Ash – Reflection: Sexuality

14196204508_b158d03706_zPhoto credit: every flag together is the peaceful warrior : rainbow country, san francisco (2014)torbakhopper | CC 2.0

An ex reached out to me recently and it caused me to spend a bit of time thinking about my sexuality. I have learned over the years that for me, at least, sexuality is this complicated, grey mess, which I might not ever fully disentangle, especially if romantic attachment is included, incorrectly, under sexuality. Part of the reason sexuality has been a complex topic for me is that during my formative sexual years, I had no access to books which featured anything besides a straight romance. Which caused me to think: is Ash an opening to a broader discussion on the great variation within sexuality?

While in my review, I was critical of the lack of clarity around what Ash was feeling, as I ponder asexuality, I wonder whether my criticism might have been in haste. To be clear, I am not myself asexual, but I fall on the spectrum and have identified as grey-ace for awhile, though the label demisexual is a clearer fit. It’s this grey area of asexuality that may have shown up in Ash, as quite often Ash doesn’t appear to be sexually attracted to the two potential mates, but in the case of the Huntress, there is a clear romantic sort of attraction. I initially chalked it up to the innocence of first love, but now I wonder if it was a bit more complicated than that.

But maybe a more important question is does it matter? In my reading of Ash, I felt the romantic storyline was unclear and vague and I was critical of that. But should I have been? Is there some simplicity in simply not driving a point strongly home and just letting whatever be, be? Quite possibly. Sometimes I feel I struggle with sexual identity simply because I put too much importance on certainty and labels. (Which is interesting consider the teenage version of me did a lot to shirk sexual labels for years.) In my attempt to read more diverse books, written by diverse authors, I have become a bit too focused on what specific diversity is showing up in a book. But how much does that truly add to my experience of reading?

This topic was brought up in my reflection of Wonder where I was critical of a person of privilege (able-bodied) writing about the experiences of a person that lacks that privilege (physical deformity). While I still strongly believe in the importance of #OwnVoices and have found I greatly prefer those stories, the discussion in the comments did cause me to hesitate on whether I was closing myself off into a too narrow box. When I first conceived of this site, I planned on discussing books written by white American women and non-American whites. But then I came across various sites on diversity and felt I was not doing justice to the voices that needed to be lifted up enough if I did not narrow my focus. While I think there was good intent here, and it lead to me reading some amazing stories like Juliet Takes a Breath and The Hour of Daydreams I would not otherwise have read, I think it has become too strong of a focus for me, to the point that I am now in a significant reading slump. For a while I have been slipping into the slump by ignoring the books I want to read based on my mood in favor of reading those that meet the strict criteria for this blog and I finally fell in a serious enough slump I haven’t finished a book in over a week and nothing much has interested me sense.

For me, it is time to take a critical reflection on how I am approaching book reviewing and what it is I am placing emphasis on. Ultimately, my critiques of Ash’s lack of clarity around sexuality did not drive down the rating of it, so I stand by the review; I just wonder whether taking a step back from my critical framework would reignite the spark I had when I started this blog and reinvigorate my reading again. I do think that ultimately, the tone of reviews and reflections are going to shift a bit. The focus in reflections already has and I am happy with this change. There may be more joy in accepting the grey than trying to define things. I think there was in Ash and it’s a rare gift to read a book where there is a vagueness that rings true of youth, innocence, and coming into one’s sexuality. It reminded me of that time in my youth and it’s why I ultimately enjoyed reading Ash, even if I didn’t fall in love with it the way I thought it would.

What parts of your identity are more grey, fuzzy, and hard to define? How comfortable are you with the greyness? How comfortable are you with greyness in books?

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Ash – Review: Library

Ash coverAsh by Malinda Lo – 3.5/ 5 stars

I wanted to LOVE Ash by Malinda Lo. I wanted this to be my next favorite book. A lesbian retelling of Cinderella, probably the fairy tale I relate to the most, was destined to be a favorite. So, I looked, and I looked, and I looked for reasons to absolutely love this book, but ultimately, it ended up being a pretty average book.

What started off with a lot of potential, and a lot of initial goodwill on my part, ended up not amounting too much. I, mistakenly, assumed that the prince would instead be a princess, but that’s not the twist. Instead, the king’s hunter is a female huntress and she’s the one Cinderella (Ash) notices. Okay, so, not what I expected, but the unexpected can be good or even great, so this was not a major problem. Instead, there were several other serious problems with the book.

