Review: Restore Me by Tahereh Mafi

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Summary:Juliette Ferrars thought she’d won. She took over Sector 45, was named the new Supreme Commander, and now has Warner by her side. But she’s still the girl with the ability to kill with a single touch—and now she’s got the whole world in the palm of her hand. When tragedy hits, who will she become? Will she be able to control the power she wields and use it for good?

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★★★★.5✩

I loved this book and I’m so happy that I decided to give the second part of this series a chance.

Right from the beginning, the worldbuilding is finally tackled, which I think is was one of the problems that people had with the first three books. I personally didn’t find it a big problem in the books because Juliette was the only POV character and what she didn’t know wasn’t for the reader to know. This is made very clear right from the start of Restore Me, and her ignorance about the world and everything she got herself into is a big catalyst to the story.

However, the fact that there’s a lot more worldbuilding doesn’t take away from the very romance-y feel of the first three books. This book is literally packed with romance and it’s the kind of romance (with its ups and downs) that you can expect from an established relationship. It’s about two people who love each other but have gotten together under extreme circumstances and don’t actually know that much about each other, and they need to work towards this.

Despite me not really having reread the first three books recently, I think both Juliette and Warner felt like the same characters, especially Warner. This was great to see because it would have been too easy (and crappy) to have them both be different people just because they’re in a relationship. Also, the book starts only two weeks after the events of Ignite Me, so it’s not like they could have changed that much in that time anyway.

One of things I was most looking forward to in the book was Warner’s POV. After falling in love with him after like, two pages of the novella Destroy Me, his POV was literally what made me want to continue reading the series despite not being sure whether I would still like it. And I’m so happy to say that his POV was probably the best part of this book. His pain and grief as an abuse survivor was something I deeply related to. I can’t comment on the anxiety rep but it felt much-needed and real.

I also liked that Warnette’s relationship wasn’t the only one addressed here. Some of the other old characters aren’t completely forgotten, even though most of them are in the background, with the exception of Kenji, Adam, James and Castle.

I don’t remember much about Castle in the original trilogy to be completely honest but here he was kind of a central character and he acted as sort of an advisor to both Warner and Juliette. He felt like the archetypical mentor figure of YA that I feel has kind of been lost in the past years’ new releases. I liked that he also tried to not completely overstep his boundaries, even though I found he could have tried to help more.

Adam wasn’t very central to the plot at all but I actually loved the few scenes he had (me, loving Adam scenes? Doesn’t seem possible, yet here I am). Some of the shitty things he did in the original trilogy were addressed and I liked how he and Warner finally started to tentatively form a relationship. Also, James keeps being adorable and precious.

I left Kenji for last because he’s just the best supporting character ever. All I remembered from him is that I loved him, and now my love for him has only grown stronger. I love how supportive of Juliette he was, and he finally got some much needed bonding time with Warner. I had to laugh so much at their interactions, even when things were overall dramatic, but he’s just too fun not to love.

There are obviously also a few new side characters, and one of them I loved most of all: Nazeera is my Wife™ and I’m so happy that Juliette finally has a much needed female friendship. Nazeera is just too iconic and I can’t wait to see more of her in the next book.

This is a very character-driven book but it doesn’t lack amazing plot twists. I have to admit I had guessed the ending’s reveal at around the halfway point of the book, but I was still super invested and there was obviously more to the ending than the *reveal*, and I had to jump up and down while reading the last few chapters because y’alL WHAT WAS THAT.

There’s also the fact that I finished this in just a handful of hours on release date despite this being almost 500 pages long and that hasn’t happened in ages. So it’s safe to say that this totally kept me glued to the page and it felt so nice to have that experience again.

I wish I could end my review here but I can’t in good conscience not mention the one problem I had with this book. The next part will be more of a discussion and it got a bit long so you’re free to consider this review finished. Full list of trigger warnings at the end.

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*discussion part* 

Trigger warning for mention of transphobia in the next paragraphs:

Towards the 90% mark of the ebook (idk what page that is) a trans character is introduced. That’s great, but I found the way the character was introduced super problematic.

