’s full of geek culture, diversity, and is totally kitsch. ‘Queens of Geek’ kicks off in great style and I could see great potential in the direction of the plot, but for me its conclusion travelled on the side of self-declarative cuteness rather than difficulty and drama. For some reason I wanted more, but that by no means alludes to a poor reading experience: instead I immensely loved the tone of identity, and the treatment of mental illness and sexual orientation.
I rounded ‘Queens of Geek’ up as a bit too contrite. The lovey-doviness between the couples too saccharine sweet, I either wanted some passion, some erotic tension, or some angst – none of that was translating.
Charlie was a fun character. Identifying as bisexual and dealing with her ex and a new love interest at the Con brought tension and some interesting altercations. Especially while trying to juggle her public persona at the same time.
Taylor was a bit boring for me. I loved how she struggles with anxiety, and way she tries to overcome her mental illness and finding support from new and old friends… but I wanted something else of interest about her other than this. I thought it was going to be her blogging – like we’d get some wit, humour, and great content that way; but it only resulted in a few journal-esque entries. As much as I thought Taylor was cute – and faced a lot of challenges, I wanted something other than her mental illness to stand out to me.
Jamie, the third friend in the trio and Taylor’s love interest – insert geeky, Labrador, floppy-haired BFF with secret crush here – I mean could he be any more stereotypical and non-descript? I was egging for some fights, some tension, some misunderstandings. He felt like a prop rather than another person in the plot. The only thing he did on his own was buy merchandise.
I love the angle for diversity and all the nerdiness of a Con rolled into a novel. A blogger, and vlogger, and an actress on the rise, characters dealing with mental illness; there is a lot to love about ‘Queens of Geek’ and I applaud Jen Wilde for writing such a cool novel – I just wanted her to take it further. I put this down a lot not only because I’m not a big fan of alternating P.O.V’s but also the pacing was a little slow.
The cover art is a great concept and what really attracted me to picking up this after a few glowing reviews from fellow bloggers.
Overall a masterful little gem that is a definite recommend for the YA reader- especially if you are one to geek-out over conventions.
Many of the novels I’ve read lately represent diversity or own voices, which I have loved. So let’s take a deeper look into how writing is evolving in today’s market, and how much of the market share they actually represent… or are they just the latest fad? Is this reflected in my personal library?
Firstly, let me state unequivocally that I do not lump diversity or own voices into a marketing trend. Granted, they are being used as just that at the moment, but trends are an unavoidable phenomenon in driving book and e-book sales. We saw a surge in YA after the success of Harry Potter and ‘Twilight,’ then erotica in the wake of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ followed by a push in non-fiction, primarily memoirs and autobiographies… and of late it’s been LGBTQIA+ and diverse characters (including own voices.) This observation has come from what genre of novels publishing houses are accepting for submission, and where I’ve seen the marketing dollars spent on for campaigns both online and in-store.
But I don’t want to get into a discussion on marketing trends and the publishing landscape, I’m more concerned with what we’re seeing in literature, and congruently, how is it reflected in my own personal library and shopping habits? I know the things I like to read, but am I a snob when it comes to novels that support diversity? People of colour, LGBTQIA+ characters, characters with a disability or mental illness, empowered female characters… I think it’s about time I survey my shelves and tally up just where I sit on the spectrum.
In addition to that, I grew up in a privileged household, am healthy, able-bodied, and only lived through some aspects of discrimination and illness. So it limits what literature is relatable to me personally. While I like to educate myself and take a walk in other characters shoes to experience walks of life differing to my own, it still needs to be something I can connect with on some level. So the results of this discussion are skewed because of my life experience. I can strive for political correctness and inclusivity, but by nature, I will never truly know what it is like for some minorities. But literature plays a huge part in breaking down those barriers. As a former high school teacher I can see the value in this.
Firstly, let’s take a look at my own shelves to get a sample size. I’m going to put my money where my mouth is. Though take into account that I’m only looking at novels that I have purchased and read myself over the last thirty odd years. So it’s encompassing a lot of marketing trends.
Here’s the results from a sample size of 400 novels:
Own voices 12% (including LGBTQIA+ and people of colour)
I feel it’s important to recognise an authentic point of view that’s come from a place of genuine experience. It shows not only diversity in representation, but also in that of authors. While I believe a writer can create any character they wish, I feel it’s important to acknowledge books that fall into the own voices category, because they did not have access to the publishing industry in the numbers they do today previously. It’s illustrating how reading and writing is evolving, and indeed humanity as a species. Maybe we’ll get somewhere closer to a Star Trek future than we think.
(Representation in the main characters of a novel)
(A physical disability of some description in one of the main characters)
Mental Illness 20%
(One of the main characters suffers some form of mental illness and is one of the major themes of the novel)
Person of Colour 14%
(Representation in the main characters of a novel)
Gender Inequality 11%
(The major theme of the novel deals with female discrimination/inequality)
Body Shape 9%
(Main Character has body size issues as a main theme of a novel)
A further breakdown of GLBTQIA+ – looking at representation in the spectrum of sexuality and gender identity of the main cast.
The main observation of these statistics, is that if I did not take into account the last ten years of reading, all of these categories would have a sum total of less than 5%. So there has been a massive explosion of diversity in recent years.
We’ve seen the trend of more intricate storytelling evolve throughout the entertainment industry. Film and television are exploring more developed characters and storylines, including diverse characters. Flashing back to some of the shows and books I’ve read in my teens, they feel stereotypical and tropey nowadays. At the time I felt they were amazing, but if reviewing today, I’d tear them to pieces.
Two things surprised me, and made me a little proud, upon looking at the statistics of my library, is that I have around 15-20% representation of most of the categories above. That means one in five books I pick up are representing diversity of some description. Which is statistically comparable to the real world population. I mean, I’ll be working on getting those numbers much higher, but for all the talk that the publishing industry was dominated by white middle-aged men in the 80’s, to being overtaken by women today, it says a lot about my attitudes towards inclusivity and humanity in general. It seems I sought out diversity even in my teens, despite it not really having become a movement for another twenty years, or much of a selection to purchase from.
One thing I want to touch on a bit further is that of own voices versus diversity. It’s kind of like saying only gay actors can play gay characters in film. Writing is using words as tools, just as acting is using expression as tools. It has nothing to do with the creator. I say you can do either. But. Where a person who has been discriminated against in the past has managed to break out and add to the wonderful world of entertainment, it’s important to acknowledge their struggles and change from that experience. Why should it have been a struggle in the first place? What can we do the make it more accessible in the future? It doesn’t need to get uber-political, it just needs to stay rooted in common decency and mutual respect.
Looking at my TBR, there will be a huge difference in the statistics in years to come. I’m seeing a lot of queer books, novels dealing with mental illness, disability, and people of colour. I might have to make conscience effort to include more dealing with gender equality and body image to round out my library. But it looks exciting!
What other genres or categories am I missing that you feel are important to note? I’ve thought about class and social standing, but that seems to be a very dominate storytelling tool. Maybe I can call out representation of fellow redheads in literature?
My Challenge to You:
Take a look at your library, how many novels have you read that fall into the above categories? What trends have you noticed in the publishing landscape? Do you even enjoy diverse reads?