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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Kids' Lit Novel About “Mob Mentalities” Punished After Online Backlash


When Laura Moriarty decided she wanted to write a dystopian novel about a future America in which Muslims are forcefully corralled into detention centers, she was aware that she should tread carefully. Her protagonist is a white teenager, but one of her main characters, Sadaf, is a Muslim American immigrant from Iran, so Moriarty began by diving into Iranian books and films. Moriarty explained via email that she asked two Iranian immigrant friends to read an early draft and see if Sadaf seemed authentic to them, and whether the language and accent fit with their memories and experiences. A friend of Pakistani and American descent who is a practicing Muslim gave additional feedback. Moriarty asked a senior colleague at the University of Kansas, Giselle Anatol, who writes about Young Adult fiction and has been critical of racist narratives in literature, to read the book with a particular eye toward avoiding another narrative about a “white savior.” And after American Heart was purchased by Harper, the publisher provided several formal “sensitivity reads,” in which a member of a minority group is charged with spotting potentially problematic depictions in a manuscript.


None of this, as it turns out, was enough to protect American Heart from becoming the subject of the latest skirmish in the increasingly contentious battle over representation and diversity in the world of YA literature. American Heart won’t be published until January, but it has already attracted the ire of the fierce group of online YA readers that journalist Kat Rosenfield has referred to as “culture cops.” To them, it was an irredeemable problem that Moriarty’s novel, which was inspired in part by Huckleberry Finn, centers on a white teenager who gradually—too gradually—comes to terms with the racism around her. On Goodreads, the book’s top “community review,” posted in September, begins, “fuck your white savior narratives”; other early commenters on Goodreads accused Moriarty of “profiting off people’s pain” and said “a white writer should not have tackled this story, and neither should a white character be the center of it.”...

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