Friday, October 12, 2018

Discussion: Why I Read OwnVoices Books


This Week’s Topic: Why I Read OwnVoices Books
I had read a blog post earlier in the week discussing how many OwnVoices authors are attacked for the representation in their books, which by the way makes me nuts. You know, questioning someone about their personal experience as member of a particular group, but I am not here to discuss that. What it had me thinking about is why I read OwnVoices books. 
I grew up in East Flatbush Brooklyn, which is a largely Caribbean neighborhood. Almost all my friends were from the islands, and I learned so much about their culture from them. I could have read it in a book, but hearing about their traditions, having them bring me food to sample, or music to listen to was such a better way to discover those things. Because, as they shared these parts of themselves, I could sense the emotional impact and importance it had to them.

I feel the same way, when I read an OwnVoices book. 

I am not saying, that authors outside of a particular group are incapable of researching properly, but because they haven't lived it and the story they are trying to tell isn't really theirs, they cannot bring the same kind of emotion, insight, or nuance, that an OwnVoices author can offer. I also don't think an OwnVoices author always needs to write about diversity, but when they do, I believe they avoid those stereotypes and tropes that seem to permeate "diverse" books written by majority authors, because they share the character's identity. 

I taught in my home county, which I feel is one of the most diverse in NJ, and I was lucky enough to have many, many students over the years, who had shared so many things with me. They shared things about their religions, their countries of origin, their culture, and also some of the negative things they had experienced. I can hear about these things on the news or read about them in a newspaper, but hearing from someone who has lived it is so much more meaningful for me. 

Some OwnVoices books I adored:


To Be Honest
by Maggie Ann Martin
by Rachael Lucas
by John Green
by Ned Vizzini
by Abdi Nazemian
by Sandhya Menon
by S.K. Ali
by Jason Reynolds
by Leigh Bardugo
by Amy Spalding
by Francisco X. Stork
by Jenny Han

Now it's your turn!

Do you have a favorite OwnVoices book? 
Let us know in the comments!

34 comments:

  1. I loved It’s Kind of A Funny Story, too! It was very relatable for me. I think I grew up in a place that was the opposite of your hometown. I just Googled the demographics, and my hometown is 92% white, 5% Latino, and 3% everybody else. If I want to learn about other cultures, I had to rely on books.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

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    1. I have never in my life lived somewhere that white. My mind is blown.

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  2. Not every story can represent everyone and I do think authors should be able to write whatever they want but there's so much authenticity that an own voice author brings to a story that no amount of research can match. And some stories aren't ours to tell.

    Karen @ For What It's Worth

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    1. That last bit is what really sums it up - some stories aren't ours to tell, and they are best told by someone, who has lived and experience things as part of that group.

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  3. As a Caribbean born and raised OwnVoices aspiring author this post makes me SO HAPPY Sam!!! Thank you! xoxo

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    1. Whoo hoo! Can't wait until I can read your story.

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  4. I think you’re absolutely right. Great discussion today.

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    1. There is definitely a difference between a character written by a "gazer" and someone who has lived it.

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  5. Great discussion. There are a couple that I have had my eye on. Thanks for sharing.
    sherry @ fundinmental

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    1. I love that there seem to be more and more to choose from every year.

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  6. I like and agree with what you said about being able to feel the emotional impact. While I applaud authors for including diversity even when it's not ownvoices (as long as they've researched not given bad rep), it's still almost never going to be the same as ownvoices. I think having any good rep is good, but like you said, someone who hasn't experienced something themselves isn't going to get all the nuance and everything.

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    1. I have such complicated feelings about when an author from a majority group does writes a book, because they can't seem to win there. If they don't have diversity, people are negative about it, but if they include diverse characters, there is usually some sort of backlash too. But if I had two books in front of me with MCs from a minority group, be it sexuality, disability, religion, ethnicity, or race, I would pick the OwnVoices book first.

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  7. Yes, yes, and once again, yes.

    Though It's Kind of a Funny Story breaks my heart since the author eventually died from his depression.

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    1. I read the book after his death, and it was one of the reasons I cried so much at the end. It was so hopeful, but then he lost the fight. It was heartbreaking.

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  8. I live in a rural area and the smaller towns I live close to are pretty white. That's part of the reason I enjoy reading #OwnVoices books.