I will say I am a cis person and I don’t want to overstep my boundaries, but this book is just too new at the point in which I’m reviewing it and I haven’t been able to find an ownvoices trans reviewer talk about this. If you find one please send it my way.

Anyway, the trans character literally only gets one or two lines of dialogue, and we wouldn’t know that she’s trans unless another side character pointed it out in a transphobic way, saying the trans character, whose name is Valentina, is “playing pretend”. The chapter where this happens is from Warner’s POV, who already knew about the character being a trans woman, but he doesn’t really do anything to defend her. Instead, Valentina has to defend herself, and then the matter is simply pushed aside to continue with the plot.

I personally found this scene very bad for a few reasons:

• the trans character is essentially outed while her twin brother is introducing her to Juliette, who hasn’t met her before
• she’s not only outed, but also all the comments that are made about her are transphobic ones
• Kenji, who has grown up in the world before the Reestablishment took control, acts confused as if he doesn’t understand what’s going on, AKA even after the character is outed he doesn’t seem to understand that she’s a trans woman. I don’t understand the purpose of his line at all.
• I think this is a weird case of “queer people used for furthering a non-queer person’s narrative”, in the sense that the transphobic comments are used in order to convince the reader that the character who’s speaking, who has previously in the book already been coded as being a generally bad person, is, in fact, a bad person. Even in the best case scenario, this is just poor writing, because there were certainly other and better ways to indicate without a doubt that this character is an asshole.

The thing is, this scene isn’t necessarily unrealistic, but I think when writing any kind of queer representation you have to ask yourself, who are you writing this for? The answer should always be that you are writing this for queer people to see themselves represented. This scene didn’t feel at all like it was written for trans people. Especially since the comments weren’t challenged at all, and it was all so sudden and unexpected that there is no way a trans reader would have time to prepare themselves to see the transphobia coming.

As I said, everything I mentioned above are things I think of as bad because if something similar (outing etc) had happened for a rep I’m ownvoices for I would be livid. Since there are no trigger warnings in the book, in this case I’m choosing not to stay in my lane in the hope to spare a trans person some hurt. I will be happy to link to trans reviewers once more people have read the book, but so far I haven’t really seen anything about this.

End of TW for transphobia

Something else I saw on twitter from an Argentinean reader is that the Spanish that Valentina and her brother speak is not actually the kind of Spanish they speak in Argentina.

Both of these issues make it clear that nobody bothered hiring sensitivity readers for both trans and Argentinean representation, and that’s something that especially big publishers keep doing. I think that’s something that more readers should demand because there’s nothing that hurts more than seeing bad rep.

TWs: mention of paste abuse, mention of alcoholism, alcohol abuse, meds abuse, anxiety, panic attack on page, unchallenged transphobic comments

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Why I Won’t Make a Bookstagram (Again)

Discussion

First off, it goes without saying that this is not a post to hate on bookstagrammers, in fact, far from it! I love looking at beautiful pictures of books just as much as everyone else does.

But I want to talk about my personal reasons for not being on it anymore, and I wouldn’t do this post if I hadn’t seen that I’m not the only one who’s really frustrated with that specific part of the bookish world.

Probably nobody remembers, but for around two months back in late 2016 I had a bookstagram where I tried to post every day. It was back when I had a more time on my hands than I knew what to do with, and I didn’t really want to be in my own head, and basically I was a little bit all over the place, so I guess I welcomed having something to do, planning a post, taking the same picture from different angles and all that.

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One of my old bookstagram pics

It was fun until I saw that I didn’t like who I was while I was a bookstagrammer. I was feeling a lot of envy, and it wasn’t just about the books but also about the various items, mostly bookish candles, that people either bought or were sent for promotion. Basically, being on bookstagram got me in the mindset that if I didn’t have those extra things I was never going to be anybody in that community, not to mention that I felt like I needed to start buying physical books (which I normally hardly ever buy), and especially hardcovers because “they look better”.

As soon as I realized how toxic it was, I ran the hell out and never looked back.

