Asked by Anonymous
Ah, I’ve been wondering when I’d get this question. I admit that I’ve not been very vocal about my feelings on this book because as a fellow author, I don’t feel comfortable speaking negatively about another author’s book. But at the same time I have developed a growing angst over this subject and I will try to put it into words for you. When I first heard of the book, it was through friends who thought I’d be interested in the portrayal of a half-Korean boy. Of course I was! I bought it right away for my daughter. It sounded like a perfect teenage love story. I even recommended it to a friend of mine (non-Korean) who loved it. But then another friend of mine asked me if I had any problems with the depiction of Park and his mother and I hurriedly picked it up before my daughter could read it. Here’s the thing, it IS a lovely little teenage love story. But all I could keep thinking was, Damn it! Why did he have to be Korean? Why did this boy, who is so filled with self-loathing and contempt for his heritage, have to be Korean? Why did his mother with her sing songy broken English have to be Korean?
And because of this, I ended up giving this book away to someone I felt would enjoy it better, a non-Korean. Because I didn’t want my daughter to read this and get that same icky feeling I did. That same humiliating sinking feeling you get when you realize you’ve stumbled across an awful stereotype of a Korean and you cringe that this is all that anyone takes away. And why oh why of all books that could possibly have a diverse main character did it have to be this one that hits the NYT list? Why did Rowell have to include the worst racist comment in the world in this book and think it is okay? Because when Eleanor thinks it, she also at least recognized it was racist. I’m sure that’s why she thought it was ok to include the most racist comment against Asians. But I flinched when I read it. I was so angry when I read it. I hated Eleanor after I read it and I never ever forgave her. No, Asians don’t see things smaller because our eyes are smaller. That is racist. It’s an interesting point to make that you can fall in love with a person of a different culture and still be racist. That’s ultimately Eleanor.
But Park and his mother are more problematic. His mother is described as a chinadoll - a slur in itself. And Park just hates the fact that he doesn’t look more white like his brother. He is filled with self loathing to the point where he even says Asian men are not sexy. SAYS WHO?!! There was a period in my life when I was younger where I pushed away my culture and wished I wasn’t Korean. This was in direct correlation with the amount of racism I endured at the time. So I could understand Park, I could relate to him. But then I FOUND myself! I found my respect and love and pride for my culture. And I recognized just how important my Korean heritage was to me. Park never has that moment of self-discovery. And that is the greatest failure of this book. Because Rowell did not take the opportunity to really understand what it means to be multi-cultural. She wrote a character purely from a white person’s view, never thinking about how a minority person growing up in this country truly feels. The anguish of racism and the complexity of living between two different cultures was never explored. Instead, we are left to believe that Park goes through the rest of his life filled with contempt for his mother’s heritage. A person who wished he was white instead of Asian. And I find myself desperately wishing he’d been white too.
A really interesting post. Yes to so many things—to the China Doll description, to the pain of seeing Park hate part of himself, but especially to the part where Oh never forgives Eleanor for using/thinking in slurs. I think that’s a really authentic—and necessary—response. It’s real—just like Eleanor is for having those thoughts. Because, let’s face it, lots of people who we may or may not ever think of as racist have these moments where horrible, terrible, hateful ideas creep in. Because what we grow up with is often hard to shake off, even when we want to.
But I also think it’s ok to like Eleanor without ever forgiving her, because how many of us have people in our lives that we love, even though they say or believe hateful things? How many of the people we are or know have these deeply conflicting ideas about race and culture and what that all means? Life isn’t neat. Love isn’t neat. And sometime the people we love the most are also the people that we are most ashamed of.
But I do take exception, a bit, when she says Rowell wrote without thinking about how a minority person growing up truly feels… It is absolutely true that it wasn’t explored in any depth. E&P certainly isn’t a YA version of WOMAN WARRIOR or THE BONESETTER’S DAUGHTER or BONE. But I don’t necessarily think that YA writers need to show what teen characters will become, because I don’t believe that people stay they people they are at 15. I didn’t read Park and believe he continued on wishing he’d been white. I read him as a snapshot of a moment, and imagined that he could grow and change the same as any of us. I don’t think 35 year old Park would be just a larger version of 15 year old Park.
But seriously—a great and interesting post. These sorts of discussions are so vital, so important.
