All the world’s one great stage
And all the greats have left the stage
This is what I always say to myself when I see some stupidity or complete lack of moral integrity in the world. But, today is a little different for this stupidity comes from a review site, Kirkus Reviews, since 1933. Kirkus Reviews may have been great in the past, but it is now a very cowardly place and if not cowardly, unprofessional.
A little bit of context first. There is a YA book called American Hearts by Laura Moriarty which is under fire recently. The kicker is not even out yet. All these ‘complaints’ come from a group of the YA readers community called Culture Cops. If you ask me, that is an apt name for how redundant it sounds.
They are crying foul because the book is about a 15-year old girl who lives in an America were Muslim – Americans are detained. She does not care much for them cause she thinks the media and news are true and does not know any Muslims around her. Then, she meets a Muslim fugitive and against what she knows about them, tries to help him escape to Canada.
It can be summed up perfectly by this review on American Hearts left on its Goodreads Page. It’s in the top three.
As you can see the author is very thorough with her vast vocabulary and gives a good analysis of the prose, structure, and message of the book.
Her main concern with the book is that a white savior narrative is present in the pages. Her complaints– no, drivel is completely unintelligent considering one can know from the summary that this book is from the perspective of a 15-year-old white girl. Of course, it will have a ‘white’ narrative. Of course, she will save the fugitive. She’s the hero. You don’t like proactive female protagonists? Good to see Leah is judging people on the basis of their personality and not on their skin tone or ethnicity. Top act.
The next line says the author used a marginalized character as a plot device. Don’t consider empathizing with the fugitive is how the MC gets out of the false narrative presented by the media, and don’t even consider how it gives us a message to find out the truth ourselves instead of listening to second-hand sources, you just see white MC and marginalized plot device.
When I see a happy person I mostly feel nothing. I feel they are well off. When I see someone suffer on the news or around me, may it be old people, children, women, or men, my heart goes out to them. Suffering is a core concept of humanity. People who are happy don’t need help or empathy. Those who are suffering need our help and our care. Stop saying marginalized, you dolt.
At the end, Leah apologizes to her Muslim friends for the harm and hurt done by another ‘white person’, ironically marking herself a low-key ‘white savior’ as she so defined in her vomit.
Now, anyone who has visited the Goodreads review section of this book might say I focused on review and instead of the other longer ones–like the first and second ones. Some might even question my honesty.
The reason I focused on this review of Leah is that her review perfectly encapsulates everybody else who is shouting about this book. The only difference is they have written longer reviews yet they all arrive at the same points of Leah but in a less offensive way. Still, they just complain about narrative choices and white this and that.
I rather commend Leah’s brevity, but I don’t endorse it.
But, why am I getting so focused on these comments? People are entitled to their opinions. Just listen and go, right? I would have done that, but Kirkus Reviews have done something which has struck a nerve with me.
Kirkus Reviews is a site where you can advertise your books, get them edited, and even have them reviewed, for a fee. Miss. Laura Moriarty used their service and got a great review saying the book was “terrifying, suspenseful, thought-provoking, and touching” and “a moving portrait of an American girl discovering her society in crisis.” and even gave it their coveted star badge.
One thing to note is this is amidst the negative reviews like I mentioned above.
When the Culture Cops heard of this, they started their backlash against Kirkus Reviews and were lead by reviewer Justina Ireland, who is now the holds the position of the top review for American Hearts on Goodreads.
What did Kirkus Reviews do? They changed the review!
“Sarah Mary’s ignorance is an effective worldbuilding device,” read the new review, “but it is problematic that Sadaf is seen only through the white protagonist’s filter.”
They took out the star, no question about it. Kirkus Reviews showed their nature. They fell to the chewing of mice. How insecure and spineless, are they?
Kirkus’s Editor-In-Cheif gave an interview on Vulture why they changed the review. You can see it here. I will be citing bits from the interview and doing my ‘review’ why their reasonings hold no water.
But before we go into the article, I want you to remember this two bits I screenshot from the Indie Book Reviews from Kirkus Reviews. They will help to illustrate my points later on.
Okay, we all good? Nice. Let’s dive into the article.
Kirkus implemented some unique rules to establish its bona fides at the forefront of the movement: characters were to be explicitly identified by race, religion, and sexual orientation in every YA book review moving forward; furthermore, the writers of those reviews would be selected according to their race, religion, and sexual orientation as well, critiquing texts for sensitivity in addition to entertainment value.