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Another picture I like from back then

Because it was toxic to me, it doesn’t mean like bookstagram as a whole is toxic. But I keep seeing comments from people who don’t enjoy being on it, and I see that publishers put a lot of focus on whether you have a bookstagram or not when you reach out to them asking for ARCs, which puts a lot of pressure on people in the book community to continue bookstagramming even though they might not enjoy it.

I also know that bookstagram is also not very diverse-friendly. I have seen several people complain that unless they post books that are already super hyped (and usually not very diverse), they don’t really get many views on their pictures featuring diverse and less well-known books. It makes some twisted sort of sense of course, but it just contributes to marginalized authors being ignored by the larger book community and that’s something that makes me dislike bookstagram as a whole beyond my personal experience with it.

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This is the pic I’m most proud of!

What are your thoughts and feelings about bookstagram? Do you have one? Do you enjoy being on it? 

 

#T5W: Favorite M/M couples (+ mini rant?)

Top Five Wednesday is a book meme that Lainey started and I discovered through the lovely Samantha‘s videos. If you’re interested you can join the goodreads group to get the topics for each week.

This week’s topic:

February 7th: Favorite M/M Couples 
–Who are your favorite dudes loving other dudes? (Note: this isn’t specifically cis gay couples, but also applies to couples that include bi men, trans men, pan men, ace men, etc.)

OMG YAY I love this week’s topic and the next (F/F couples)! Also I want to mention that I’m only going to talk about couples that are canon because as much as I like making up headcanons for my fandoms, I don’t believe in queerbaiting my followers and I want to give canon queer couples the space they rightfully deserve!

So since these are all couples that become canon within the book/series/anime, be careful of spoilers if you don’t want to find out who ends up with whom!!!


  • 🌈 Damen and Laurent from Captive Prince: listen, if you know me you better have bet at least €50 on me mentioning D&L at the top of my list otherwise I’m gonna be very disappointed in you. THEIR LOVE IS SO STRONG!!! NO SCRATCH THAT! THEY INVENTED LOVE!!!!
  • 🏳️‍🌈 Victor and Yuuri from Yuri!!! On Ice260px-yuri_on_ice_hug_or_kiss hey nobody said this had to be strictly about books right..? I can’t not make a post about favorite M/M couples without mentioning Victuuri. Yuri On Ice still owns my ass after more than a year and I owe it more that I can ever begin to explain.
  • 🌈 Andrew and Neil from The Foxhole Court: oooohhhhhh boy ohh boy. It’s been one year since I’ve reread TFC and I seriously need to read it again because I can’t possibly have read my second favorite series only twice. All three books make me Feel Things and I miss the Foxes a lot. And Andreil are just so *clenches fist* theY’RE IN LOVE!!!
  • 🏳️‍🌈 Ben and Severin from The Darkest Part of the Forest: aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh I actually don’t talk about them as much as I should? My problem is that the fandom isn’t really big but even though I never RT fanart and such (because there’s like, none), just thinking about them makes my heart explode.
  • 🌈 Patroclus and Achilles from The Song of Achilles: *bursts into tears* it’s still too soon and it’s been more than a year since I’ve read them.

Honorable mentions:

🏳️‍🌈 Pynch!!!

🌈 Snowbaz!!!

Also I know this is probably not the right type of post to discuss this but I do what I want so here is your friendly reminder that if you ship M/M couples you better also support LGBTQIAP rights in every form and shape in real life, like, you know, when it comes to actual, real queer people, and I better not catch you calling gay sex sinful and be generally gross about M/M couples. Thanks for coming to my TED talk and if you feel yourself called out, GOOD, now please go google how to not be a shitty human to queer people and come back to this blog when you’re ready to stop fetishizing queer people.

#T5W: Books you disliked but love to discuss

Top Five Wednesday is a book meme that Lainey started and I discovered through the lovely Samantha‘s videos. If you’re interested you can join the goodreads group to get the topics for each week.

This week’s topic:

January 24th: Books You Disliked but Love to Discuss
— Some books we disliked or they were just okay, but they still have a lot of discussion points to sink your teeth into.

