How Kirkus changed its review of American Heart after mob pressure

Yesterday I reported  that Kirkus, one of the three “biggie” reviewing services that vets books for libraries and readers before publication, had removed a prized star from one of its reviews: that of American Heart by Laura Moriarty (out January 2018).  It’s a “young adult” novel describing hypothetical America in which Muslims, as were many Japanese in World War II, are confined in internment camps, and how the protagonist (a white girl), originally in favor of those camps, changes her mind and helps a Muslim boy escape to Canada. It’s clearly an empathic, anti-nativism book meant to inspire thought and conversation.

After giving the book a “starred” review, which would boost sales, Kirkus was besieged by an online mob—many of them from the group YA Twitter that vets books for Leftist ideological purity—that was clearly enraged that the narrator was white. They accused Moriarity of penning a “white savior” novel, even though most of the critics could not have read the book. Moriarity described the incident on her Facebook page, and how Kirkus had put up a notice about why the star was removed. Here’s their notice:

It is a policy of Kirkus Reviews that books with diverse subject matter and protagonists are assigned to Own Voices reviewers—writers who can draw upon lived experience when evaluating texts. Our assignment of the review of American Heart was no exception to this rule and was reviewed by an observant Muslim person of color (facts shared with her permission). Our reviewer is an expert in children’s & YA literature and well-versed in the dangers of white savior narratives. She found that American Heart offers a useful warning about the direction we’re headed in as far as racial enmity is concerned.

The issue of diversity in children’s and teen literature is of paramount importance to Kirkus, and we appreciate the power language wields in discussion of the problems. As a result, we’ve removed the starred review from kirkus.com after determining that, while we believe our reviewer’s opinion is worthy and valid, some of the wording fell short of meeting our standards for clarity and sensitivity, and we failed to make the thoughtful edits our readers deserve. The editors are evaluating the review and will make a determination about correction or retraction after careful consideration in collaboration with the reviewer.

At Kirkus Reviews, we will continue to evaluate editorial solutions for better reflecting the expertise of our reviewers and their uniform appreciation for responsible portrayals of marginalized groups. We appreciate the discussion of these issues and celebrate the free exchange of opinions and ideas.

This is about as Authoritarian Leftist as a company can be—to the extent that they choose reviewers with the correct “lived experience” (why didn’t a Muslim woman of color have that “lived experience”?) And as for Kirkus‘s claim that “some of the wording fell short of meeting our standards for clarity and sensitivity,” well, based on what you can read below the clarity was fine—the problem was the “sensitivity”. That is, the reviewer failed to criticize the author for writing this book from a white girl’s point of view. It seems that Kirkus, which has substantial power to determine whether libraries buy a new book, and thus whether kids get to read it, is using ideological rather than literary standards to judge novels.

As Kirkus noted, the original starred review was written by “an observant Muslim person of color”—someone who could have dissed the book but instead awarded it a prized star on its merits. That wasn’t good enough. Kirkus removed the star and, as they admitted above, changed its review. Without having seen the original review, I guessed yesterday which sentence had been added to placate the Pecksniffs (see below). I was right, for Moriarty posted the original Kirkus review in a comment on this site yesterday. I reproduce the original and then the bowdlerized review below, putting in bold the sentences that were added after the star was removed. They are the ones you’d expect.

Original review:

Review Issue Date: November 1, 2017
Online Publish Date: October 10, 2017
Publisher:HarperTeen
Pages: 416
Price ( Hardcover ): $17.99
Price ( e-book ): $12.99
Publication Date: January 30, 2018
ISBN ( Hardcover ): 978-0-06-269410-2
ISBN ( e-book ): 978-0-06-269412-6
Category: Fiction

