My Giveaway + Announcements

*My first foray into an Author Interview with Andrew Xia Fukuda is up! (Should I do more?)
*My first manga review for Natsume Yuujinchou V.1 - please let me know what you think

Thursday, July 29, 2010

My Strange Angels hate, lemme show it to you

[Note: Normally I save my book hates on Never Gonna Be Finished Books for my dreamwidth blog, but I figured since I haven't posted here in forever and I had a bookish related post all readily typed up, I'd just repost it here too. Also this Anti-Rec at least has some general concluding thoughts I had that I think go just beyond this novel, so it isn't just hating. =D]

So, there's this YA novel plaguing the shelves right now called Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow. I've read about three chapters of it.

I hate it.

I really, really, really hate it.

There are three basic reasons why I could not read beyond the 3rd chapter of this horrendous book.


omg so atrocious. St. Crow really likes to use similes and metaphors. The problem? She kind of sucks at them. THEY DON'T EVEN MAKE SENSE!! Like, I could barely concentrate on the story because she'd throw in a line like

"my head hurts like a bowling ball being squeezed by a giant's fingers" (paraphrased, but it's in the first paragraph of the 3rd chapter if you don't believe me)

And I couldn't even pay attention to what's actually happening in the story because all I can think is WTF DO YOU MEAN YOUR HEAD HURTS LIKE A GIANT'S FINGERS LIKE WTF I CAN'T EVEN SAY THIS STRAIGHT WITHOUT IT SOUNDING STUPID OMG WHY COULDN'T YOU JUST SAID YOUR HEAD HURTS PERIOD?!?!?!?!?!?!


Some people should just never ever write a metaphor or simile ever. St. Crow is one of those people.


Lili St. Crow thinks it's perfectly okay to describe a Half-Asian character as a "half-breed" Multiple times within one chapter.

I... don't know what to say to this. EXCEPT THAT IT IS A RACIST, RACIST, RACIST PIECE OF FAIL!!!!


Gawd, the narration just can't seem to get through a single chapter without some cheerleader hating. Why is it that pretty = stupid = useless?! ugh, I mean, cheerleader hating is widespread all over YA, but this book just sent me over the edge.

Quote~ "Better to be strong than pretty and useless. I’ll take a plain girl with her head screwed on right over a cheerleader any day."

Everything I am quoting happens before chapter 3 is over, btw.


So I chucked this book soundly against a wall like it deserves and proceeded to loudly anti-rec this book whenever I get the chance or remember when talking to friends.

You know what's sad though? Is that while people might try to argue with me that I should still keep going with the "half-breed" line or the cheerleader crap, but 100% of the time when I mention the atrocious writing then they would concede that my dropping of the book was a good idea. Like, hating on a book because the writing sucks is okay, but hating on a book because it was racist or has some misogynistic shit in it is not?

I mean, I'm not surprised or anything by these kinds of reaction, but it still makes me HEADDESK all the same.


A thousand apologies for being so very absent from the online stage. I guess you could say I was feeling a sort of fatigue? Not just from blogging, but even my reading seems to be affected. While I was not posting reviews I was still making my way through plenty of novels, but lately I haven't been able to concentrate on reading the written word. My eyes glaze over, and I'd drop said book to make way for eating or TV or something. (Like, I couldn't even focus on a Cynthia Kadohata book! *sobs*)

You might be thinking, but Yuan! You claim to have read a bunch of books before you hit this recent reader's block development! Why don't you just spend this time during your reading slump to like, type up your reviews?

Which... I would, but I've also been hit with a reviewing slump too (hence my shame in not posting). No, seriously, I'd type a review, and it'd be like this:

'This book reminds me of a mecha anime series, with delicious star-crossed romance and time-loop amazing-ness and a whole lot more swearing than your typical mecha fare but sadly no melodramatic music accompaniment to go with it. Still, AWESOME' (see: All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka)

Which... 1) No one but people who know about anime or gundam stuff will understand and 2) it's like, a sentence long.

The only time I managed to write more than one paragraph about a novel I read was when I'm talking about them in the context trying desperately to convert someone to reading a novel mixed in with fangirl screaming through caplocks. (In other words, my version of a book recommendation)

For example, Standing in the Wind by Traci L. Jones. (Note: this was literally copy+paste from an email I sent to a friend)

omg okay so there's this book called Standing Against the Wind by Traci L. Jones AND YOU HAVE TO HAVE TO READ IT. SO ADORABLE LIKE I CANNOT EVEN BEGIN OMG.