 

 

A Court of Wings and Ruin was such a fiasco I shouldn’t even get started talking about it. I don’t even care much about how a lot of the plot didn’t make sense but there were truly offensive elements and those are the ones I “love” talking about.

Flame in the Mist was another book I not only didn’t find great but I also thought it had many offensive elements. I haven’t seen anyone calling it out for its transphobia, but even without this element I would still be mad because it’s not realistic for a 2017 diverse release that’s supposed to be a Mulan retelling to not explore themes of gender and sexuality. It just feels like a huge loss of potential, but then the offensive elements came along and I just can’t help but hating this (but I’m happy to talk about it).

Ten Count had a great premise but it’s super problematic. Like, it’s not news for a BL manga to be very icky when it comes to consent, but here the non/dub-con elements even clashed with the whole premise of the story and it just didn’t make any sense. Also, it wasn’t just a kiss given without consent once (still icky), it was a lot of very heavy scenes like that and I just couldn’t bring myself to finish reading this.

Gilded Cage wasn’t the greatest book and I DNF’d it. The reason I like discussing it is bc to me too many elements of the fantasy/dystopic setting didn’t make sense and I love feeling validated when I talk about them and people agree.

Juliet Takes a Breath is a book I keep having to explain my opinion of and I’m actually tired of it. It probably shouldn’t even be in this list but oh well, I guess I do like talking abut it on some level. It’s not even about this book specifically but about a broader discussion about literature sometimes not being universal and this being okay. I might write a discussion post about this topic at some point if I feel like it (because it also ties back to my discussion about US-centrism and stuff that I wrote a while ago).

Have you read these books? Did you like them? Do you like talking about them?

Discussion: book piracy, representation and international readers

Discussion

When you start being active in the book community, you start seeing how nuanced some issues are that you previously thought were completely black or white.

This time the talk is about piracy, and before you start angry-typing in the comments, let me make this clear from the start: piracy is illegal. This is a fact, not an opinion, and I start this post this way because I don’t think serious discussions can be had without having the facts straight.

With that said, this is a recurring thing that comes out every couple of months in the book community, usually when famous authors tweet about it. Last time it was Maggie Stiefvater, this time is author Lindsay Cummings.

Until the words “& hurt their sales” there’s nothing wrong with her tweet. You can’t really expect anyone, much less an author who has probably already been hurt by it, to publicly condone piracy.

My issue (and any international reviewer pretty much agrees on this) is when it comes to: “GO TO A LIBRARY! It’s free!”

This is what everyone always says an argument against book piracy, and even though international readers keep @’ing authors telling them that thanks a lot, but this is not an option for many of us, nobody actually seems to give a shit.

The possible reasons why the “go to a library” argument keeps being thrown around are three:

  • Authors don’t know that a huge part of their readership is international, meaning that a lot of people who live in countries where English isn’t a first language still read their untranslated books (often because these books simply aren’t being translated);
  • Authors know about international readers and they simply don’t give a shit about them;
  • Authors know about international readers and they ignorantly assume that the whole world has access to libraries with lots of books in English, even the recently published ones.

For the sake of this post we’re gonna assume that the third option is the most likely, because authors have repeatedly acted like anyone. A N Y O N E has access to libraries.

Spoiler alert: not everybody has access to libraries!!!

I feel like even if we restrict this argument to only the US-based readership, this wouldn’t be advice that everyone can take. I happen to have spent two weeks in the US just this past year, and in no way does this make me an expert obviously, but one of the things that shocked me the most is how BIG and massive everything is, and how far some small towns are from… well, from everything really. I doubt that they have huge libraries the along the I-40 in the Mojave desert. (I could have named other places I’ve passed through but I really love the word “Mojave”)

As I type this I keep coming up with more things to say so this will become a mess, but I’m gonna try to break the issue down in a few sections.

