Looking back on the hot mess that was 2016, I also find myself looking back on books I read and reviewed. I often find that my opinion of a book evolves. This is certainly true for some of the books which I have reviewed here. A few of those have been...
Mister Monday by Garth Nix (MG fantasy/portal fantasy)
This one of the trippiest, most imaginative series I've ever had the pleasure of reading. Also, it's by a non-American author (Australian) so yay. I want to recap it because I'd like to go more in-depth about how disability is treated. Mister Monday doesn't fall into a lot of the cliched disability tropes fantasy often resorts to.
In fact, the main character is picked as the Chosen One because of his disability. He's chosen literally because an asthma attack was going to kill him that day. This is a subversion of the "disabled characters are more expendable because their deaths make more 'sense'" trope. Instead of dying like he's "supposed" to, he becomes the Chosen One. Hell yes.
The magic Key he receives lets him breathe without difficulty. However, before all this, Arthur didn't want to be dependent on his inhaler. Now that he has a magical aid, he's still reluctant to rely on it for the same reason -- even though it does bring him relief. The Key does not magically cure his asthma. Given the prevalence of magic cures for disability in fantasy, this is lovely.
The magic has negative side effects, and if his body becomes too magic-saturated, he'll never be able to go back to his old human life. He'd rather be himself with debilitating asthma than a superpowered immortal. So Arthur tries to use as little magic as possible even though it relieves his symptoms.
There's also a crapton of religious, mythological, pop culture, and f/sf references worked in throughout the series, and it's wonderful. Also, the ending of Lord Sunday is the most epic mindfuck I've ever read.
Mind Games by Kiersten White (YA science fiction/thriller)
I don't have as much to say about this one. Mainly, I complained about how the evil corporation didn't appear to take care of its assets. They let Fia go around while suicidal and a danger to herself and others and just sort of say, "meh." While their actions were nonsensical from a mental healthcare standpoint, upon reflection, I think the reader is meant to infer that the corporation is deliberately withholding proper care from both Fia and Annie. This keeps them more dependent on the corporation and more obligated to each other. Annie is seriously worried about Fia's mental health, while Fia seems a bit prejudiced about Annie's abilities as a blind person.
This still isn't my favorite book in the world, but it's a thrilling thriller, and I became way more interested in it after learning that it's #ownvoices in regards to mental illness.
Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly (YA contemporary)
This is another book dealing with disability, this one with neurodivergence and a protagonist on the autism spectrum. Its main character is diagnosed with Asperger's, anxiety, and ADHD. Many people have multiple diagnoses, so this is a pretty realistic portrayal.
I still have very mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I want to go and rate it more positively because it's #ownvoices in regards to ADHD. I winced at how anti-medication the book is, but it's different when an author is drawing from their own lived experiences. Also, most things related to ADHD that I've seen have been about boys. A lot of people think of ADHD and ADD as a boy's thing. I know girls tend to be underdiagnosed with ADD/ADHD, and many women often don't get an accurate diagnosis until well into adulthood. Reading Harmonic Feedback could actually help someone.
On the other hand, it's SO BIPHOBIC, and the rape-as-backstory is handled with all the grace and thoughtfulness of Donald Trump tweeting from the toilet at 3am. Naomi's bisexuality is portrayed as part of her attention-seeking nature, as Justin tells her she's just a straight girl kissing other girls for attention. Worse, he says that Naomi doesn't trigger his "gaydar." This enforces the biphobic, erasive stereotype that bisexuals are "not gay enough" and need to "pick."
Even worse, he says that she's not the first straight girl ever to kiss another girl for shock value. This erases the experiences of not just Naomi but of all bi girls. Including some girls who might be reading this book. The stereotype is that bisexual girls are just straight girls experimenting. (While bi men are supposedly secretly gay. And nonbinary bisexuals are erased due to the misconception that "bisexual" is transphobic, when bisexual simply means two types of attraction -- same and different gender, not attraction along a strict man/woman binary.)
When Naomi apologizes to Drea for kissing her and says she doesn't like her that way, the book seems to affirm all of Justin's biphobic prejudices -- even erasing the possibility that Naomi is bisexual. While a girl with ADHD might have a positive experience with this book, a bisexual, queer, or questioning girl might read Harmonic Feedback and get a deeply hurtful biphobic message.
Also, Justin is a recovering addict. When Drea and he are talking about whether they want to have sex, he tells her that when he was on drugs, he had a lot of sex that he can't remember or can barely remember. He doesn't know who it happened with, what happened, or anything other than that he wanted more drugs.
Rather than acknowledging that Jesus H. Christ, having sex with a drug-impaired underage 15-year-old boy -- who can't give informed consent or even REMEMBER his encounters -- IS RAPE, LIKE, MULTIPLE RAPES OVER A LONG PERIOD OF TIME -- Justin hastens to assure Drea that he "got checked" for STDs and "is clean." And...that's the extent of their conversation. Worse, he acts like he's ashamed of himself for not remembering or caring about the sex because all he cared about was drugs. The rapes -- PLURAL -- are portrayed as his fault and as an inevitable consequence of teen drug use.
Every teen who's ever been raped while drunk or because they did drugs -- and that's a fair number of people -- and thinks that they should feel guilty for being raped, or that guys can't be raped, or that they're now untouchable by romantic partners because they got an STD from rape, or that being on something means you can consent, ALSO gets a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad message from Harmonic Feedback.
"Two stars" is my rating for "didn't actively despise but still would not recommend." Upon reflection, I think that might have to be my updated rating for this book. The gorgeous writing is bewitching, and the portrayal of disability is fantastic, but it fails too hard in other areas to just ignore.
South of Sunshine by Dana Elmendorf (YA contemporary romance)
Though I gave this one five stars, I originally critiqued it for its mildly biphobic portrayal of the main romantic rival. Chelsea Hannigan is a grade-A mean girl, and she's bi, and she does fall into a lot of bisexual stereotypes such as being promiscuous and not willing to date a girl because it would look bad.
On reflection, I don't think this was as harsh a portrayal of bisexuality as I originally thought. First of all, the end of the book clearly shows that Chelsea lies about or downplays her bisexuality because her family and friends are LGBT+phobic and it's not safe for her to be out. This is valid. It's also a conflict faced by the main character. Kaycee originally scoffs at Chelsea for denying that she liked Bren, pretending that Bren came on to her.
But later, Kaycee pulls the same move herself when she tries to excuse kissing Bren as "experimenting." Both the lesbian and the bisexual characters have the same problem of how "out" they can safely be in a small Tennessee town. Things end happily for Kaycee; not so much for Chelsea. That also, I think, dodges the common stereotype that bisexuals somehow have it easier than lesbians when it comes to coming out.
Well, those are my reviews...reviewed. Sorry if this seems redundant, but I think it's nice to revisit books and see how one's opinion changes. I'll be updating the Reviews page with links to this post as well.