Tuesday, September 9, 2014

We (Still) Need Diverse Books: Mind Games by Kiersten White

A little while ago, I wrote a post inspired by the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag, begun by Ellen Oh (@elloecho).

The book I chose was Mister Monday by Garth Nix, an MG fantasy/steampunk/alternate universe adventure about an adopted kid with debilitating asthma. It also portrays a "non-traditional" family. I picked that book in particular because Arthur has asthma and so do I, but also because I've noticed that people are a lot less willing to mess around with traditional family values in fiction than they are willing to use other elements of diversity.

We still need diverse books, and to do the hashtag justice, I'm thinking this post might become a weekly thing. Today's pick is Mind Games by Kiersten White, which I chose for one of the same reasons that I did Mister Monday: it portrays two main characters with disabilities.


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And yes -- both main characters have superpowers, but no, it isn't handled in an insulting way to people with disabilities. At least, I didn't think it was. If you think otherwise, please feel free to share in the comments.

What it is

Mind Games is a science fiction/paranormal-ish novel about seers, empaths, and mind readers who are controlled by a Big Bad Corporation that uses their psychic talents to its own benefit. Fia is a unique psychic who has the gift of intuition; her gut feelings and instincts are always right. Annie, her sister, is a seer who is blind. Bid Bad Corporation holds Annie hostage to get Fia to spy, steal, and assassinate for them. Meanwhile, they train Annie to spy on Fia, since no other seer can predict her actions.

Why I liked it

Actually, this wasn't my favorite book, and I don't know if I'll read the sequel. Parts were quite good and I loved some of it. Overall, I didn't get a very good sense of the heart of the conflict and I wasn't a huge fan of the plot or even the concept. Its strength was the characters (even though it did resort to the tired good-boy bad-boy dilemma). Annie and Fia are very well-written, I liked the viewpoint chapters, and their relationship development was great even though they are depressingly co-dependent.  

Part of the conflict, and problems which may make the reader uncomfortable, are how each sister views the other as a liability that needs to be protected because of their disability. For Annie, this is amplified by being Fia's older sister and needing to look out for her. When their parents were alive, Fia got the rather negative message that it was her job to protect her blind sister (despite being a child who was in no way equipped for this). Both are willing to do extreme and often horrible things for the other. Their relationship is a complex, frequently toxic mix of deep love and deep resentment. They are raised together as hostages and to some extent see each other as obstacles to their freedom.

Diversity

First: Annie. I think Mind Games skirted a problem with Annie by having her go blind at the age of four, long before she develops any psychic powers. This avoids the all-too-common trend of giving a character cool superpowers to compensate for a disability...and making that character the best ever at the superpower (or at overcoming their disability, whether or not such a thing is physically possible). When she gets her psychic ability, it isn't portrayed as a substitute or compensation for her physical disability. Annie isn't any better or worse at being blind than anyone else. Neither is she The Best Seer Ever. Big Bad mostly uses her to spy on Fia, considers Annie expendable, and actually sabotages her seer training so that she doesn't get too powerful. Mind Games doesn't sugar-coat Annie's life. Nor does it portray being blind as the worst thing that could ever happen to someone.

Second: Fia. Annie has a psychic/mind-based ability and a physical disability; Fia has an instinctual/physical-based ability and a mental illness. I thought that was a neat parallel. Annie is blind, and Fia is suicidally depressed. She also seems to have an addictive personality and self-destructive tendencies. I enjoyed Mind Games's portrayal of her depression because it showed someone who is depressed in an angry way, and I haven't seen that very often. Many people with depression cycle through angry and depressive periods.

I don't think Fia's mental illness is handled as well as Annie's blindness, and this is also where the plot starts to fall apart. The bad guys have empaths and mind readers -- but apparently they can't treat Fia or see the warning signs. They don't care about the mental or physical health of their most valuable asset and the only known person with this ability. The Big Bad Guys spend all this time manipulating and cozying up to Annie, who is barely useful to them, and let Fia become a suicidal, angry wreck who hates them all. 

I know they're supposed to be EVIL, but really -- that's no excuse for Oblivious Evil. "Murder-suicide attempt? Here are some pills and a long vacation without any mental health professionals, adults, or bodyguards, unstable spy/assassin-in-training! Oh, and we'll just send along the (superhot) heir to the company. Not like Fia has any reason to hate him. He's not valuable at all! She won't have plenty of opportunities to kill him and her romantic rival and/or herself!" 

This entire plot could have been solved if Fia had taken Hot Heir (pun intended) hostage for her sister's freedom. Which they gave her ample opportunity and motive to do. But I suppose if they had done the logical thing, there wouldn't be a plot. 

Have you read Mind Games? What did you think?

2 comments:

  1. I wanted to like Mind Games because the premise was interesting and the voices were great, but it was just too underdeveloped for me.

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    Replies
    1. This was true for me, too. Certain things were really amazing and the rest of it was just...not as.

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