 

English isn’t the first language everywhere

This might come as a shock (please sit down, I don’t want anyone to faint) but not all countries are English-speaking!
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When we read in English, we do so with our own money (when that’s possible). Often we need to resolve to buying books online, either physical copies or digital ones (I usually stick to ebooks). Depending on where you live you’ll have more or less access to a number of books in English in physical bookstores. However, even in the major city in Germany where I live I can only find a very limited amount of English books, and those are obviously the most popular ones. Usually, most popular = no or bad representation. 

Are you still following me? Good.

If we’re talking about libraries, I think you might find Harry Potter in English and maybe a few old classics. The Abyss Surrounds Us? Simon VS the Homo Sapiens Agenda? You won’t find those.

If you’ve ever felt the need to see yourself represented in a book you will know where I’m trying to get in the next section, but let me finish this part by saying that even for me, living in central Europe, in a country where English is becoming more popular each second, it’s basically impossible to get recently published books in English unless I’m paying with my own money. So far the only “cheap” and legal way I’ve found is to stick to ebooks (which is my favorite format anyway).

I think it should be up to people from other countries to talk about their own experience, but if Europeans are having trouble finding English books in libraries, I can only imagine it’s much harder in other parts of the world.

 

Reading as entertainment VS reading for representation

Have y’all ever considered that a lot of the teens who are illegally downloading books do so because they know there’s lgbtq+ characters in it? And maybe these kids are too scared to even come out to themselves and they literally can’t go ask their parents for money for fear of being asked “Why do you want to buy these gay books?” and everything that that might imply.

Being monetarily dependent on someone sucks. I was very privileged in this because if there’s one thing my parents have never denied me it was books, and even if I had read a lot of lgbtq+ books back then (which I didn’t), they wouldn’t have questioned or prohibited it. Even if they had questioned the reason behind all those books, I wouldn’t have been in any danger.

Of course that isn’t true for a lot of people, and this is also only one part of the whole issue of of representation (but it’s the one of the things that people, teens, usually tend to try to keep hidden as best as they can).

So I think when talking about piracy we should make a distinction and think about reading as pure entertainment VS reading because it’s actually fucking important to you because you don’t know how else to understand and deal with parts of your own identity.

This also ties back to the needing to read in English issue because the English-speaking book industry is miles ahead in publishing diverse books than (I’m gonna stick to what I personally know) the Italian industry, for example. If I only knew how to read in Italian and were still living in Italy and wanted to find books with queer girls, I still wouldn’t find any for free in the library.

 

Piracy is illegal (in case this still wasn’t clear)

Keeping in mind all I said, the fact remains that piracy is illegal. Here’s a post about piracy and how it affects more than just the authors themselves.

That post was written last time that this topic came up, and a lot of people in my circle of mutuals dismissed it and the way they did it made me so uncomfortable that I had to ignore twitter for a couple of days.

I think even if you dislike the author for whatever reason, to dismiss everything she’s saying in that post is arrogant and it hurts the very argument you’re trying to make. Specifically, one thing people loved to talk about was how the author in question is privileged and therefore they implied she didn’t deserve to be paid for her work.

Please understand that I’m not trying to attack my mutuals, some of which I almost always agree with and I consider my friends, but I find this line of thinking very bad and hypocritical.

 

TL;DR so far: 📚 not everyone can get books for free and legally; 📚 sometimes books are about so much more than entertainment; 📚 piracy is still illegal.

 

“So what do you suggest, Silvia?”

Hey now, I wish I had a solution but I don’t.

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Y’all @ me right now

However, what I would ask of authors is that they did some research on what it means to be an international reader and stop saying “go to the library” as if that’s the magic word that solves everything.

Authors: you do research on mythology, ways to kill people, when exactly the sun set on April 7th, 1876 in some unexplored place in Siberia; why can’t you do some research on ways you can help your marginalized readers? Or at least, you know, admit you don’t know how to help but at least ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR INTERNATIONAL READERS.

We keep getting hurt because no one, NO ONE ever acknowledges us and the work we do as international bloggers. Goodreads is waving the middle finger at us, netgalley is literally the “then perish” meme I posted at the beginning, and although many authors do what they can to host international giveaways and whatnot, they also keep ignoring us by go-to-library‘ing us.