Okay so it's middle grade school and Patrice is like this super nerdy girl who moved to this deadbeat school for lalalla family reasons that involve her mom being in jail and having to stay with her aunt who lived in a poor neighbourhood. She's like super quiet and stuff and has puffy hair so everyone makes fun of her at school but there's this one guy who lives in her neighbourhood who's popular that treats her okay, and tells people to knock it off if he catches ppl teasing her to the point of tears. ANYHOW, so one day popular guy approaches her and asks her to help tutor his little brother who's struggling in school and then they meet up at each other's place or at the library and BOND OVER HOMEWORKING AND SIBLINGS AND GAHHHHHHHHHH SO CUTE YOU HAVE TO READ IT!!!

And it's so so adorable because clearly the guy is interested and uses his brother as a pretext to hang out with her, and is such a joker and very nice, and she's all like 'guh, why does he want to hang out with me in the library instead of going to the park with friends?!' and it's so obvious that the guy thinks the world of her (he is always like 'you're the smartest person I know!' with a kind of awe and is just really proud of her and stuff) and he starts working at schoolwork and stuff just so he can have an excuse to hang out with her, and even if Patrice had no confidence in her looks the guy thinks she's totally fine and he does everything he knows how to make her happy and I LOVE THIS BOOK SO MUCH LIKE YOU WOULD NOT BELIEVE OMG.


Also! I dont' put much stock in the whole awards winning thing, but this book won the same award that Angela Johnson (author of The First Part Last) so you know it has to be at least halfway awesome.


... wait readers! DON'T RUN AWAY. I will never inflict this kind of madness on the public again, I swear!

*coughs* But anyways, I seem to have momentarily lost my ability to think critically about the books I've read and enjoyed lately. And on the complete opposite side I'm also developing even less patience than before with books that tick me off and end up not finishing them, thus not leaving reviews for y'all about the atrocious-ness I suffered through.

Sooooooo, I've been thinking about ways in which I can still maintain this blog even if I have this review and reading slump, and then it hit me: MANGA REVIEWS. See, I might not be able to sift through text these days, but my abilities to wade my way through manga and reading visual text haven't been hindered in the slightest. This is perhaps a little bit problematic since I suspect my readers here are more into the whole novel thing, and not many visitors here are familiar with the sequential art reading ways. But whatever. It's what I feel capable of discussing these days, so I guess I'll just go forward with it.

(But I do promise a book review for Siobhan Dowd's Solace on the Road sometime very soon, as I got it for a review copy and I will FORCE WORDS OUT OF MY FINGERS to write it if I have to! =D)

And don't anyone think I forgot about the whole Asians-on-Covers matter. I have been working on this one post and it should be up within the coming week. I'll also try to promote more meta-like discussions here as well. A soapbox post on critiquing reviews is probably coming up soon as well.

So basically, I'M NOT DEAD, I SWEAR. AND I WILL MAKE A COMEBACK. *pumps fist in air*

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

BBAW Registration

As usual, I'm signing up for all this last minute, but better last minute than late, right? (... at least, I hope I'm not too late?!?!)

So, I decided to go for the "Best Cultural Blog" category, because while I don't really see this book blog as one culture specific or whatever, I identify very strongly with the Asian diaspora identity and often talk about this in my reviews and other related posts. Also I do try to be mindful of people coming from different cultural backgrounds from myself, but who knows if I'm actually successful? lol.

Best Cultural Blog:

Child of the Owl by Laurence Yep
Wait for Me by An Na
Crossing by Andrew Xia Fukuda
The Faces of Covers: On Whitewashing and Fantasy
My many feelings on the new Silver Phoenix covers

Just for fun, entering for "Best YA Book Blog" because while I do review MG and the rare rare occasional adult (mostly SFF) title, my passion is YA and the majority of the books I read and ultimately discuss are YA as well.

Best Young Adult Book Blog:
Second Childhood: Review of Song Quest by Katherine Roberts
Triple Snapshots: YA Faerie Romance
Review: A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee
Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger
Give Up the Ghost by Megan Crewe

Also entering for "Best New Blog" category.

Best New Blog

Sequential Art Review: Le pacte des yokai by Yuki Midorikawa - Vol. 1
A Girl Made of Dust by Nathalie Abi-Ezzi
Discussion Post: On Minor Characters
Discussion Post: Reading in a Second Language
Triple Snapshots: Cynthia Kadohata

My many feelings on the new Silver Phoenix Covers

Oh, where to begin? Please read inkstone's post on this, dear readers of this blog, even if you don't want to go through my own post on this topic. It's important. And if you'd like to read more, inkstone is also collecting a linkspam on this issue.