I actually believe that you can be a fan of problematic things and I do understand why people love this book. And as an adult, I can hope that Park grows out of his self-loathing. But this book is aimed at young people - teenagers. And I have to ask, what do they take away? Will they have the maturity to say “he’ll grow out of it” or will their take away be Park would rather be white?” Because that was my take away and that was why this book hurt. And I don’t think my criticism was about showing what Park’s character would become in the future. It was based solely on who he is in the book - a self-loathing boy who would rather be white. I could have accepted this if he had had even a moment of recognizing his cultural roots. (I had mine at 16, the same age Park is in the book.) But he didn’t, and as a mother of Korean American girls who are battling their own feelings of cultural confusion, it is unacceptable that she left it like that. If an author is not going to address what is a fundamental issue for POC kids growing up in this country, then the author should reconsider writing POC, because writing POC comes with a responsibility to get it right and be respectful.
Reblogging for Ellen’s further commentary.
Ellen’s distinction in the additional commentary is important, because when we create media, what we put on the page is what we have to assume is taken at face value. We don’t get to say “well, this wasn’t expressly IN the book, but you could *possibly* assume this happened outside the context of the book.”
THE CONTEXT OF THE BOOK is what matters. You can’t say “Dumbledore is gay” and expect that to mean anything when the canonical text gave no indication. When we have stuff like this, it must be contested and challenged and changed WITHIN THE TEXT to count.
We need to do better than “well this wasn’t addressed in the text, but what was REALLY going on is…” or “what REALLY happened later is…” The media stands on its own and is consumed as-is. We don’t get caveats. The author may know the world outside the book, but the book itself is what the audience gets.
"If an author is not going to address what is a fundamental issue for POC kids growing up in this country, then the author should reconsider writing POC, because writing POC comes with a responsibility to get it right and be respectful."
I don’t want them to reconsider writing POC. It would be terrible if authors saw criticisms similar to this and think, “I’m not going to get this right so I’m not going to try at all.” It could lead to less representation of POC.
I would rather authors read such criticisms and made the conscious effort to find well rounded ways to create their characters. If you aren’t sure if you are getting it write… Ask for input and seek advice.
Don’t shy away from characters who aren’t like you, but strive to do them justice.
It is easier to write Neutral characters (white, straight, able-bodied, non-religious, mostly male). Less controversial, strangely. If the major characters of all your books resemble the cast of Friends, you’ll get occasional questions as to why but no major protestations. Because we’re all…
I adore Shannon Hale.
This is a well written author perspective on writing non generic (or neutral) characters.
Don’t be afraid of the dialog. It is important and constructive.
Use it to grow as a writer, rather than as an excuse to shy away from well rounded characters who represent the diversity of life.
Same series of books purchased from the same vendor with non uniform call numbers.
First books came in with FIC SCI for the editor, Sciezka. Then I get FIC SPO because it’s a book about Sports. Then FIC ANG because Angleberger is the first author.
I live 10 min from work. I left 10 min early. I might not get there on time.
I hate traffic.
Asked by bookbee3
hey there! it is very exciting that you’re pumped for your future & you see yourself as a elementary school librarian. like i told another inquiring young one earlier this week, enjoy school and stay open to new experiences! count on the unexpected—from yourself & your path.
definitely start getting library experience as soon as you can. librarian jobs are difficult to come by—school library jobs can be even more competitive because of budgetary restrictions. there’s a lot of competition in the field. just something you should be prepared for.
otherwise, ENJOY high school & college. avoid debt. surround yourself with good people. party when you’re old enough. very best of luck!
I’m an elementary librarian, and it’s amazing.
Make sure you check state by state requirements for the gig. In Texas, for instance, we have to teach in the classroom for 3 years.
While I was never meant to be a teacher, and I certainly did not love it, it gave me great experience for my current job. I have a strong understanding of curriculum and the needs of teachers in the classroom. Both essential to support the teachers, students and community.
I really do love my job. Good luck!
The Carnivorous Carnival by Lemony Snicket
"Miracles are like meatballs, because nobody can exactly agree on what they are made of, where they come from, or how often they should appear.”
Love Love Love
Brazilian fine art photographer Angelica Dass‘ series Humanae identifies portrait subjects from around the world using the Pantone color system. Using an 11×11 pixel swatch from her subjects’ faces, Dass matches them to corresponding Pantone colors, creating an abundant and unique catalog of skin tones that reflects the world’s diversity beyond the categorizations we have long been confined to. We recently asked her more about the ongoing project.
Bought my mom a Pantone book for Christmas. Wish I have her this. 💜💜💜