This is a YA book, so it easily could have been a coming out/ coming of age YA book. I would have been fine with that. Except, that’s not exactly what this is. Instead, for a long time, Ash does not question what she is feeling and then when she does, it’s more about the love triangle than it is about her sexuality. For me, it was not clear whether Ash is a lesbian or bi/pansexual, though I suspect it is the latter. This is one of the things I struggled with in the book. I wanted Ash to either embrace her sexuality or grapple with it, but she didn’t do either and instead, seemed to just let the moment decide for her. Now, there is nothing wrong with a character shirking labels; I myself did that for much of my sexual identity. But that’s not what is going on here. Instead, it is almost as if Ash is too young to understand or have sexual thoughts. She comes across more curious about her love interests than attracted to them, which felt more like asexuality than anything else. Again, I would have no problem with an asexual Ash, but I gather that’s not what she is supposed to be. It’s as if Lo was not sure how to portray Ash’s sexuality and thus we end up with this unclear sense of it.

In addition to the sexuality piece being written in an unclear manner, there is an unclear love triangle which is partly murking the waters on Ash’s sexuality. In this retelling, Ash does not have a fairy godmother; instead, her fairy is a dark and dangerous male fairy. He is the other love interest, but it is not quite clear whether she is attracted to him sexually or simply pulled in by this supernatural power he exudes. Maybe it is clearer than I imagine and I simply could not come to terms with the idea that her fairy “savior” is abusing his power to get her to run off with him. It was disturbing, especially since Ash sometimes seems to think that she is attracted to him. It was a close portrayal of how abuse victims end up thinking that they are the one at fault. But, it is all too vague to state emphatically that this is what Lo intended, so it may just be a poorly fleshed out love triangle. Regardless, I was not a fan of the triangle nor of the idea of Ash falling for her fairy godfather.

But, for me, the biggest problem with Ash is that the love interest is an incredibly slow burn. It is often so slow, one is simply reading tedious plot that does not go anywhere or develop anything. In fact, I would have been happy with more character development or more clearly fleshed out plot lines. But instead, there are irrelevant scenes of Ash waiting for something to happen. I grew so bored, this was nearly a DNF. Eventually, it gets better and more things happen, but still they do not happen between Ash and the huntress, who spend long sections of the book having no contact with each other. By the end, I do not understand why either of them are interested in each other. To be fair, I strongly prefer slowly built relationships, but this one was so sparse, it barely made sense.

There was so much potential in this story that I want to rewrite it myself and flesh out a deeper, more beautiful story. The premise is solid and there is much to work with, but it did not end up satisfying me in the end. But, there were parts I enjoyed and I am glad I read it. I am not certain I will read more by Lo, though I want to do so. I worry that these concerns will linger in her other books based on snippets of reviews I’ve seen, leaving her lower on the list of authors I hope to revisit someday. Which is a shame as I think there was real potential for me to fall in love with Lo’s body of work.

Little Gold – Review: ARC

Little Gold coverLittle Gold by Allie Rogers – 4/ 5 stars

Trigger Warnings: Suicide attempt (not graphically depicted) and sexual assault (not graphically depicted)

Little Gold is a touching, heartfelt story about a little girl called Little Gold who is struggling to navigate a family falling apart and a world which is not accepting of who she is: a tomboy and a lesbian. Her neighbor, Peggy, an older woman, with grandmother like qualities, befriends Little Gold in part to bestow upon her acceptance and information Little Gold would otherwise not have received.

This book was challenging to get into at first. It is heavily British and there are many words which I was not familiar with, though they made sense in context. It is a slow start and it was not entirely clear where the book is going. In fact, I expected the book to go into more depth about the girls who bully Little Gold for dressing like a boy, but that storyline faded away quickly. This is not exactly a coming of age story, particularly around Little Gold’s identity and sexuality. Instead, it is a coming of age story during a family crisis and a significant shift in living standards. It is a story of navigating through the dark.

It is hard for me to describe this book as it is an emotion that carries one through to the end. Somehow, Little Gold grew on me and I felt for her as she watched her family fall apart, helpless to do much of anything. Yet somehow, this is not a book which made me cry; there is always this sense that things will work out.

This book tends to be a bit vague, though the major plot points are resolved. I was a bit disappointed with how well things wrapped up in the end as it was a bit too convenient. But it was so heartwarming, the end didn’t much affect the rating.

I recommend this book to the serious reader; the kind of reader willing to push past a slow beginning to get to an amazing story. This book is not for everyone, but it is an excellent book for the right type of reader.

