F is for (Books About) Family #atozchallenge

For A to Z 2018, my theme is Books About ____. If you’re stopping by from your own A to Z blog, feel free to leave a link. If you need help with how to do that, you can look here.

If you’re someone looking to read a lot of great blogs, here’s the link for the A to Z challenge.

I’m a big believer that families don’t have to be blood; we create our families. There are many reasons to create family; the important thing is to know that they’d always have your back no matter what.

This Savage Song, by Victoria Schwab (YA horror): Kate was born into a family with a father who doesn’t seem to love her. August was adopted into a family who just wants to protect him. Their families are at war over control of a dangerous city where violent acts create monsters. Kate and August both have to decide what family means to them, and how they fit into the war. This is a fantastic, gripping book that kept me turning pages. I had just as much trouble putting it down the second time I read it as the first.

If I Stay, by Gayle Forman (YA): When a car accident kills her family and puts Mia in a coma, Mia realizes that she can choose whether to live or die. She thinks about her life while her boyfriend tries to remind her of all the things she has to live for. This novel basically ripped my heart to shreds. So you should definitely read it. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but it’s on my list to watch. But since the preview made me cry, I’m guessing I’ll love the movie too.

The Sun is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon (YA contemporary): Both of her books are fantastic (and now that I think about it, both speak to the nature of family). This one is all about the ways families simultaneously lift us up and drag us down. Natasha and Daniel both love their families, but they both expect them to be different people. The majority of this book takes place on a single day in New York City, but what an unforgettable day!

Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone (and all of them, really), by JK Rowling (MG through YA fantasy): Harry’s parents died, so he ends up stuck with his horrible aunt and uncle, who don’t love him. During his first year at Hogwarts, he finds a family that will stick with him through all seven amazing books. Some people might call this friendship, but when you have people willing to die for you, isn’t that family?

The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (contemporary): Victoria is an orphan who had one shot at a family, and blew it. Now an adult, she has another shot, and it scares her to death. She’s only comfortable with flowers and expressing herself through them, as she was taught as a child. This story is told with dual timelines between 18-year-old Victoria and 8-year-old Victoria. It’s moving and fascinating.

What are your favorite books about family?

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Why I Don’t Care for Character Descriptions

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Chihuly Glass, Photo Credit RJS Photos

It’s 2017, and inclusion is in.

To be clear, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing.  By all means, movies, TV, and books should include a more diverse cast, one that looks more like real life.

But books… should authors include diverse characters? To me, that’s an interesting question with no one right answer.

The way I’ve resolved it is to only describe those parts of characters where physical description is important. For instance, in my manuscript, Acheron Crossing (which I’m trying to get an agent for!), I describe the main character only as fat. It’s important, because she’s bullied for being fat. But does her race or height or hair color matter?

Not at all.

In my mind, the problem is that when you start identifying some characters as white, and then don’t identify the race of other characters, in most cases, they’re assumed to be white. JK Rowling got a lot of crap for not having a diverse enough cast of characters, and she said that they were there, but she wasn’t going to describe them all. Lots of people don’t buy that though.

Another article I read by a young black woman talked about how, when a black woman was cast as Hermione in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, she didn’t see what the big deal was. She had always seen Hermione as black before Emma Watson was cast. She said that because of all the prejudice Hermione faced, and her only descriptors were “bushy brown hair” and “big teeth,” it seemed perfect to her. There are a million articles out there that describe this better than I do. Here’s one.

That article blew me away, and completely changed my thinking. It made me realize that if I don’t describe my characters, maybe the reader can better identify with them. The character can be anything the reader wants them to be.

In my mind, a book is a magical doorway, and the reader gets to be part of that magic. If a reader identifies with a character, that’s the best kind of magic.

In a personal example, I think Nicola Yoon is one of the best authors out there right now. In The Sun Is Also A Star, Natasha is Jamaican American, and Daniel is Korean American, and it was important to the narrative. Culture was all over the book. I had previously read Everything, Everything, and when I was looking up more about The Sun Is Also A Star, I read a reference that the main character, Maddy, in Everything, Everything was partly African-American.

I didn’t remember that.

In fact, I didn’t remember anything about what she looked like.

It didn’t matter to me what race Maddy was, nor did it matter to me what her love interest looked like. If it was relevant to the book, I don’t remember that either.

I remember that it was an amazing plot and a beautiful love story. I remember that it had a breathtaking finale, that I was reading it in Vegas. I was laying by the pool with a friend, and she kept trying to talk to me.

And I wasn’t interested.

Because I had to finish this wonderful book.

Now, I don’t mean to say that the main character in Everything, Everything shouldn’t have been African-American. Honestly, there are tons of books with blonde haired, blue eyed main characters. If I want a MC who looks like me, I have a bookshelf full.

But from what I understand, POC don’t find nearly enough books where people look like they do. So it doesn’t matter if I read past the part where Maddie was African-American. For someone who doesn’t have enough book characters who look like her, that could have been an important connection.

I remember the first time I read a book where the main character was fat (Good in Bed, by Jennifer Weiner). I was in my 20s, and Cannie looked like me. She was a real person, not a fat person caricature who just ate cakes and candy all day and watched TV. She was a writer and had boyfriends and did all the things that normal people do. But she was fat, and it was okay.

Not every book needs a main character who looks a specific way. But in my opinion, if there’s going to be a description in the book, it should serve a purpose. Not just be there because the author is a blue-eyed blonde.

What do you think?