Thursday 24 June 2021

Paperback's Pondering's: The Fetishization of M/M Romance And Representation That I Need To Read More Of


CW: this post will discuss fetishization of m/m romance, lesphobia, homophobia and transphobia 

If you're on book twitter, then you might have seen the horrid post that someone put on booktok, explaining that they loved author Casey McQuiston's book "Red White and Royal Blue" because they were "attracted" to the two male protagonists and their romance, however they hated McQuiston's new f/f novel "One Last Stop" SIMPLY because the protagonists were two women in a relationship. This post rightly pissed me and a lot of people off. For more info on this matter, you can view this twitter thread. 

The fetishization of m/m romance by straight women has been going on since forever. These novels typically get a lot of publicity and become staples on people's bookshelves. I cannot tell you the amount of times that I've seen someone recommend "The Song of Achilles" on booktok. However, the same cannot be said for sapphic romances. Books with f/f romances are usually not as popular amongst the booktok (and in other book communities) crowd. It's saddening to me that people aren't recognizing McQuiston's talent as a writer with their new novel just because it's f/f. Straight women tend to fetishize m/m romances because their homophobia continues to see gay men as only existing for their entertainment, and they only see gay men as hypersexualized people. This could also be tied to the "gay best friend" trope, in which straight girls in movies in tv tend to have a flamboyant gay male best friend, which leads to many straight girls in real life wanting this for themselves. 

Similarly, there's the fact that drag queens are usually more popular amongst straight girls than drag kings, and trans performers don't get nearly the same publicity as cis-gendered performers. This fetishization will only continue the more us straight readers only read from one group. Now don't get me wrong, there are amazing m/m romances out there, and it is CRUCIAL that we continue to read these, especially from queer BIPOC authors and trans authors specifically. However, we cannot only read m/m romances and call ourselves well-read. We need to give f/f romances the same attention. This discussion has only prompted me to think about the representation that I could read more of, and I want you to think about this as well. 

I have found that for myself, my bookshelf is severely lacking in books featuring trans women protagonists. I have a plethora of amazing books with trans men in the leading roles, such as "Cemetery Boys" by Aiden Thomas, "Felix Ever After" by Kacen Callender, and "Stay Gold" by Tobly McSmith. However, to this date, I can only think of author I've read from who features trans girls in leading roles, and that would be Akwaeke Emezi. Now this is nobody's fault but mine. There are trans and non-binary authors out there who are writing books with trans girl protagonists, however I have pushed myself to read the books that are more in the spotlight, which are typically books with trans men. This goes back to the fetishization discussion, as these books often feature m/m romances. 

I came to the realization that I needed to expand my reading of trans women protagonists a while ago. However, when I googled recommendations, the results that came up pointed me to a few trans women authors such as Meredith Russo, however the books still recommended to me were mostly along the lines of Cemetery Boys, Felix Ever After, and more books with trans men. I LOVED these books, but they're not what I'm looking for currently, and its frustrating when I google specifically to find more books with trans women characters, and the results point me to a general post about books with trans characters, that always offer me the popular m/m books I've already read. I'll also mention that most of the trans women authors that come up in results are white. Seriously, one of the authors recommended to me on google was Caitlyn Jenner. Not exactly what I'm going for. 

I did do some digging, which is of course my responsibility, and nobody else's. We cannot expect trans and queer people to do the work for us. I am looking forward to reading from Meredith Russo, April Daniels, and anything Casey McQuiston puts out next. However, I know that these authors are white, and I need to expand my reading far beyond reading just from white trans women and white non-binary people. Akwaeke Emezi is a fiercely talented non-binary Black author, but their works are quite heavy for me and I prefer books in the contemporary realm. So, I'll keep looking, but I also would like for publishing agencies and people in the book community to understand that m/m romances and trans men are not the only LGBTQ+ books out there. Straight people cannot call themselves allies when they only look out for one group. 

This was a bit of a rambling post. Basically what I'm trying to get at is that fetishization of queer men needs to stop, Casey McQuiston and other authors writing sapphic novels deserve the world, and there is always room for improvement in how we read. I am looking forward to reading some great sapphic novels in the future, especially featuring trans women as the protagonists. If you have any recommendations, please share them in the comments. I would be eternally grateful. 

What do you think about the fetishization of m/m romance? What representation could you read more of? 

Emily @ Paperback Princess

Friday 18 June 2021

More Than Just A Pretty Face by: Syed M. Masood

 Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary 

Published: August 4, 2020 by: Little, Brown Books 

Pages: 352 

Rating: 4/5 stars 

CW: discussion of genocide against South-East Asian people, cyber-bulling/revenge porn 

Danyal Jilani is a charismatic Pakistani-American teen from a traditional Muslim family. He dreams of becoming a chef, though his father wishes something more stable for him, and his crush Kaval's family does not see Danyal as a good fit for their daughter. When Danyal is entered into a contest to write a speech, he seeks the opportunity to show the world how capable he is, and he enlists the help of studious and shy Bisma along the way. However, the more Danyal researches the subject of his speech, the more he finds himself conflicted with doing what is expected from him, and doing what is right. 

