If you saw the original version of my Top 10 Upcoming Books (First Half of 2017) post, you saw Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth on the list. The other nine books on the list had a focus on diverse characters (after replacing Roth’s novel, now all 10 do), so Carve the Mark was already out of place.
I was originally excited for this novel simply to see the direction Roth’s writing took post-Divergent. But it didn’t take long until I received a comment from Melanie over at Books Are My Children (Thanks, Melanie!) saying she’s heard other bloggers mention that Carve the Mark is problematic and racist.
What I Read
So I did some research. Two posts stuck out for me:
Author Justina Ireland wrote this post explaining the problematic issues with both Carve the Mark and Keira Drake’s The Continent.
“But what is difficult is realizing that these same constructs of white versus not white (where not white can be people of color or even a created non human species such as the Uruk-Hai) exist in the real world and have a real impact on how readers perceive a story. The same cultural programming that lets us immediately recognize that the Topi and Shotet are “bad” with relatively few details are the same ones that lead to real world racial profiling and structural inequality in treatment of minorities.
The bottom line is that books like Carve the Mark and TheContinent both utilize AND reinforce cultural white supremacy. It’s only because of cultural white supremacy that readers are able to code these cultures as evil. And because readers code brown-skinned people as evil in a literary context the cognitive paths for them to code brown-skinned people as evil in a real are reinforced.”
— Justina Ireland
Book blogger Sarah Robinson-Hatch discussed her experience with the book, providing some explanation as to why it is problematic and also including some resources on finding more diverse books to read instead.
“And finally, if you’re present on social media and the online bookish community, you will have heard that Carve the Mark has been called out for being racist and problematic by various readers who are much more informed than I am and feel directly affected, offended or hurt by what is written in Carve the Mark. While I’m white and I’m obviously not in the position to declare what’s racist and what isn’t, I’m a strong believer in calling out problematic representation and racism and I believe that we should all be reading more diverse books. … If you only want to read Carve the Mark to see if it’s racist for yourself, please don’t buy a copy. We should be using our money to show publishers that we want more diverse, #OwnVoices novels instead of the same thing over and over again by non-marginalised writers. Listen to those who have spoken about the racism issues in Carve the Mark and don’t be one of those people who assumes it isn’t racist because you weren’t offended or affected.”
— Sarah Robinson-Hatch
Thanks to Melanie, these two posts, and a good chunk of additional research, I made the decision to remove Carve the Mark from my to-read list. My pre-order has been canceled: I’m not putting money toward a potentially racist and problematic book when there’s a wealth of diverse and genuine literature out there.
Why I’m Sharing This
I could’ve easily just swapped out Carve the Mark from my list and pretended that this never happened. But that negates my responsibility as a reader and a diverse book blogger.
I did research on all of the books I included on my upcoming books list, but that doesn’t mean all of my research was in the right places. There’s an entire book community online focusing on diversity and positive representation, and I wish I would’ve been more present to notice the conversations happening about this book.
Having an expectation that we’ll be able to avoid every problematic book is impossible. But we need to take a closer look when it comes to what we read. As consumers, we have a responsibility to put our money toward literature that we want to support. Being informed allows us to avoid supporting problematic works and to support diverse works instead.
I’m also sharing this because as book bloggers, we have a responsibility to call each other out. If you see another person promoting damaging books, say something. If you see another person is uninformed, inform them. If you see someone failing to step outside their comfort zone, give them a nudge in the right direction. We can all encourage each other to do better.