I received this ebook free from Netgalley and publisher Legend Times Group in exchange for an honest review.

Add to you Goodreads TBR! Little Gold

Considering reading it? Check out a free Kindle preview! Ready to buy? Purchase on Amazon or Book Depository. Please note that Diversifying Perspective is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and Book Depository Affiliates Program, affiliate advertising programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to free Kindle previews through Amazon.com and BookDepository.com. This does not impact the selection of books nor the content of reviews.

Sovereign (Nemesis #2) – Reflection: Anger

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Photo credit: 2 : 😡 | Amy McTigue | CC 2.0

In Dreadnought, Danny had a decent amount of anger and talked about how she enjoyed being a superhero, but it isn’t until Sovereign that we see how much she relishes beating people up. It also becomes clear she has serious anger issues, which are now amplified since she has substantial powers. We gain a lot of insight into Danny in Sovereign and I really struggled with these internal monologues about loving violence. They unsettled me. They still do. Of course I could talk about whether a person with superpowers is a superhero if they love the violence, but that’s not really what unsettled me. What unsettled me was questions about how accurate of a depiction this is of humanity, particularly for people with anger issues.

We all know that there is a certain kind of person that relishes violence; those people are sadists. But Danny is not a sadist or at least I do not get that impression. Instead, Danny is depicted as someone who has trouble reigning in her rage and anger once she unleashes it. She regularly taps into that rage in order to win in battle, but it comes at a cost. It costs Danny her compassion and empathy. She is unable to see situations from the other person’s side and thus misses opportunities to resolve issues without violence. Unfortunately, for most of the book, Danny is okay with this as she fails to see how her anger impacts those around her.

All this left me wondering how accurate a depiction this is. There was a time in my life when I struggled with anger issues. Would I have relished power if I had been given it? Would I have relished violence if I was strong enough to bring it? Was my anger blinding me to compassion and empathy for others? How much did I miss out on when I was a ball of anger?

I do not quite understand why Danny’s discussions of how she deals with her ball of rage bothered me so much. It has greatly delayed the writing of this reflection because I just do not understand why that thread impacted me so much. What is it about Danny’s honesty about her anger that troubles me so? I am pretty sure I am just not ready to explore that yet. If I would relish power, I do not want to know that. If I would enjoy the violence a bit too much, I don’t want to face what that means about who I am.

But I suspect my hesitation to explore what Sovereign raised in me has more to do with where that anger comes from than whether I would follow in Danny’s footsteps. Reading the scene where she uses less force against a villain so she can battle him longer really did not sit well with me and I am confident I would not engage in the same behavior. For me, it is simply unacceptable to beat up someone with less defenses for as long as possible. This is partly why I dislike the whole superhero genre because I abhor violence. I am turned off by it and for that reason, do not enjoy many sports. In the end, I feel comfortable saying that if I became a superhero, I would use violence sparingly. But still, tapping into that rage is dangerous. It does blind one to much of the world around oneself. I am no stranger to tapping into that rage in order to power through; in order to pull myself up the ladder of success. It was not until I read Sovereign that I saw more clearly the cost of tapping into that rage. I do not like what I saw and it means I need to change, but I am not sure I am ready. Though are we ever?

Both Dreadnought and Sovereign have forced me to look at myself in ways I was not ready to. Both books have shown me the folly of my life choices and both have made it hard to continue down my current path. That is an incredible feat for any book, but for it to have come from a YA superhero novel, I am floored. This series has inspired me to continue to read outside my typical genre as it is clear to me that there are many life-changing books out there hiding in genres I tend to avoid. And that’s a lesson from this series I’m ready to embrace right now.

Sovereign (Nemesis #2) – Review: ARC

sovereignSovereign (Nemesis #2) by April Daniels – 4/ 5 stars

This book delivered! If you read my reflection last Wednesday, you know I was worried Sovereign would not keep me engaged, with my not liking superhero books and all. The book started slow for me and I had a hard time getting into as I wasn’t interested in the superhero conference or some of the other events early in the book, but as the book progressed, it hit on some tough issues in the same fun way Dreadnought tackled other issues.

Sovereign is the second book in the Nemesis series. It picks up several months after Dreadnought, which is nice as that book ended with a decent amount of chaos and I was happy the first part of Sovereign didn’t try to resolve all of it. Instead, much of it has been resolved in the months between the two books. Instead, the book starts with a superhero conference and an introduction to a few new characters, including Kinetiq, a nonbinary Iranian-American superhero, and Cecilia, Dreadnought’s publicist and lawyer. It was nice to have new characters, though I would have liked Kinetiq be more developed and play a greater role in the novel.