On the eve (just a couple hours before, in fact) of The Last Airbender opening night, I saw a new blog post by Cindy Pon, author of the fabulous fantasy Silver Phoenix. It broke my heart. I refrained from commenting anywhere that night and literally turned off my computer so I could just, you know, take that time for some indulgent self pity. And also write a private journal entry to myself about this + TLA that I refrained from posting up publicly because I basically keysmashed expletives for about 10,000+++ words in capslock.

In other words, I was too distraught to be coherent enough to offer anything meaningful or constructive to add into the conversation. Having given this a couple of days to calm down enough to write something beyond FUCK and HATE though, I think I am reading to put in my own two cents about this situation.

*deep breaths*

This was the original cover of Silver Phoenix in hardback:

THESE are the new repacked covers for the first book and its sequel:

Many people have contributed in blog posts and/or comments on how they felt about these covers. I too have many many feeeeeeeeeeelings on this matter, and there will probably be a series of posts regarding Silver Phoenix and Asians-on-covers related things, but for this post in particular I wish to simply address the covers on their own. I will speak about these covers in 3 parts.

1) Blaming Lack of Title Success Because of Asian Cover Model = Ridiculous. Whitewashing the Cover Repackaging As the Answer? THAT'S RACIST.

Make no mistake, these covers were clearly repackaged to remove any traces of "racial markers" that would give away the protagonist's "Asian-ness", to make it “less ethnic” to reach a “broader (white) audience”. I, and many people who have posted on this, find this a disgrace. Please do not bring up the fact that these new covers are ambiguous enough to be a person of Asian descent, the fact that they tried so hard to make these covers look ~*racially ambiguous*~ (i.e. can pass for white) speaks for itself. The novel Silver Phoenix is a fantasy deeply steeped in Chinese culture and folklore, and to advertise the story with a cover that tries to obscure this fact is dishonest and downright wrong. As bookshop has put it, it robs this novel of its integrity.

The reasoning given behind these cover repackaging move was because the first book didn’t sell well. A large part of this had to do with the fact that the book buyers who decide what will be stocked in shelves choose not to include this title. Now, we may never know whether or not the book buyers skipped this title because it had a clearly Asian face on the cover, but the undeniable fact is that the PUBLISHERS decided that THAT HAVING AN ASIAN FACE ON THE COVER MUST HAVE BEEN THE REASON BEHIND THIS TITLE NOT GETTING PICKED UP. It upsets me, really really upsets me that this was the reasoning given, because it’s SO NONSENSICAL. Think of it this way if for some reason anyone reading this still think this is a logical conclusion: no one ever goes ‘gee this fantasy title about a Caucasian girl going to magic school didn’t sell well, it must have been because we had a white girl on the cover.’ THIS ONLY HAPPENS WHEN WE HAVE A POC ON THE COVER. If a POC title doesn’t sell well, having a POC protagonist is always to blame. FAIL FAIL FAIL RACIST SHIT FAIL I’M SICK OF THIS CRAP.

I understand the need for a cover repackaging due to the first hardcover editions poor sales. Repackaging the cover makes sense. But whitewashing the cover as a marketing strategy? Is wrong. And most likely has far more to do with the prevalent systematic racism type mentality rampant all over the YA (and probably other genres/categories) book industry than any type of reality in the actual success of a novel.

This is all I have to say about this stupid, stupid matter, but if you want to hear in more detail about why this kind of marketing mentality is ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS, megwrites wrote up a long post detailing and explaining why this is such a logic!fail Attack of the Whitewashing Strikes Back Again!

2) No One Needs More Passive Agency-Removed Female Cover Models

These covers not only were repackaged to obscure Ai Ling's race, but they were also repackaged to imitate all the Melissa Marr/Alyson Noel/Kelley Armstrong/etc look. This was presumably done as a business tactic, to imitate covers of successfully sold fantasy/paranormal titles so that the book buyers of the large retail bookselling industry will decide to actually stock this book in its shelves. Besides calling into this sketchy business tactic rationalizing the whitewashing of Silver Phoenix, don't people just find the fact that publishers are actively putting out more of these same-old covers grating? I honestly probably would have swallowed a new cover repackaging of Silver Phoenix a whole lot better if they just went for a pure object cover or something, since the cover also besides the whitewash seems to like to emphasize the ~*glowing*~ object, but no, we get these types of passive!white girls holding shiny object crap that takes away the woman's agency. When you cut off the eyes, the face, the body parts of the cover model in the cover frame to maximize the focus on an inanimate object, you RENDER THE PERSON IN THE COVER, A WOMAN, INTO A PROP, A BACKGROUND.