Starred Review

Fifteen-year-old Sarah Mary will do anything for her sensitive younger brother, but she never thought that would mean running from the law. The setting is the Midwestern United States; the time is the not-too-distant future. A Muslim registry is in effect, and Muslims are being bused to detention centers called “safety zones” en masse. This doesn’t bother Sarah Mary, a strong-minded, fiercely loyal, and protective teenager whose mother has abandoned her and her younger brother, Caleb, to their ultraconservative Christian aunt. (The whole family appears to be white.) Her indifference is forced to change when Caleb’s compassion for Sadaf, a Muslim in hiding, gets her involved in a plan to help this Iranian woman escape. Together, Sarah Mary and her new companion face extreme dangers, prejudices, disappointments—and unexpected kindnesses from their fellow Americans as they fight nearly impossible odds to get Sadaf through several states and over the border undetected. Moriarty creates a frighteningly believable setting of fear and violent nativism gone awry as she traces their journey to help Sadaf find the freedom she sought when she immigrated to the United States. By turns terrifying, suspenseful, thought-provoking, and touching, this book is so rich that the coincidences in the plot are easily forgiven. A moving portrait of an American girl discovering her society in crisis, desperate to show a disillusioned immigrant the true spirit of America. (Fiction. 13-18)

Review revised after mob takes issue; book data are the same, but the star was reemoved (changed or added bits bolded):

Fifteen-year-old Sarah Mary will do anything for her sensitive younger brother, but she never thought that would mean running from the law.

The setting is the Midwestern United States; the time is the not-too-distant future. A Muslim registry is in effect, and Muslims are being bused to detention centers called “safety zones” en masse. This doesn’t bother Sarah Mary, a strong-minded, fiercely loyal, and protective teenager whose mother has abandoned her and Caleb to their ultraconservative Christian aunt. Her indifference is forced to change when Caleb’s compassion for a Muslim in hiding gets her involved in a plan to help this Iranian woman escape. Together, Sarah Mary and her new companion face extreme dangers, prejudices, disappointments—and unexpected kindnesses from their fellow Americans as they fight nearly impossible odds to get her through several states and over the border undetected. Moriarty creates a frighteningly believable setting of fear and violent nativism gone awry as she traces their journey to help Sadaf find the freedom she sought when she immigrated to the United States. Sarah Mary’s ignorance is an effective worldbuilding device, but it is problematic that Sadaf is seen only through the white protagonist’s filter. Still, some will find value in the emotionally intense exploration of extremist “patriotic” ideology, the dangers of brainwashing and blind spots, and some of the components of our nation’s social fabric that threaten to destroy us, such as segregation, greed, mistrust, and mob mentalities.

A thought-provoking, chilling read with a controversial premise.

(Fiction. 13-18) (Ed. Note: The review of American Heart has been edited for clarity and to provide additional insights from the reviewer from its original appearance on kirkus.com, which was removed from the site with this statement.)

Note that the first bolded sentence is precisely the one that, I guessed, had caused the star to be removed. Then there’s the weaselly qualifier “still, some [presumably those who are ideologically untutored] will find value. . .” with the addition of all the implicit criticisms of the Trump administration. The original last sentence about the book being a “moving portrait” is now changed to “a thought-provoking, chilling read with a controversial premise.” Now that’s a library-buyer’s nightmare.

And really, Kirkus criticizes “mob mentalities”? Really? For it was a mob mentality that caused Kirkus to bow to social pressure, remove the star, and change its review.

Sadly, this hasn’t appeared on library and book sites, and it really should, for it’s a form of censorship based on conformity with Authoritarian Leftist culture. People should know that Kirkus is up to this kind of nonsense. The only place, in fact, that you’ll find any mention of this incident is on right-wing sites like The National Review, which reports this:

Struggling to grasp how this [plot] could possibly be offensive? Well, struggle no more. On Goodreads, reviewers take issue with the fact that Sarah-Mary decides to help. This, they argue, is reflective of an offensive “white savior” narrative by which Moriarty suggests that minorities such as Sadaf need someone white to save them. Here is the top-rated review, for example:

f*** your white savior narratives
f*** using marginalized characters as a plot device to teach the white mc [sic] how to be a decent person
f*** you for perpetuating the idea that marginalized people need to suffer in order to be worthy of “humanity”
f*** this book and everyone who thought it would be a good f***ing idea

Now it’s possible that the book is not sufficiently meritorious to deserve a star, at least according to the lights of objective readers (but few have read the book). But one person did—the reviewer—and yet she was overruled by a group who hadn’t read the book but didn’t like its ideology. It is that narrative, in which books are judged publicly by whether they conform to the Leftist mores of the moment, that I object to. And that is why books like Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird are being censored (removing the word “nigger” and replacing it with “slave”, for instance), removed from curricula, or removed from school libraries. We face a future in which all new books must conform to a certain political viewpont to be worthy of approbation or review. And that will be a sad and sanitized culture, one in which books will not be controversial or inspire argument and thought.