For more discussion posts about this topic, please go check out Marta @thecursedbooks’ post where she talks more about how authors dismiss international readers when they talk about piracy, and Maja @bookishaddicted’s post for a great list of sources of free books (yes, international too!)

I would love for everyone to add their own thoughts below, unless you’re gonna be rude and disrespectful, then I’ll gracefully ignore you.

Discussion: Goodreads and Netgalley are hurting diversity in the book community

The life of any international (see: non-US based) blogger isn’t always easy. We struggle to get physical ARCs (most of us don’t even try), we never get to meet our favorite authors, we rely on our more fortunate friends to get one signed copy that will become our most treasured possession. Some of us struggle to make our posts understandable in a language that isn’t our own just so we can reach more people and get in touch with other readers and bloggers from other countries.

We don’t complain too much because it’s pointless, and it’s not like the doctor forced us to start our blogs.

Now it seems that things are starting to change in this sense, and these past few days there has been a lot of talk about international bloggers, as I’m sure everyone has heard.

Basically what it all comes down to is:

Goodreads is changing its giveaway program, which only US readers will be able to enter, at least for a time. How long this time will be is not as of yet known. Most importantly, the price for authors to host a giveaway will be very high, $119 for a base package and $599 for the premium one.

Netgalley is making it virtually impossible for international readers to request eARCs. We might still be able to “Wish” for them, but anyone who has ever used Netgalley before knows how difficult it is for a wish to be granted (it has personally only happened to me once). As far as I understand, this is Netgalley’s choice, not the publisher’s like it’s always been, thus making it even more difficult for international bloggers to be sent (digital) early editions of books (as if that wasn’t difficult enough before).

Now, I want to talk about both things my own way, but first you should read Laura’s open letter to Netgalley and Goodreads because she’s basically said it all perfectly.

If you’re still reading my post, here’s my two cents (and I won’t be able to cover every nuance of this topic but hey I’m gonna try).

I think what Netgalley and Goodreads are doing is two sides of the same coin, and it all comes down to ultimately hurt minorities and marginalized people and give more privilege to the privileged. Whether they’re doing it on purpose or not is not for me to say, but that’s what we should be all concerned about.

Regarding Goodreads: I think people are focusing a lot on the readers side and not enough on the authors side, but the truth is that readers aren’t going to be too affected by it. After all, Goodreads giveaways are something you have to win against a huge number of people, and that’s not very likely no matter where you live. Chances are you’re never going to win one anyway, and it still sucks that now int’l readers won’t be able to even enter, but that’s ultimately not very influential in the book community itself (let’s be real, those giveaways are random, and chances are someone is going to win a book they’re never going to read anyway, or if they do they’ll never review it: it’s not like everyone who wins a giveaway has their own blog or even reviews on GR itself after all).

No, the real problem here is that indie and marginalized authors won’t be able to afford the giveaway program, and the only authors who will be able to will be the ones with a big name. In fact, this is what I wrote Goodreads in their survey (which I encourage you to also fill out):

Nothing of this new program works unless you live in the United States (as a reader) or you’re already wealthy as an author and can afford to pay a ridiculous amount of money to have your book MAYBE added to a couple of people’s shelves with no guarantee they’ll actually buy it. This will damage marginalized authors who are already struggling as it is in a publishing world where still the majority of big author names are white, male, heterosexual Americans. This program is made to fail from the beginning and it will ultimately be your own loss, but it’s a slap in the face to anyone who tries to make it in this industry, it screams “you’re not welcome here” to everyone who is already made to feel that way every day of their life. This is a huge step in the wrong direction and I’m sorry to see one of my favorite platforms fail so miserably at embracing a community that has time and again proven how good and important diversity is in any given context.

You’re fooling yourself if you don’t think this is that deep. Everything is that deep and where Goodreads might have done some good by finding ways to help promote marginalized authors, they’ve done the complete opposite instead. It only speaks of their privilege that they don’t even realize it.

I understand there have been some problems with people hosting giveaways and not delivering and basically stealing readers’ contact information, but while what GR is doing is certainly a way to fight this phenomenon, it certainly can’t be the only one.