I received this book from the lovely Tess @ Book Rapt. I was excited to read a cute, Pakistani rom-com and I was hoping for something similar to the vibes that Sandhya Menon's books have. This book did not disappoint on witty banter and some great character development, however there are some issues to address. 

First off, I was really happy to read a YA Pakistani rom-com from a boy's perspective. Most of the YA contemporaries I read come from a girl's POV, and I really wanted to change up how I read. I loved reading from Danyal's point of view because I could definitely see how he is in conflict with the traditions his father wants for him, and his actual aspirations. I think choosing to portray Danyal as an aspiring chef was a great move on the author's part, because we got some great food descriptions and I loved seeing how passionate Danyal was about food. 

One of the book's major topics is a discussion on Winston Churchill. Churchill is the subject of Danyal's speech, and the more Danyal researches about him, the more he finds out about the atrocities that Churchill put onto South-East Asians during English colonialism. Danyal is expected to write a speech that praises Churchill, but he begins to question if this is the right move. Danyal starts off as a character that everyone underestimates, however he really takes up an interest in this subject and I loved how he developed to become more active in the issues that his community faces. 

I also thought Bisma was a great backing character. She was super smart and strong, and her commitment to helping Danyal succeed despite her initial distaste towards him was really great to see. Bisma also has to deal with issues such as revenge porn and misogyny in the novel, and I liked how the author handled these issues. 

The issues I have about this book are ones that I'm not necessarily equipped to handle. I'm Pakistani but not Muslim, and I know some Muslim reviewers have had issues with how relationships were portrayed in the novel. Some stated that rules were not followed through, and I did think myself that I wasn't sure if the Muslim representation was all that great. The author is Muslim, and it's important to see all sides of the argument, however I do think these reviews need to be taken into account. Here's a link to the Goodreads page for the book to see some own voices reviews. 

I guess another thing that just kind of irks me a bit about books featuring South-East Asian characters is that most of the time, the families are super strict, mean, and sometimes just downright misogynistic. Now while it's true that a lot of brown families are very traditional, I think sometimes books tend to mistake traditional for being a negative home environment, and I just want to say that not all brown families are traditional in the first place. Yes, many Indian/Pakistani families have high standards for their kids, but this doesn't mean that respect isn't in place. Overall, I think I would like to read some more books with brown families that are just fully supportive of their children. I think we need more of that family dynamic in South-East Asian YA lit. 

That's it for my review. Overall, More Than Just A Pretty Face was a fun novel to add to my Pakistani YA lit collection. However, I do think us Pakistanis could improve in our writings to encompass a greater scope of families and characters. 

Have you read More Than Just A Pretty Face? What did you think? 

Emily @ Paperback Princess

Friday 11 June 2021

Highlighting Books by Indigenous Authors

 CW: this post will discuss trauma against Indigenous people through residential schools 

The whole world has been paying attention to the devastating discovery of a mass grave site at a residential school in Kamloops, BC, in which the bodies of 215 children were found. For those of you who don't know, the residential school system took Indigenous children across Turtle Island away from their homes and into an abusive system which attempted to force the Indigenous culture out of the children. The number of children who died in the system is much larger than what was reported by the Government of Canada, and the schools were run by both the Catholic and Anglican Churches. To this day, Pope Francis has yet to apologize. 

For those of you who want to learn more, you can access the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action. The TRC was implemented in 2008 in order to call attention to the abuses suffered by Indigenous peoples in Canada and what the Government and all settlers can do to reconcile with Indigenous peoples. 

You can also access the Indian Residential School Survivors Society which offers counselling and support to survivors, and in which you can also donate to. 

As a settler, it is crucial that I listen to survivors and turn my anger into action for all Indigenous people. As this is a book blog, one of the most powerful things we can do is read from Indigenous authors, listen to their stories, and uplift them as much as we do white authors. I have had the privilege to read many fabulous books by Indigenous authors across Turtle Island, which I will share with you all. Similarly, if you have any further recommendations, please add them to the comments. We can all turn our love of reading into action. 

1. The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline 

Cherie Dimaline is a writer from the Georgian Bay Métis Nation who writes mostly young adult and adult fiction. Her novel The Marrow Thieves is a YA science fiction book about Indigenous families who are on the run from settlers who want to steal their bone marrow in order to gain the power to dream. I have now read this book twice, and I absolutely love it. The book alludes to residential schools through its sci-fi setting, and also contains a tight-knit family who will stick together no matter what. It is a staple in my opinion. 

2. Shadows Cast by Stars by Catherine Knutsson 

Catherine Knutsson is a member of the Métis Nation, and her novel, Shadows Cast by Stars, is a dystopian tale set on a fictional version of Vancouver Island. In this novel, a plague which only affects settlers has taken over, and so Indigenous people seek haven before settlers come hunting them down for their blood, which may contain the cure. This book has a number of sci-fi elements, and also offers a look into Indigenous spirituality. Knutsson has a magical way with words. 

3. Love After The End edited by Joshua Whitehead 

This book is a speculative fiction anthology edited by Joshua Whitehead and featuring two-spirit and queer Indigenous authors. I loved the exploration of gender and sexuality that was present in each and every story, as well as general themes of utopia and hope. If you are a fan of spec-fic and also want to learn more about what it means to be two-spirit, give this anthology a read. 

4. Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith 

Cynthia Leitich Smith is a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, and she writes mostly YA contemporaries centering around Native-American characters. Her novel Hearts Unbroken is a contemporary book about a Native-American teen named Louise whose brother Hughie is cast in the school play, The Wizard of Oz. However, Hughie's casting stirs up racism in the town as people question his worth in the play, and Louise also struggles with L. Frank Baum's racist past. This book was a fabulous contemporary and I would love to read more by Smith. 

5. Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese 

Richard Wagamese was an Ojibwe author, whose novel Indian Horse became a bestseller and was even adapted into a movie. In this novel, an Ojibwe child named Saul is forced into the residential school system where he takes up an interest in hockey. However, the trauma he endures in the school carries with him, even when he enters bigger hockey leagues and endures racism from the other players. Richard Wagamese was a fiercely talented writer who everyone should read from. This book deals with some extremely heavy themes, so please be careful. However, I would encourage those looking to learn more about residential schools to read this. 

6. A Coyote Columbus Story by Thomas King 

This is a picture book by bestselling Cherokee and Greek author Thomas King. This book retells Christopher Columbus' invasion of North America through the eyes of Coyote, the trickster animal. The illustrations in this book were so vibrant and well done, and this book is great for children to learn more about Indigenous traditions. 

7. Dreaming in Indian edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Leatherdale

This book is a non-fiction anthology of short stories, poems, and other art by Indigenous creators. The editors did a fantastic job at including a wide range of Indigenous artists from across Turtle Island, and overall this book is intended to inspire Indigenous youth to take up activism in whatever their art form may be. 

These are my recommendations for anyone who would like to expand their reading of Indigenous authors. However, I recognize that this list is not complete. Please include any more authors who you love and I will add them to the list along with who recommended them. I want this post to continue to shed light on Indigenous creators and the value that their work brings during a time which is often filled with so much sadness. 

Have you read any of these books? What did you think? 

Emily @ Paperback Princess

Wednesday 2 June 2021

Such a Fun Age by: Kiley Reid

*I found it really hard to make this review spoiler free, so I'm just going to say proceed with caution* 

 Genre: Fiction, Contemporary 

Published: December 31, 2019 by: G.P. Putnam's Sons 

Pages: 310 

Rating: 5/5 stars 

CW: anti-Black racism on both the micro and macro level, including racial profiling and racial slurs. 

Emira is a twenty-five year old Black woman, who is a babysitter for a wealthy white family. She is struggling to make ends meet and also with what she wants to do with her life. One night, she is profiled at a grocery store while with the little girl she cares for, Briar. The cops are called, and Emira is accused of kidnapping. Alix Chamberlin, Briar's mother, is devastated by the situation and vows to make things right. However, Emira is weary of Alix's overbearing will to help, and things get even more complicated when someone appears in Emira's life who got the whole incident on tape. 

The fact that this is a debut novel is such a testament to Kiley Reid's talent. She has such an incredible way with words that builds up an immersive world, provides specific detail to capture topics and themes, and makes you not want to put the book down. I flew through this book, and it easily became one of my favourite books of 2020. 

The characters were so well thought out. Emira was strong-willed and also had an amazing relationship with Briar that was well-developed throughout the novel. I got a great sense of how Emira really cared for Briar despite her weary feelings towards Alix, and how Emira tried to protect this relationship no matter what. It was interesting to see this relationship develop over time as things begin to escalate. 

Alix was a fascinating character. She immediately takes up defense for Emira after the incident, however we quickly see that her motives do not seem genuine, and her development was something that I both suspected, but also was shocked by. I think Reid did a fantastic job at foreshadowing some events to come, but also shocking the reader so that we are still kept engaged. 

This book touches on a number of topics, including being a white saviour, what makes up a family, and what it means to let go. The topic of being a white saviour was something that I found particularly important, especially considering most popular stories about racism from times past, such as "The Help," are now rightfully being critiqued for how they portray Black women vs. white women. I think this book alludes to "The Help," and brings a spotlight to these white saviour novels and why they are problematic. 

The topic of family was also something that resonated with me. It was interesting to see Alix's relationship with her family change over time, as well as Emira's relationship with Alix, and with Briar. Alix kept saying to Emira that she was a part of their family, but it didn't always seem that way. Eventually, Emira has to make a number of important choices that determine where she will end up and who she wants to accept as her family. These choices add to the overall importance of the message. 

The ending was one of the best endings to a novel that I have ever read. Again, it was something that both shocked me, but that I was also not surprised by. I think the book ends on a semi-bleak note, which I appreciated, because it shows that dismantling racism is a continuing struggle. I think the ending fit the story so well and I couldn't have imagined it any other way. 

Overall, you have to read this book, especially if you have found yourself taken by novels such as "The Help" in the past. I think books like these should be the ones we turn to in order to really get a sense of what it means to be Black in America, and how this experience can often show history repeating itself. 

Have you read Such a Fun Age? What did you think? 

Emily @ Paperback Princess