 

61 Comments

  1. Posted October 17, 2017 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    … has been edited for clarity and to provide additional insights from the reviewer …

    I just wonder whether the “additional insights” were indeed from the reviewer, or whether they were imposed by others “for clarity”.

    I also wonder how the reviewer feels about all this.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted October 17, 2017 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      I wondered the same Coel. If I was the reviewer I’d be pretty pi$$€d off. I think she should complain about being patronized and not taken seriously because she’s a Muslim woman of colour! ;-|

      The way some of these people are reacting to this book worries me greatly. Just being born white is now a reason to hate someone. It’s like everyone has to have a demographic they can hate. Society is finally moving towards a place where prejudice relating to things a person can’t change is no longer acceptable, but being white isn’t included in that for some reason.

      You would think it’s a good thing that the girl in this story learnt she was wrong and did something to help. And in the US described, it sounds like being white helps. Just like there were people who could help escaped slaves because they were white.

      Surely we’re all in this thing called life together. The opponents of the book appear to be advocating some form of separatism. I suspect they could find a problem with every book written, but few are capable of writing themselves.

  2. Randy schenck
    Posted October 17, 2017 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Important to remember with cases like this that censorship goes much further than just removing books already out there. It also includes killing them before they sell. When groups ignorant of 1st amendment rights get together, censorship just comes natural to them.

    • BJ
      Posted October 17, 2017 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      I don’t think they’re ignorant of the First Amendment. They hate the First Amendment. They hate the very idea of it.

      • Randy schenck
        Posted October 17, 2017 at 10:19 am | Permalink

        Yes but whether they hate the first amendment is no concern of mine. However, if they are ignorant of it’s application out in the natural world and want to interrupt it , that concerns me.

      • Posted October 17, 2017 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

        No, they love the first amendment. They use it to demonstrate that the principle of free speech doesn’t apply to them because it only sets out the limits of what the US government can do.

        • BJ
          Posted October 17, 2017 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

          They may enjoy it in that way, but they also bring up the constant argument that there should be laws against “hate speech.”

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted October 17, 2017 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

            No conflict there. I’ve encountered this bullshit before. “Only the Government can be guilty of censorship (because the First Amendment says so). Therefore, newspapers canning stories or SJW’s orchestrating take-down requests to Youtube is not censorship”. Blah.

            cr

    • DrBrydon
      Posted October 17, 2017 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      And a time-honored one, too. I just finished reading Robert Holtman’s Napoleonic Propaganda. Holtman describes the ways in which Napoleon sought to manage public opinion. One of these was limiting the number of publications that could do book reviews, and managing what they actually did review.

  3. Posted October 17, 2017 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    It’s a good thing the white saviors at Kirkus were there to protect children of color from being offended and to protect the Muslim reviewer from her obviously wrong opinion.

    • TJR
      Posted October 17, 2017 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      The big neon sign is flashing THIS IS IRONIC for all to see.

  4. Craw
    Posted October 17, 2017 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    ” but didn’t like its ideology.”

    You know I am not sure this is quite right. They don’t actually know its ideology, and from what I can see it sounds reliably leftish and anti-Trump. It certainly sounds anti-prejudice, anti-racism. What they really object to is just what the mob attacked Lionel Shriver for: *a white writer writing non-white characters*. This goes far beyond any complaints about the book’s assumed ideology.