Coming to the second half of this post, what Netgalley is doing is what touches bloggers and readers the most, and the issues are similar to my first point. Granted that it was already difficult to gain access to eARCs depending on where you live and on the publisher, it was still possible as an international reader to request books that weren’t listed as “US-only” (some even used to have Europe-only, UK-only or Australia-only versions).

Basically what Netgalley is telling you to do is to log into your own version (for me it would be the Italian version of it) and read the books listed there. I haven’t ventured in it and I do think that there might be some benefit in reading things that are published in my own language and written in my own country (I am so not updated on Italian literature it’s honestly a shame), but the fact is that this blog is in English and my following isn’t going to be pleased if I start reviewing books in Italian, or if I review books that aren’t translated into English.

(After writing this paragraph I noticed that there isn’t even an Italian version of Netgalley, and the closest thing would be the German one since I live in Germany and happen to be able to read books in that language, but my point stands.)

Face it, you keep up your blog by reviewing ARCs, and by not having access to the most anticipated titles as an international blogger you’re already at a disadvantage, so you rely on small publishing houses to grant your reviewing requests. You might try to create your own niche and review books with a similar theme (for me that would be LGBTQIAP books), but if Netgalley doesn’t even let you request such titles anymore then there’s really no win for you. Physical ARCs are a pipe dream, BooksForTrade is pretty much US-only, and you’re gonna have to buy all the books yourself after their early copies have already been reviewed by US reviewers.

Basically, US reviewers will get all the traffic that int’l bloggers’ ARCs reviews used to get, and reviewing as an international reader will be even more difficult and you’ll always be behind and it’s going to be hard to gain new followers (if you think these are petty reasons you’ve probably never tried to start your own blog).

I am rambling but I want to make two more points clear:

○ As always, marginalized reviewers (and ultimately all marginalized readers) will be hurt by Netgalley’s decision. Whether you think that literature is universal or not, the blogging community as a whole will lose massively by missing out on international readers’ point of views. 

○ Much can be said about what the American book industry can do better, but the truth is that there are some themes that many international readers won’t get to read in books published in their own countries, especially readers living in non-English speaking countries. Taking my own country as example, there is absolutely no talk about mental illness, much less books with a proper and sensitive portrayal and representation of mentally ill characters (unless you’re looking for harmful tropes and stereotypes). The same can be said for LGBTQ+ representation. If I want to see LGBTQ+ characters, I mostly have to read books published in America. I literally have friends in this community who are only able to see themselves represented because they’re able to read in English but who would be in trouble for writing or reading a book with LGBTQ+ characters in their own country. And not to say that a LGBTQ+ American reviewer isn’t also marginalized because they OBVIOUSLY are, but to get “diversity within diversity“, so to speak, you probably want to read the opinion of BOTH a white cis gay male living in San Francisco AND the opinion of a marginalized POC teen from a country where gay people are literally and legally killed by the government (and you tell me which of these two voices should be prioritized, AKA who deserves that Netgalley ARC more because it’s much less likely that they’ll be able to afford the published version of the book). These are two extreme examples and please don’t hate me if you’re a white cis gay guy living in San Francisco reading this, I hope you’ll understand my point without me having to write a bigass disclaimer.

So you see, if you think this is only about international readers being butthurt and jealous of US readers, you’re quite wrong and you don’t really understand how deep these issues go. I will also not tolerate any talk of legal issues* regarding giving eARCs to int’l bloggers, because publishers have been doing it without problems and it’s only Netgalley (which is only the platform where this puslisher/reviewer exchange happens) that is changing its policy, not the publishers, and don’t come tell me publishers have been doing something illegal all these years.                           *except if you’re like a lawyer or something

To conclude, I ask you that you raise our voices, ESPECIALLY if you’re an US blogger and especially if you have a big following. Share our posts, talk about what’s going on, use your privilege not to speak above us but to make sure Netgalley and Goodreads (or at least other reviewers) hear us.

