I stumbled across Australian author Michelle Cooper's blog Memoranda. Reading reviews in the Australian-based YA review journal Viewpoint, Cooper examines a review, written by a male reviewer, about India Dark, a novel written by author Kirsty Murray:
Here's a quote from the review:
“. . . astute English teachers will recognize that, despite the female narrators, this is a book that will appeal strongly to the boys in the class . . .”
To which she responds (among other things - do read the post):
"I just don’t see why the gender of the characters is only an issue when the characters are female. Teachers don’t often say, ‘I can’t give this book to my co-ed class – the narrator is a boy!’"
None of this is new, I know. People have been discussing this issue forever. And yet still, it does not go away.
I've been puzzling over a recent review at sffworld.com by Mark Yon. Not the overall review, which is positive-with-reservations and is, I think, a fair and thoughtful review that treats the material with respect.
Just over the first sentence.
"The cynical amongst you will recognise many aspects of Kate Ellliott’s new series – strong heroine, rite of passage events, quest for knowledge and so on."
Now, I think it is an absolutely fair cop to point out repeating thematic elements in an author’s novels. Sometimes writers know they’re doing it; sometimes they don’t; sometimes they have an axe to grind; sometimes it just worked out that way. But nevertheless, if the same story elements keep popping up, I think readers/reviewers should totally flag them if they feel inclined to do so or think such notice adds insight into examining individual stories as well as bodies of work.
But cynicism over it having a strong heroine?
Is this a cynicism equally displayed with strong heroes?
Would anyone start a review by saying "The cynical amongst you will recognise many aspects of [insert male writer]’s new series – strong hero, rite of passage events, quest for knowledge and so on." ?
Then I think that, yes, they would, if that was considered a thematic element. "Male Writer's heroes are always wise-cracking swordsmen who get the best of their opponents."
Are female narrators in and of themselves a thematic element?
[ETA: Mark Yon clarifies his remark in the comments below; as Michelle Sagara West, in another comment below had already suggested, it was meant . . . oh, just go read the comments; he says it better than I do, and it seems I misinterpreted the intent here, so my bad.]
Michael Neate in his review of Cold Magic bravely tackles the question of female narrators for male readers head on. "I thought perhaps a 28 year old male just isn’t meant to connect with a young, female voice."
Fortunately(!), he decides he is wrong (he liked the book and the voice). He goes on to write another post about making an effort to diversify his reading in which he asks himself, among other things, "Am I really that narrow-minded?"
This process of self-examination is one I go through myself, although not usually on this particular axis, and I think that asking the question goes a long way toward opening up the horizon of seeing voice as human rather than gendered (or along some other intersectional axis).
In fact, I ran into Michelle Cooper's post because she quotes also from a review of Cold Magic in that same journal in which the reviewer posits that Cold Magic "is intrinsically a girls' book."
To which she responds: "You’d think boys and girls belonged to completely different species, reading this."
But Enough About Me!
How do you like my dress?
- "'girl' books that are so good, even boys might like them"