  5. BJ
    Posted October 17, 2017 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    When the whole Sad Puppies thing in the sci-fi community started a couple of years ago, I thought it was rather ridiculous. Then I started reading about the left-wing purges being done in sci-fi, YA, and other writing scenes. This is just as scary as what’s happening on campuses, and perhaps even more frightening because it’s flying completely under the radar. There are hordes of left-wing activists and “allies” trying to control what kinds of literature can be published and consumed by the public, and they’re infiltrating the most powerful review sites and online communities to do it. They are trying to ideologically purify an entire artistic field, a field historically used to introduce new concepts and thoughts to the world.

    This has all been going on for at least a few years, and not only has nobody at the tops of these communities tried to stop it, they’ve decided to go along with it (as we can see from Kirkus’ actions, as well as Goodreads’ willingness over several years now to allow floods of negative reviews in targeted campaigns to take down books and authors). Even other authors on “YA Twitter” engage in it. I wonder how many times places like Kirkus didn’t even post a review because they wouldn’t be willing to anger these people?

    All of this would sound like a crazy conspiracy theory if we didn’t have tons of stories, tweets, message boards, review sites, etc. where we can watch it all happen in real time. Situations like this help me understand when conservatives complain that “liberals control the media.” It’s not always true, but it certainly is in certain sectors, and it seems to be getting worse in those sectors.

    Anybody remember this story: http://www.vulture.com/2017/08/the-toxic-drama-of-ya-twitter.html

    • Alex
      Posted October 17, 2017 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      Please don’t bring the Sad Puppies into this. That movement was founded by people who are….extremely right-wing to say the least. They essentially hijacked the Hugo Awards a couple years back by bloc voting. I also find them to be extremely hypocritical for claiming to want to keep sci-fi nonpolitical (though keep in mind that their definition of a “left-wing political agenda” is merely having a minority protagonist) even though their group is composed entirely of right-wingers.

      • Craw
        Posted October 17, 2017 at 11:32 am | Permalink

        I’m sure the YA Twitter crowd would say the same thing about their critics. Labels though are no substitute for facts or arguments.

        • Alex
          Posted October 17, 2017 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

          A quick Google search (which you clearly have not done) should tell you what the Sad Puppies are. It’s a bunch of angry conservative sci-fi buffs that don’t like the fact that the sci-fi scene is becoming increasingly “progressive” (in fact it always has been. See the angry Southern conservative reaction to the interracial kiss in the original Star Trek series) so they starting pushing slates at the Hugo’s of “puppy approved” material. One backer of the Puppies is Vox Day, a man notorious for his views on marital rape. His views on women gave him the honor of being featured on Fundies Say The Darndest Things numerous times. All the other members of the Puppies also self-identity as “conservative”. These are all facts that you can confirm yourself with a Google search.

          http://www.npr.org/2015/08/26/434644645/how-the-sad-puppies-won-by-losing

          • Jeff Rankin
            Posted October 17, 2017 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

            Oh well, a Google search and an NPR article – I’m convinced!

            • Alex
              Posted October 17, 2017 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

              Read the article instead of automatically dismissing it. The Sad Puppies’ opinion is typical conservative whining about how white guys are being discriminated against because a minority won an award. It’s the same tripe you see on Fox News.

          • Posted October 17, 2017 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

            So you are trying to spin regressive nonsense by saying that since the Sad Puppies are ebil conservatives, no matter what point they may have it can all be ignored. So I did what you say Craw should have done and googled it. Your own link says this about the Sad Puppies;

            “The Puppies claim the Hugos have been taken over by affirmative-action-driven voters pushing a diversity agenda by nominating women and non-white writers, regardless of the quality of their work.”

            This seems to be what this thread on WEIT is about – works of fiction being subject to viewpoint discrimination.

            So explain again why the Sad Puppies and their case shouldn’t be brought into the discussion?

            • Alex
              Posted October 17, 2017 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

              The Puppies CLAIM. They don’t provide any proof to back up their claims. Simply having minority authors being nominated is not an issue. It just means the work by the minority authors we’re good enough to be nominated, not that white straight men are being “persecuted”.