We see a different side of Danny as she has come into her new role and it’s a side I had a hard time reading, but it’s also a point of growth and I welcomed the honesty and vulnerability of that side of Danny. This book surprised me with its depth, particularly because in the beginning it did not feel like there was going to be much depth. For me, the build up to the heart of the story was slow, but once I ended up there, it was action packed and full of incredible depth. I’m incredibly excited to see where the next book in the series takes us.

I could talk about this book forever, and I certainly have to anyone who has decided to ask me what I am reading, but I do not want to give away too much of the plot and ruin Dreadnought for those of you who have not yet read the first book in the series. Know that this book is still on the cutting edge of diversity and intersectionality and that everything from book one is wrapped up by the end of this book.

My biggest complaint with this book, besides how slow the beginning is, is one particular aspect of how the book ended. Danny and Doc make a unilateral decision about something that ideally should be left up to a much broader public and do so by essentially stealing control over a system. Maybe this makes sense in the context of the world of superheroes, at least the gaining control over supervillain property, but it was not explained as such. Assuming that the collateral gain is standard for superheroes, I was still greatly bothered by the unilateral decision and greatly worry about the consequences said decision will have on the future of the world. But, to be fair, it also makes me want to read the next book in the series to learn whether I am correct in my apprehension about this decision.

Again, like Dreadnought this story has more than just superhero action scenes, making it a wonderful book for anyone who enjoys significant character development and insight. Like Dreadnought, this book caused me to look within myself and reflect on myself as well as caused me to look outside myself and reflect on the world around me. I am still amazed at how incredible April Daniels is as a writer and I expect great things from her in the future. I strongly encourage everyone to give this series a shot as you will not be disappointed. We need more writing like this, so please, support this writer!

I received this ebook free from Netgalley and publisher Diversion Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

 

Considering reading it? Check out a free Kindle preview! Please note that Diversifying Perspective is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to free Kindle previews through Amazon.com. This does not impact the selection of books nor the content of reviews.

Dreadnought – Reflection: Inner Voice

3685379062_499fbcac69_zSpoiler alert: there is a small spoiler in this review, though it is something that one learns very early on in the book

Trigger warning: verbal and emotional abuse

I’ve been avoiding writing this post. I keep pretending it’s because I don’t know what to say about this book, but really, it’s just that I will have to be really vulnerable in this post if I want to be authentic and true to how this book impacted me. It’s not that I haven’t been vulnerable before on this blog, but I haven’t been this vulnerable before and vulnerability is something I’m not very comfortable with. It’s why I’ve read so much of Brené Brown’s work. I know I need to learn to be more comfortable with vulnerability, but it is really, really hard for me.

But back to Dreadnought and the reflection at hand. This book tore me open, and not exactly in the way I’m okay with being torn open. This book made me take a hard, long look at myself. Too hard of a look, honestly, to the point where I almost wanted to bail on the book, not because of the book, but because I did not want to have to face myself. What was Dreadnought causing me to confront? My inner voice.

In Dreadnought, (sort of spoiler alert, but you discover this pretty early in the book) Danny’s dad is emotionally and verbally abusive. It was uncomfortable for me to read as a survivor of verbal and emotional abuse myself, but it wasn’t very difficult for me to get through. The aspect that was incredibly challenging was how well Daniels depicts Danny’s inner voice, which is the internalized version of this emotional and verbal abuse. The internationalization of the abuse is the crux of why it is so debilitating and damaging; at some point, the things other people say become the things the victim tells herself, making it impossible to differentiate between the abuser’s voice and the victim’s. For Danny, her internalized voice calls herself “stupid,” a lot, and in very harsh ways – or more precisely, at times when she is not being stupid at all. She doubts herself, even though she has superpowers that make her practically invisible. In moments when she needs to act, she hesitates because she does not trust her decision-making abilities and is afraid of making the wrong decision. But that hesitation becomes the wrong decision. It was painful to read. I wanted to scream at her to just trust herself, but at the same time, if I did that, then I would have to do that with myself as well.