From the start, we can see the chinks in the policies of Kirkus Reviews. They identify characters according to their race, religion, and sexual orientation. I am not saying these should be disregarded. But, when you say ‘explicitly’, warning bells toll inside my brain.
Furthermore, you say writers of those reviews are selected according to their race, religion and sexual orientation. This is also fine cause there are some factual aspects to it regarding religion and culture. But after that, it does not require such approach. Kirkus Reviews seems awfully obsessed with what a character is instead of who a character is. Already, your objective merit is at doubt.
And for the record, entertainment is purely subjective. You can say “I liked this book!”, “You will love this book!”, “This is entertaining!”, but that will not be a strong basis for a review.
“A statement on the Kirkus website reads: [Because] there is no substitute for lived experience, as much as possible books with diverse subject matter and protagonists are assigned to ‘own voices’ reviewers, to identify both those books that resonate most with cultural insiders and those books that fall short.”
This one is pre-damage control attempt at being politically correct. Instead of stating how the reviewers are well versed in literature or good at analyzing narratives, or even that they have a passion for reading books in general, you have to say “We have a reviewer for every skin color or orientation. Have a character who is black and gay and Jewish? Don’t worry, we got ya!”
Kirkus had more or less successfully positioned itself as a reviewer striving to be sensitive to pressing contemporary concerns about diversity and representation in YA — right down to the use of the word problematic to describe books that aren’t adequately woke.
Okay, I am going to go on a complete hyperbole here. Even though I will make this statement jokingly, take it with a grain of salt: Would you trust a review site who describes their books as not adequately woke? Just how many credibility points do you lose when you use that word?
For some members of the YA community, the premise was objectionable from the get-go (the first Goodreads review, left on September 7, begins with “fuck your white savior narratives”). But after a research and review process including multiple sensitivity reads, Moriarty was prepared to stand by her work, and the notoriously prickly Kirkus gave the book a starred review. Published on October 10, it described American Heart as “terrifying, suspenseful, thought-provoking, and touching” and “a moving portrait of an American girl discovering her society in crisis.”
Only a few days later, the review was pulled amid continued criticism of the book from community members. The review was replaced by a statement from Kirkus’s editor-in-chief Claiborne Smith explaining that the editorial board and the reviewer — described as “an observant Muslim [woman] of color” and “expert in children’s & YA literature [who is] well-versed in the dangers of white savior narratives” — were “evaluating” the review. Shortly thereafter, Kirkus published an amended review that retracted the book’s star and condemned Moriarty’s choice to write the story from the first-person perspective of a white teenage girl.
Huh. Let me pull up that picture again.
So what you are saying that you put a monkey to write the review during the first time? You ‘explicitly’ state that you hand pick your reviewers from the start based on their race, gender, and sexual orientation. Considering the book is based on Muslim detainment and the MC helping a Muslim fugitive escape, you would have a Muslim man or woman on the review.
Was the first reviewer was not too bright enough? Or was he not colored enough?
And adding to that is the second picture.
You state that your reviewers are experienced professionals who honestly and impartially evaluate the books. So the review can be positive, negative or in between. If we go by your word, then the first review was perfectly fine. If you have to ‘reevaluate’ a review just cause Justina Ireland, someone who thinks Huckleberry Finn is sexist, said mean things to you, how can you say you have experienced professionals?
Honestly, Kirkus Reviews, there are two ways to look at you. Either you are liars or you are cowards.
Remember that you take a fee for reviews. So if the first review was not up to the mark from the start, you are liars of your word. You are frauds and no self-respecting author should pay you to give a review, only to have it removed and edited cause some people didn’t like it.
Or the first review was objective and sound, yet you took it away to pander to a group of crybabies who said “white supremacy”, then you are cowards. Your coveted star holds no value and again, no self-respecting author should pay you for a review, if you just bend over when somebody cries foul. Choose what you are.
Before I end this post, there is one gem from the Editor-In-Chief:
Kirkus’s critics are skeptical of that claim; among the more cynical takes on the controversy is that Kirkus used the reviewer’s identity as a shield, only to then suppress her voice when it didn’t toe the line. Smith bristles at that: “It’s like no one believes that this reviewer has a mind and can change her opinion. Is that so difficult to believe?”
Opinions do change. But you are a paid review service. You need figure out your opinions before you publish the review. Don’t try to push your problems on us. You are not doing a charity here. Even in charity, you cannot say “Um, can I take back my money? I need to reduce a few zeros.”
Whatever this outrage did, it depends on the readers in the end. The book will be released in January. Don’t trust me, don’t trust the Culture Cops and definitely don’t trust Kirkus Reviews. See for yourself.