              Do you know who Vox Day is? He’s a Christian fundamentalist notorious for his regressive attitudes towards women. Since when did we start becoming accommodating of people that are basically opposed to liberalism?

              It honestly seems like they’re blaming “affirmative action” for the fact that their sci-works are shit.

              • Posted October 17, 2017 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

                Don’t know this Vox Day and -more to the point- I don’t care who s/he/it is. That’s not the point.

                You want to a priori silence people whose politics and world views differ from yours. This attitude is reprehensible.

            • Alex
              Posted October 17, 2017 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

              And pointing out that a viewpoint might get a bad one is not “discrimination”. It’s time to stop treating all viewpoints like they are all equally valid. What’s next? Are we gonna start accepting creationism because rejecting it would be “viewpoint discrimination”?

              • Posted October 17, 2017 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

                All viewpoints should NOT be treated equally except by the law.

                I was not suggesting accepting those ideas, I am saying that they should be allowed to be expressed -and subsequently addressed by those who oppose them. I am saying that people like you, who seek to suppress speech because of prior views, are enemies of the basic freedoms we are fighting to maintain.

                You, I think, are deliberately mischaracterizing this issue so as to try to salvage your deeply illiberal position about the free exchange of ideas.

              • Alex
                Posted October 17, 2017 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

                “politics and worldview are different from yours”

                Not because it’s different, but because it’s an objectively bad worldview that is factually wrong. Time to quit advocating “viewpoint relativism” and admit that falsehoods are falsehoods and that a bad idea is a bad idea.

              • Paul S
                Posted October 17, 2017 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

                Alex, I think you’re deliberately missing the point. It doesn’t matter if vox day or sad puppies are Christian fundamentalists notorious for their regressive attitudes towards women, they may still come up with a valid point.

              • Alex
                Posted October 17, 2017 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

                @PaulS Except that haven’t made a valid point. The fact that more minorities were getting accepted at the Hugos is not proof that there is a conspiracy to “persecute” conservatives. It just means that their work wasn’t good enough.

              • Alex
                Posted October 17, 2017 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

                @mikeyc

                So basically we should “Teach the Controversy”. It’s not about “suppressing free speech”. It’s about not letting falsehoods being perceived as “valid ideas” by the general public.

                That is precisely why many scientists refuse to debate creationists. Not because they “oppose the free exchange of ideas”, but because it makes creationism look like it’s a valid idea and is as equally plausible as evolution.

              • Posted October 17, 2017 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

                Alex – you have some deeply regressive ideas about civil rights and I will leave you to them.

                I will only say two things further-

                1) Creationism is not allowed to be taught in public schools because it is the State who is doing the speech and it is the State that is constrained by the 1st amendment. It is NOT an effort to silence Creationists; it is a violation of the 1st amendment for the State to teach religious views in public schools. I think you really understand this but are deliberately obfuscating.

                2) There are many reasons why scientists won’t debate creationists (not least of which because, not unlike this conversation, it is a complete waste of time) but none of them refuse to debate Creationists as a tactic to silence their views.

              • Alex
                Posted October 17, 2017 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

                @mikeyc

                Say it with me. “Freedom to say bullshit does not mean you are entitled to have an audience for said bullshit”. Your civil rights are not being violated because no one wants to listen to your lies.

                And I find it ironic that you call me “illiberal” while agreeing with archconservatives that basically want to tear down liberalism. The real reason for the “Sad Puppies” slate was anger over the increased presence of minorities in the sci-fi community. It’s not “political correctness”(an increasingly overused
                buzzword) to accept minorities. It’s basic decency. It’s always been a part of liberalism.

                And furthermore, none of the commenters here seem to understand that not everything is up for debate.

          • Rambler
            Posted October 17, 2017 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

            I followed the whole sad/rabid puppies thing while it was going on a few years back. Although i disagree with those authors on most things, in my opinion the quality of winners has declined in the last years.

            This is of course a personal opinion, but i used to use the hugo winners and nominations as a reading list. However ive stopped doing this as the ones ive tried the last few years have not engaged me.

