For her sixteenth birthday, Vaela Sun receives the most coveted gift in all the Spire—a trip to the Continent. It seems an unlikely destination for a holiday: a cold, desolate land where two “uncivilized” nations remain perpetually at war. Most citizens tour the Continent to see the spectacle and violence of battle—a thing long vanished in the Spire. For Vaela—a smart and talented apprentice cartographer—it is an opportunity to improve upon the maps she’s drawn of this vast, frozen land.
But an idyllic aerial exploration is not to be had: the realities of war are made clear in a bloody battle seen from the heli-plane during the tour, leaving Vaela forever changed. And when a tragic accident leaves her stranded on the Continent, she has no illusions about the true nature of the danger she faces. Starving, alone, and lost in the middle of a war zone, Vaela must try to find a way home—but first, she must survive.
Oh boy – I’m not sure how I’m going to write this review. I’m staring at the white space and all I can come up with how I can articulate my thoughts in a way that is not only constructive to the writers but more importantly constructive to those who have had their identities, feelings, and beliefs attacked by not only this book but by people in the book blogging/author community. So at the end of the day, do I agree with them?
Well, first off, it isn’t for me to disagree or agree. It is my job to listen and learn.
But to answer the question; yes I agree with them. Have I read the book? Yes. While I believe that being as professional as possible there are times when I think that I will have a hard time with this. Bare with me please while I attempt at civility. I started this book not like I have many controversial books – to prove or not prove my opinion differed from those who do not like it. I started this book to educate myself to a book that WILL be published no matter the outrage, no matter the pain, and will be in the hands of teens in January. I tried to be an unemotional critic. But I guess that in some cases I failed. I failed to distance myself because all I could see where the teens that became confused after reading this. Confused because there was ‘something’ that didn’t set well but they couldn’t voice it. They don’t know that they CAN say something and so remain silent, hurt, but not understanding why because nothing was ‘directly’ mentioned. I could not stay unemotional and for this I am unapologetic.
When I first started reading this book I believe that I understood that Vaela was in fact a naive girl who as a narrator was going to be unreliable and problematic. I naturally have a hard time with naive characters but for the most part I can put this aside because at a point I was naïve and like me this character could grow out of it. At the end of the book – I still felt like she is naïve but for a different reason.
I have attempted to rack my brain with a positive things to say about this book – but honestly it is difficult. Why? Everything, from the plot to even the characters are ripe with stereotypical, and to many people of that race culturally and racially offensive. As much as I would love to turn my head to this I can’t. Take Noro – the love interest. He is a part of the Aven’ei tribe, which is described perfectly to fit the Japanese culture. I would be okay with this if Noro didn’t encompass all of the typical Japanese ninja qualities – cold, deadly, and handsome in this order. Another character that I couldn’t get over the stereotypical aspect was Shoshi – the typical grumpy but wise Aven’ei elder. It bodes for almost all Japanese stereotypes. The stereotypes are so ingrained into the plot of the book that there was no way I could separate myself.
Now this could have been done unintentionally but it is hard pressed to actually see that. But there are too many similarities between the two cultures depicted and two of our cultures. It would be like if I made a fantastical land filled with short, extremely pale, men with green eyes and red hair that had a fascination with gold and they made rainbows. What would that make you think of?