Discussion: labels in lgbtq+ fiction

Labels can be hard and it’s definitely a sensitive topic in real life and when it comes to the book community. They are very personal and even though we like to do the “everyone is free to label themselves how they want” thing, I feel like there is some hypocrisy when it comes to labels in lgbtq+ fiction.

I definitely understand why it hurts when a certain label isn’t used or is used inappropriately. There are examples of books that wrongfully label or don’t label characters, be it out of ignorance from the author’s part or out of convenience (I don’t want to say malice). I am definitely condemning those books and those authors because sometimes not calling something with its name is just as bad as bad representation (and I suppose the two often might go hand in hand).

But. When done well, I believe books that don’t label their characters not only can be good, but they are also necessary. That’s almost always what happens in fantasy, where lgbtq+ characters are coded a certain way without using words such as “gay” or “bi” because they simply don’t exist in that world, but I think it’s important to sometimes not label characters in contemporary fiction as well, and it’s important for the same exact reasons why we need lgbtq+ (or any kind of) representation: because some people simply don’t identify in a strict label, or they still haven’t found one they’re comfortable with, and if every lgbtq+ character is certain of their label and they are able to say it out loud and without hesitation (even after maybe being confused about it for the whole book), that sends the message that not having found your own label is simply wrong and you need to find one right here right now or you won’t be lgbtq+ enough, you won’t be good enough.

That is obviously not true but even as a grown up person that’s something I still struggle with almost every day, and I didn’t fully understand things about myself until I started reading books that acknowledged the importance of labels but also didn’t give one to a character, or books where the character went through different labels throughout their life. Seeing everybody, both in real life and in fiction, all labeled up and ready to be put in a fixed sexuality box for the rest of their lives can be alienating and it doesn’t help all the people who are confused and questioning because all they feel is that they’re inadequate for not having found a definition they feel comfortable with.

The books that helped me the most and that I found most interesting (and that by pure chance made it to my currently reading list at the exact time I seemed to need them) are Openly Straight and Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg and How to Be Happy: A Memoir of Love, Sex and Teenage Confusion by David Burton. If you’re interested in labels and in seeing how different people might feel about them, these are the books for you (especially the first two, which are a duology, have some in-depth conversations about this topic).

Books that I often see criticized because they fail to label a character but I think they’re perfectly valid in doing so are The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater and Leo Loves Aries by Anyta Sunday.

In The Raven Cycle, Adam is shown to be attracted to a girl first, and then by the fourth book he’s attracted to a boy. I’m not here to defend or attack the author for her decision, but all I’m saying is that the fact that he’s never labeled as bisexual (which is the main critique) doesn’t mean much. He’s a teenager and we don’t know how he feels about his sexuality or labels. He might not know how he feels about them himself. He might be bisexual or pansexual or simply want to label himself queer or nothing at all, but that’s not something he has to do right away, there and then in those few pages of a book. Coming to terms with a sexuality can take years or it can also never happen.

In the second book I mentioned, the main character starts out by saying he’s straight but then he falls in love with a man. By the end of the book he doesn’t label himself and I know that has hurt people, and even if by the next book in the series (where he has a cameo) he is able to say without hesitation that yes, he is bisexual, I don’t think not labeling him right away is a bad decision. I mean, what you feel first is attraction to a person, and only later comes the question, “But what am I?”, so I don’t feel like that was out of place at all, especially since the author has written many books and she doesn’t shy away from using labels most of the time.

You’ll notice this issue about labels is more common with “in-between” sexualities like bi and pan but I think that’s something that is completely understandable because the definitions for those terms change over time and they can be confusing when you’re already struggling with internalized homophobia and biphobia and microaggressions and all that good (not good) stuff. It also makes it a very sensitive topic like I was saying at the beginning because it’s definitely a fine line between good representation of a character not wanting a label and bi- or pan- erasure, so I get why people are criticizing this.

I don’t want this post to be too long (it already is sigh) so all I’m saying is that even if you are sure about your label you shouldn’t automatically dismiss books that don’t give their characters one, because to do so implies that real people who for whatever reason won’t or can’t use one don’t deserve to be represented, when that’s obviously not true and harmful.