            I’ve also have had to stop following some of my favourite authors on twitter, such as John Scalzi and Cory Doctorow, because they have become more and more regressive. So i believe while the sad puppies might hold abhorrent views in many cases, the “other side” seems to become increasingly radical as well.

            Lastly, before you dismiss me as a right winger, i am firmly on the left in a country whose rightmost party is to the left of your democratic party.

            • Alex
              Posted October 17, 2017 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

              “Regressive Left” has now become a a set of meaningless buzzword that has been now practically applied to everyone on the Left. It did mean something at one point, but now I’ve come to loathe the term when I started seeing it being applied to people who are well within the mainstream Left. Doing so also implies that the Left is one big homogeneous blob, when in fact it’s not.

              I’m not sure if an equivalency can be drawn between the Puppies and the people they oppose. Vox Day has gained infamy for arguing that marital rape does not exist.

              • Rambler
                Posted October 18, 2017 at 4:21 am | Permalink

                I can use other synonyms if you would like. Authoritarian left is one I used before the term regressive became common.

                I can also define how I use it if that would help. A regressive or authoritarian leftist is someone who engages in identity politics, call out culture and follow certain postmodern tenets. It is someone that would rather listen and believe anecdotal evidence (lived experience) that supports their position than look at the actual data. They would also rather disrupt or censor speech that they disagree with rather than debate that speech on an equal playing field.

                I agree that the political left, right axis is a weak way to visualise political positions. In fact, my own political view is likely to the left of some authoritarian/regressive people on the left in the US. This is why I prefer at least a 2 axis approach such as that employed by the political compass.

                I am not trying to draw an equivalency, but just describe a development I have witnessed as an outsider.

      • BJ
        Posted October 17, 2017 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

        Thankfully, the other commenters have already pointed out your disregard here for points made, in favor of attacking the sources of various viewpoints. Conservatives, white guys, and hypocrites, oh my!

        • Alex
          Posted October 17, 2017 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

          If only you bothered to read my comments. I attacked the Puppies because their views are factually wrong.

          “Conservatives, white guys and hypocrites”
          Have you ever considered the possibility that it might be because conservatives have a bad track record when it comes to facts? Nobody here seems to criticize the right anymore.

  6. Historian
    Posted October 17, 2017 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    I think that the revised review hangs on this one sentence: “Sarah Mary’s ignorance is an effective worldbuilding device, but it is problematic that Sadaf is seen only through the white protagonist’s filter.” If this one sentence were removed, indeed just the second clause, the review would still be quite positive. Of course, it is not explained why it is “problematic” (a vague word I do not like) that seeing the world through the filter of a white girl is such. I suspect that the Kirkus editors felt guilty about changing the review, so they attempted to placate the “mob” while leaving the review basically positive.

    • Taz
      Posted October 17, 2017 at 10:54 am | Permalink

      The biggest difference between the two reviews is the revoked star. The similarities between the two make that action more egregious.

  7. Carey Haug
    Posted October 17, 2017 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    I can understand why Regressive Leftists would oppose the book- the white savior narrative breaks the rule of portraying white characters as either oppressors or “woke” allies even if they are teens. Neither the oppressors nor the oppressed can be complex, nuanced characters. There certainly can’t be noble white characters like Atticus Finch who defend POC without fighting systemic racism.

    The editors probably went to schools like Oberlin where critical race theory is entrenched.

    What’s shocking is that parts of the publishing industry are censoring reviewers and trying to suppress un PC books. I hope this book becomes a best-seller and inspires real conversations.

  8. Johan Richter
    Posted October 17, 2017 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Who is an “objective reader”? Literary merit is inherently subjective and not subject to objective judgement.

    • Adam M.
      Posted October 17, 2017 at 10:49 am | Permalink

      Someone who’s read the book and didn’t judge it “by its cover” but instead on its actual merits (subjective as they may be), I would guess.

    • Posted October 17, 2017 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      The subjective opinion of someone who has not read the book is objectively worthless.

    • Craw
      Posted October 17, 2017 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      Someone who has not made up their mind before they read the book.