My inner voice is pretty cruel at times and it has caused me to be so afraid of making a decision, that I do not make one. Which, I have learned over time, is still making a decision. It feels like it isn’t, but really, the decision to not decide is a decision. It is an awful one that leaves the decider with a bad decision (really, probably the only clear bad decisions are the lack of decisions) that fuels that cruel inner voice, and the decider is further ensnared in the inability to decide. It is a debilitating feedback loop that leaves the abuse victim ineffectual in their day to day lives. These are all things I know on an academic level and thus, at this level I know I should talk back to this cruel inner voice and override it. But knowing something on an academic level is different than truly seeing it in action. After reading Dreadnought, I have seen it in action and I am left having to confront whether I can continue on letting this cruel voice have a platform in my head. I suspect I cannot.

While I do not exactly enjoy the internal struggle this book has caused, it is what I love about books. I love how books touch me in deep, meaningful, and impactful ways, even when I’m reading a YA superhero novel. It’s these moments that keep me coming back to books over and over, constantly searching for another one of these such moments.

This is also why I greatly enjoy reading books written by authors with different backgrounds than myself, because it is powerful to see one’s own experience reflected in someone that is different from oneself. One of the best ways to ground us, pull back to humanity, and remind us that there is something bigger than us that matters so much more than the small stuff, is seeing ourselves reflected in others and knowing we are not alone. As Brene Brown discusses in her various books, in those moments when someone opens up to you and shares an experience (quite possibly a shaming experience) that you haven’t experienced, it is easy to say, “oh, I can’t relate to this,” but the reality is, yes you can. Maybe you or I don’t know exactly what it is like to be a transgender teen, but you or I might know what it is like to be an abused teen hiding part of herself from the rest of the world or frankly, any person that has felt compelled to hide a huge part of themselves from the world. We are more alike than different and books remind us of that. I thank April Daniels and Diversion Books for reminding me of that once again.

Photo credit: h.koppdelaney / Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Dreadnought – Reflection: The Sequel

sovereignAs I mentioned in my review on Monday, the magic of Dreadnought is how well it dives into how Danny and society cope with her becoming a superhero and transforming into an anatomical female. For me, that’s what made the story great as I love being transported into other people’s lives and gaining new perspectives. But can a sequel keep readers like me engaged; readers who love depth and introspection, but don’t care for superheroes? Is it possible to move the series forward without reducing Danny to a transgender superhero, especially while trying to keep readers like me engaged?

This is a pertinent question as yesterday, July 25th, Sovereign (Nemesis #2) by April Daniels was released. I have been excited for this sequel for quite awhile now – so much so that I requested, and received, the ARC and then read Dreadnought. Yes, you read that correctly – I read the description of Sovereign and decided the story sounded amazing enough for me to read the first in the series to then be able to read the second before its release. I’ve never done that before, and it’s probably not the smartest way to go about deciding what to read next, but I am happy I did because I read Dreadnought and it was wonderful.

Back to the question at hand; how does a book that focuses so much on how the protagonist comes to terms with drastic changes keep engaged the readers who are excited for the sequel solely because of that focus? I’m not a writer and I’m glad I do not have to answer that question. As for how it plays out in this series, I haven’t finished the reading the sequel at the time of writing this (though I will have by the time it posts) so I cannot fully comment, but I will say that so far, I do not think this will be a series I will stick with.

Which is unfortunate as there are other deep topics that could be covered. To be fair, in the sequel, there is discussion around challenging topics such as transgender superhero visibility. Unfortunately, most of the book has focused on a superhero challenge around the nemesis, which will likely make superhero fans happy, but has left me mostly uninterested. I very much hope that changes as I want this series to succeed and I fear it will not if it only resonates with superhero fans, but I respectfully imagine the challenges faced in writing a sequel. This sequel is faced with the great enormity of coming after such a vulnerable #ownvoices story where the author likely bared her soul and quite justifiably might not want the entire series to be focused on hard, vulnerable, and challenging stories. After all, Danny is more than a transgender superhero and the series needs to be about more than just that one aspect of her. It’s just that for readers who are not superhero fans, it maybe hard for us to stay engaged if it isn’t, which bothers me. As a lesbian, I am constantly frustrated by stories that focus exclusively on the character(s) sexuality as if that’s all there is to someone who is attracted to the same sex. Danny deserves to be more than a transgender superhero, but in some ways, that is all I want her to be. I want to justify that by saying, oh, but I do not like the superhero genre so that’s why I want to focus on transgender issues and intersectionality. While there is truth in that statement, there is a piece of me that is just not yet able to go beyond that. Which is a me problem and not a problem with the sequel. While it is hard to face, this series has shown me I still have growth to do around transgender identity. For that, I am grateful.