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    1. I think they are one of the best ways to learn about people and customs that you might not know a lot about, and I trust the rep more, when it comes from someone within a particular community.

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  9. Being from Brazil the stereotyping that goes on after I tell someone that is disheartening. OwnVoices books are awesome! I love hearing about authentic representations of different cultures and people in books (specially in YA). I would love to see that bleed more into paranormal romance and urban fantasy (which is what I read he most).

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    1. I have always felt like TV, movies, and books need to properly represent people without resorting or propagating stereotypes, because they could possibly be the only exposure some people have to those, who are different from them. I would think urban fantasy would not be too hard to incorporate diversity, but I guess it comes down, to some degree, that more diverse authors need to be writing those books.

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  10. Turtles all the way down and When Dimple Met Rishi are two books I recently got and am looking forward to being able to read soon. I love the example you used for describing how you feel about Ownvoices books and reviews, and I completely agree with you. I don't think you can critique someone else's personal experience as well, especially as with some things although it might all fall under the same title and label, everyone's experience can still be quite distinctly different. I am so appalled to hear that so many Ownvoices author's are being attacked :/

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    1. That's exactly it. Everyone's experience is personal, and to say it's bad rep just seems really wrong to me, when they are speaking about themselves. --sigh-- Turtles and WDMR are both so wonderful. John Green really shared a part of himself with Turtles, and Menon's books are just fun and adorable.

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  11. I agree, there is something unique and more authentic about an #OwnVoices book. I definitely reach for those first if I'm picking up a book about a marginalized character. I love When Dimple Met Rishi, Saints and Misfits, Six of Crows, The Memory of Light, and To All the Boys. Many of the others are on my TBR.

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    1. I feel like we are seeing more and more OwnVoices books, and also a lot more diversity with respect to sexuality, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, mental illness, and disability. The mirror is getting bigger, and that's a good trend in publishing.

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  12. Thanks for sharing about own voices. I have heard some criticism about own voices. Everyone’s experiences are as valid as another. Their personal story maybe quite different from the norm or stereotypes. You have some great books on your list, many I’ve read. I love own voice stories and their unique POV. ❤️❤️

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    1. Their personal story may be quite different from the norm or stereotype and also different from someone else within their own "group", because it's a combination of things that shape who we are. I know I am not the result of just being white or first generation or catholic. These are parts of the whole.

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  13. I agree! Diversity is good to have but also when it comes down to the actual experience, ownvoices do a much accurate representation - and even then, it's one out of MANY. Regardless, the experience is important because there will be a reader out there who will read the book and find they AREN'T alone. There are others just like them.

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    1. You pretty much nailed it - it's one out of many. I wish people would realize that we are the sum of our parts and not just our parts. The number one argument for diversity in all media is to represent more than the majority, and I think movie studios, publishers, etc should give the general population more credit, and believe that we are open to reading/seeing diverse stories.

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  14. Great topic and I agree with you 100%. It's always great to see diversity in any book but I think it just takes the experience to a deeper and more nuanced level when it's ownvoices. It's an entirely different perspective when it's someone researching and trying to portray a certain rep than when it's someone who actually represents the rep they're portraying.

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    1. I feel like a "gazer" may tiptoe around things that an OwnVoices author wouldn't too.

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  15. Great topic Sam! I read "all kind of voices books LOL But yes Own voice have another "ring" to them.

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    1. I read books written by all sorts of authors, but I prefer my diverse reads to be OwnVoices.

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  16. I LOVE this post! Long Way Down is such a powerful book and I love hearing Jason Reynolds speak!

    (This is Amber Elise @ Du Livre btw. I broke my PC so I'm using my husband's. Oops)

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    1. I actually wanted to read Jason Reynolds' books after hearing him on a panel. He moved me and won me over, and I just love his backstory. I agree, Long Way Down was SO powerful.

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  17. I too feel the same not everyone can make it their own. But an author doing it themselves makes it more...likeable. I agree when you live in a diverse culture and someone shares it with you - you get to sorta live it too.

    Mary

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    1. It's subtle, and I think what I like the most, is that some OwnVoices authors will be less afraid to say things that I think a majority author would tiptoe around.

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