  9. Cindi
    Posted October 17, 2017 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    We bought two copies, one electronic and one hard copy to give to our granddaughter to read.

  10. Posted October 17, 2017 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Malorie Blackman (who is black) wrote a series of YA books set in a world where black peoples were the dominant class and whites where the oppressed. The lead character is a black girl who sees through her own bigotry after falling in love with a white rebel. I don’t recall whether anyone complained about the black saviour narrative.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noughts_%26_Crosses_(novel_series)

    The problem with the lived experience argument in both these cases is that actually nobody has lived these experiences. They’re f***king invented. That’s why they are novelists, not biographers.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 17, 2017 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      a world where black peoples were the dominant class and whites where the oppressed

      Didn’t Heinlein plough that same furrow some time in the 1970s? I’d have to go back and re-read, and I might be conflating two books, but I think he did. (I googled. He did. “Farnham’s Freehold”.)

      It’s clearly an empathic, anti-nativism book

      Sorry, but WTF is “anti-nativism? Or, for that matter, nativism? Something to do with completing the extermination of “Native Americans” (or the non-Native Americans)? Or the requirement that a person adhere (reject) completely to the values of their native culture (ie, do (not) differ from their parents in thought, word or deed).

      • Jonathan Dore
        Posted October 17, 2017 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

        It’s a well-established term. See http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/nativism_(politics)

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted October 17, 2017 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

          Which leaves the definition of “native” and “immigrant” completely open. After all, the only “natives” in the world are East Africans (possibly stretching to Chad, central Africa, and parts of South Africa). Everyone else is an emigrant or an immigrant, or both simultaneously.
          It’s a sow’s ear, no matter how many clasps, insect-bottom-exudate linings and pretty bead patterns are glued onto it.

  11. Jacob
    Posted October 17, 2017 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    “but it is problematic that Sadaf is seen only through the white protagonist’s filter”

    Haven’t there been cases of people being just as offended over white authors writing from the viewpoint of characters that are not white?

    It seems that anything you write will piss someone off. Why is it that people give credit to this outrage on Twitter and the like? It’s such a low cost thing to do to write an angry tweet, why do groups like this pay attention to it?

    • Craw
      Posted October 17, 2017 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      I think that one of the recurrent themes on this site is the danger that the irrationality, tribalism, and ignorance of the “Regressive Left” is increasingly a problem in society and a threat to the left itself. Examining the creeping effects of this regressivism is important for understanding and opposing it. I think our host articulated some of the dangers in letting this mindset take over yet another part of the culture: children’s books.

    • Posted October 17, 2017 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

      Why is it that people give credit to this outrage on Twitter and the like? It’s such a low cost thing to do to write an angry tweet, why do groups like this pay attention to it?

      Because the faux outrage has real world consequences such as causing the book to be downgraded by Kirkus and the orchestrated campaign on Goodreads. to downgrade its rating.

      Both of the above examples will have an impact on the book’s sales figures and therefore the author’s income. Not only that, but she is now “tainted” for life. If you fall off the tightrope of political purity, you don’t get back on again. The author can probably expect to have campaigns against all of her books now and protests against her speaking in public. The regressive left doesn’t try to silence hate speech, they try to silence speakers.

      • Jacob
        Posted October 17, 2017 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

        The odd thing to me though, and I was not clear about, is why would an organization like Kirkus respond this way? Would it really hurt their reputation that much? I would wager that most of the people so pissed off about this book had never heard of Kirkus before their outrage was drummed up.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted October 17, 2017 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

      Was there ever a more weaselly, bullshit, self-fulfilling word than “problematic”?

      Does it mean “offensive”? Well, no, because that would be too definite a statement and somebody might ask us to specify just what the offence is.

      Does it mean “thought-provoking”? Well, no, we’re not going to say that, because that’s obviously a good thing and we don’t want to imply approval.

      “Problematic” just implies a whole can of worms without ever having the integrity to specify just what, if any, the worms are.

      Bah humbug.

      cr

  12. DrBrydon
    Posted October 17, 2017 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    It seems to me that, for people who object to the idea that certain groups need heroes to succeed, Kirkus and the various critics of this book seem awfully eager to act as protectors, and remove agency from potential readers.

