Hello, hello, hello, Dear Readers!
Today, as you might guess from the blog title, is a piece with some thinky thoughts. These are the thinky thoughts I've been having, on and off, about BAREFOOT ON THE WIND since it came out and since and I began to see reviews of various aspects of the story.
It's by no means a definitive Voice of God type of thing - I've no wish to lay down the law about the book or how anyone else should interpret it. I just thought that it might add value for some readers to know some things about the book and how it relates to my own experience and identity.
So, really this post came into being at this point because of the urging of some lovely folks on Twitter. One person DM'ed me to ask if I had meant for Hana to read as an asexual or greysexual character. I told her that I had written Hana very deliberately as greysexual, because I was a greysexual teenager once - although sadly I didn't even know that term existed at the time! I now identify as asexual, however.
Another tweep listed the book as a piece of respectful representation on the grounds that it portrayed mental illness in the form of Hana's apparent depression, but said she was unsure if she should call it #Ownvoices or not. I told her that I, too, have suffered with depression since being a teenager. What's more, after the death of my Father I also went through a period of what is known as Complex or Complicated Grief in which I was unable cope with my bereavement, suffered with overwhelming feelings of guilt and responsibility for what had happened, and wished fervently that I had died in my Father's place. I based Hana's mental state on these experiences.
It suddenly occurred to me that because I had written this book in a secondary world in which terms such as greysexual/asexual and depression simply did not exist, that some readers who might be eager to find representation of those marginalised identities might completely miss it. I'd already read several reviews which expressed disappointment that Hana's relationship with Itsuki in the book wasn't more 'passionate', or mentioned that it seemed more like a friendship than a romance. Those choices were deliberate - they charted the progression of a greysexual person's developing feelings as I experienced them - but how could readers know that when I'd been unable to put the correct label on Hana's identity without being unforgivably anachronistic? Should I be tweeting about this book and calling it #Ownvoices in order to help ace/greysexual and non-neurotypical readers know that stuff was in there?
I looked on the website of the writer who coined the #Ownvoices hashtag - Corrine Duyvis (Hi Corrine!) - and she said she didn't really want to try regulate the term: she just wanted others to be able to use it in whichever way seemed valid. But she felt as long as the author and the protagonist shared a specific marginalised identity, it pretty much counted as far as she was concerned.
This all led an animated discussion on Twitter. Many people chimed in to say they DID feel the story counted as #Ownvoices. But then the author and We Need Diverse Books founder Ellen Oh (Hi Ellen!) chimed in to say that you can't really call a book #Ownvoices if the author doesn't share the protagonist's ethnicity. And I don't. Although Hana's secondary world is a fantasy one, and her ethnicity doesn't really exist in this world, her culture is BASED on Feudal Japan, which means her ethnicity is, too. And, as Ellen pointed out, for a white author to put the hashtag #Ownvoices into play to promote a book in which the main character does not share her ethnicity feels perilously close to a form of cultural appropriation.
At this point it became clear that this was all way too complex to really sort out on Twitter. So I thanked everyone and went off and continued to think about it for a while more before deciding: yes, I should address this on my blog. Because that way people have the relevant information - a more nuanced and complex version of the information than I can possibly offer up in 140 characters - and they can make their own minds up.
Tl;dr - BAREFOOT ON THE WIND features a greysexual, mentally ill protagonist, and those parts of her marginalised identity were based on the author's own experiences as a greysexual, mentally ill teenager (and on later experiences of bereavement). But the author does not share the character's ethnicity, in so far as that ethnicity is based on Japanese culture.
Phew! I hope that all makes sense! Any questions or comments, muffins - toss them in the comments :)