And, okay, you know what? I get it, shiny objects are pretty, yaddyadda, but honestly I think you can achieve the same shiny!object with the whole ~*dark urban*~ kind of cover just as effectively with those purely object covers a la Holly Black. If the cover is just the shiny object then it's symbolism without the skeevy cut-up woman agency-removal stuff (and also sans the whitewashing problem! YOU COULD HAVE KILLED TWO BIRDS WITH ONE STONE, GREENWILLOW). Judging by the fact that publishers are repacking covers to imitate this look in order to get more sales is basically a horrifying alarm bell sounding on what our future shelves. Just one or two of these covers are fine and are less problematic so long as we still have covers featuring active!woman with a full face and/or showing the eyes looking out towards the reader, but I am not cool with seeing these kinds of agency-removal covers DOMINATING the YA paranormal romance section for the next 10++ years of YA lit. *SHUDDERS*

I understand that these covers are a norm, but it's a norm I'm not willing to embrace, and I ask for those who care at all about the portrayal of postive women in teen fiction and women with agency on their covers to please listen and let's work together to stop feeding the YA book industry in churning out sales that promote these kinds of cover marketing. Please. Let's ask for change. We deserve better.

3) Because Asian Girls are All Passive Demure China Dolls…?!?!


For white teenage girls, the covers a la Melissa Marr/Kelley Armstrong/Alyson Noel are not, as of yet, all they get for cover models on their YA books. We have white women cover modeling their full faces, a full figure, their back figure, their side profile, a close up of their eyes ETC. And sure not all YA books about white teenage girls make it on the shelves but YA books featuring white female protagonists do dominate the YA shelves and even if we weren't happy with the way one type of cover featured (white) women, we could just move to the next shelf and more or less easily find another one that will have active women looking head on at her audience.

Let me tell you something about the likelihood of getting a FULL, eyes-looking-out-at-the-audience distinctly Asian face on the foreground of the cover for YA books: Maybe 1 or 2 covers from 1 publishing house, every one or two years. Probably 3 years if we're only including these types of covers with Asian authors.*

Do you see - do you understand, how amazing and incredible it was to have the Silver Phoenix original cover the way it was? Nevermind just YA books, across all genres and categories of the US publishing industry, fiction featuring Asian females almost never ever show a full face like that, the EYES so clearly shown. It's not that these covers never happen, but that they come so rarely I could probably count them on my fingers and they always grab my eyes because they're like crumbs to me, to those starving for Asian representation I can get behind on fully.

If ever I get an Asian female protagonist's FACE on my cover it's usually with her head bent a little forward, eyes lowered and showing the eyelashes. Because the face of Asian women is a demure and quiet one, see?!?!?!?!

The fact that the book buyers refused to have this face on their shelves, the fact that now we have another cover of a teenage girl who is of Asian descent displayed as being passive and demure is like ten steps back from where the original book packaging has gone. And I won't lie: this hurts me. As a teenage girl of Chinese ethnicity, this hurts like burning.

What will it take for active!Asian protagonists to be fairly portrayed on covers AND be shelved in bookstores faced-out for readers to buy? WHAT WILL IT TAKE?!

A Post Script:

My father once cautioned me against hoping for so much. Don't look for Asian faces in Hollywood, don't look for Asian faces in this white-dominated world, if I really needed one watch a Mainland China film, a Hong Kong drama, a Taiwanese rock concert -- but I'm still here. I'm still asking. And maybe my dad is right, maybe this path can only lead to disappointment and heartbreak as this book making industry keeps making all the signs that they just don't give a damn about what I want, but I have met some good people on this blog, and I'm still young (maybe childish?) enough to believe in change.

Thank you to all who read this post to the end. Thank you for listening. If you care at all about this, as a YA reader, as a believer in rightful Asian representation in fiction, whatever, please consider spreading the word, speaking up. Words are the start of change, and silence only reinforces the status quo. (Disclaimer: I cannot and am not obliging anyone to speak out! If you don't care, then you don't care, I can't make you change your mind.)

Finally, an embed video of Silver Phoenix's book trailer. Because Cindy Pon wrote a beautiful story, and everyone should give it shot:

(If you liked the trailer and wish to read a few sample pages, you can find the first 70 pages of Silver Phoenix here.)

*Not sure how empirically I can prove this, but I find that most of the full Asian faces I see on covers have a white author attached to writing it. If you want to prove me wrong and that the cover treatment on Asian content for white and Asian authors are completely level and exactly the same, go ahead. I'll listen.