  13. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted October 17, 2017 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    IMO, white savior narratives are quite dangerous, but not irredeemable. And there has been more of them than necessary. But to put this is children’s book seems a positive step.

    “To Kill a Mockingbird” works partly because the “white savior” actually fails, and because much of the story is seen through the eyes of his eight-year-old daughter.

    The white savior motif becomes problematic in films like “Avatar” and “Mississippi Burning” and really, really bad in the film of Rudyard Kipling’s “The Man Who Would be King”.

    Clearly, some of the backlash here is due to the white savior narrative having a bad track record. Such stories tend to appeal mainly to liberal white audiences with fairly limited real experience of minorities. Problems arise when the minority characters exist only in the story’s background, as relatively passive objects of action. Critic Kathleen Fitzgerald says such stories are not racist, but racialist. (I’m not entirely sure I know what that means, but I’m putting it out there.)

    • Posted October 17, 2017 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      IMO, white savior narratives are quite dangerous,

      Can you give us some specific examples of harm caused by a white saviour narrative?

      Did someone get a paper cut from a Kipling book?

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted October 17, 2017 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

        I should have probably clarified that I meant artistically and used a slightly less loaded word like risky, so said “artistically risky”.

        But I think I made my point in the original post. Even anti-racist narratives often tend to “essentialize” members of a different race.

        My great-great….aunt, Harriet Beecher Stowe, wrote “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, a well-intentioned and often lovely and powerful book. But it also greatly popularized the mammy and pickaninny stereotypes of African-Americans. (Aunt Chloe is the mammy character; Topsy is the pickaninny character.) And these stereotypes have done harm.

        However, I tend to think one should cut more slack to children’s books, and read books before commenting on them.

        The recent delightfully risque movie “Girl’s Trip” featuring an ensemble of African-American woman has a couple of hilarious sequences about well-meaning white liberals who are clueless about black culture.

        HBS was married to David Stowe. I am descended from David’s grandparents. I guess she’s my cousin umpteen times removed. I remain proud of the family connection, in spite of the problematic nature of her work.

  14. Posted October 17, 2017 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    “… Sadaf is seen only through the white protagonist’s filter”

    not any more.

  15. Lurker111
    Posted October 17, 2017 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    Earlier I posted a comment (which seems to have disappeared) stating that authors pay a bunch to get a Kirkus review. I’ve since been informed that trad publishers pay no such fee. Just returning to apply the correction, thank you.

  16. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted October 17, 2017 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Fahrenheit 451, but at a lower oven setting perhaps.

  17. Bob Barber
    Posted October 18, 2017 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    From all that I am reading here, other than the novel American Heart that is yet to be published, is that the plot seems to follow Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Why is a “white savior” such an evil protagonist?

    The history of the anti-slavery movement in the United States is filled with white saviors. In 1853 Eli Thayer formed the New England Emigrant Aid Company in Boston to attract and move abolitionist to Kansas to flood the area with free soil supporters voting to prevent the introduction of slavery when Kansas would become eligible for statehood. Thayer recruited white people from New England, New York and Ohio. Missouri Ruffians, whom might be called white devils, met the white saviors moving into the area around what became Lawrence, Kansas. The little known Wakarusa War in 1855 was the result that could be called the first conflict of the later Civil War. My great grand uncle, Thomas Washington Barber, was the only fatal casualty of the Wakarusa War. He was murdered when he and his brothers and brother-in-law refused to support slavery. John Greenleaf Whittier wrote the poem Burial of Barber about Barber’s death.

    Hundreds of thousands of white saviors fought the Civil War. Where would slavery be in the United States today had not those white savior soldiers not gone to war?

  18. Kat
    Posted November 18, 2017 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    The most hilarious thing is, these people don’t realise that they’re actually helping to garner attention for the very thing they’re trying to suppress. Keep being loudly offended, you’re helping to further people’s career and get their works out there to a wider audience. Proof positive that there’s no such thing as bad publicity!


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