As for the two groups, the Aven’ei represents the more “civilized” of the indigenous people of the Continent. You could even go as far as to make them white and you have the story of the indigenous people of America and the people that came over from Britain and Spain. This next part will be a spoiler for an important part of the story but I will hide it for those who do not want to know, but it makes my point clearer. View Spoiler »The Aven’ei tribe caused the conflict between the two people when they became too greedy and wanted the Topi’s land. They attacked the Topi and so they fought back against the Aven’ei, and now are at the moment winning and obliterating their rivals. When Vaela goes to speak to her people about assisting the Aven’ei she even uses the line “If that is so, must those who now live pay the price for the actions of their ancestors?” This line specifically struck me to the core because there is no time in which Vaela consciously comes to the realization that the Aven’ei people are not as she thinks. She is told this and instantly goes to their defense and in this becomes their “savior”. Without her going and speaking to her people they would not have interfered in the war and came down in their heli-planes with their “stop this war” and “this war is done” speeches. I have heard this line before used to ignore, belittle, and to silence those who feel oppressed in today’s world and it is not okay. « Hide Spoiler
Now we come to the crux of the matter. The term “savage”. Not only using the the word savage behavior but attaching it to to the representation of an entire culture that do not get the option or time to defend themselves. While I understand completely that it is a word that is used to describe something that is not civilized I can’t ignore the fact that it is a word that this words has a meaning, a painful history that should not be ignored. The time in our history that has used the word to describe an entire race it was used as propaganda to create a cultural genocide of the indigenous people of America, to “save” the savages, and to eventually give those who wanted to steal their land the reason to do so. In the 1800’s the word “savage” was used to describe the need to civilize the “savages”. It was used as propaganda along with visual images of the indigenous people roasting women and children alive, who were depicted as murderous killing demons. The young generation of the indigenous people were then taken and were taught to be “civilized” in what was referred to as “Indian schools”.
So before you say a word is only a word, think. Words come from somewhere and they mean something to someone.
Today those things are still going on. The Dakota Access Pipeline and the Standing Rock tribe are only one example. Using Indians as mascots and signs like this being the result is another. The Trail of Tears was the eviction of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of indigenous people from their own lands. It is called the Trail of Tears because 4,000+ died from either the travels, refusing, or other various horrible reasons.
It would have only taken a group of people stopping these girls. An adult. A fellow student. A good can of paint!
I wish that I could say that I loved this book but I can’t. The book relies so much on stereotypes, telling instead of showing, and romance that I can’t like it. This book takes pieces of two cultures and picks and uses them as puzzle pieces to try and tell an entertaining story, not teach about these cultures, or respect them enough to fully round out the cultures with research and acceptance of that is what was being used. That does not make a very fantastic plot in my opinion.
Dear reader of this, you might believe that words are just words and that books are books, but I am here to tell you they are not. Books and words are one of the most influential cornerstones of our entire society. As a child that grew up with the constricting and almost crippling paranoia of the one parental figure, I had I know how powerful and influential books can be especially to young people. Books are not influential to just young people but to all of the marginalized authors that put their hearts, souls, and authentic struggles into their book. To see a book that uses their struggles and history as a tool for entertainment. Not to teach. Not to really have any benefit. They have to look at this book and say “This book got picked over mine” or even “this book deserves more promotional time then mine?” or “Why should I write my book. It won’t be liked if this is what people like?” Subject matter and stereotypes in books that are highly promoted have the ability to stop and silence voices that would otherwise thrive and be loved by the community under depression and a sense of utter hopelessness that their voice won’t be heard. Why would their voices in their books be heard when they can’t even critique a book that hurts them without the attempt to be silenced?
That is the saddest part of this entire debacle and why I cannot in good conscious recommend this book to this community nor to my students. I can’t say that if people could look past the stereotypical and culturally offensive nature of this book that they would like it – it is not a strong enough of story without these elements in my opinion. The culturally offensive nature of this book should not be ignored and should not be looked past.
Unfortunately, this book will be published, put into libraries, and teens WILL read it – even on the premise of the cool cover art. I read this as an educator/future librarian to educate myself on the feelings of those who were affected by this book and on the real possibly of the future feelings of the teens of marginalized cultures that will be effected by this as well.
It is my job to hear what these hurt, angry, and frustrated people are saying. I need to know how I will discuss this book with teens that will read this book, give them specifics, and with that how to teach them to think critically of what their reading and how words DO matter. It might not matter to you, but it DOES matter to someone else. I do not believe in censoring and so I need to prepare myself for these discussions as best as I can and to combat the cultural insensitivity with the book itself.