when good books go underrecognized because they have “diversity”: a case study

So, as mentioned, next in my adventure of reading fantasy novels was Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor [IndieBound]. Again, recall that I don’t really like fantasy, but this was recommended to me, and I had already read and liked three of Okorafor’s other books, The Shadow Speaker [IB], Akata Witch [IB] and Who Fears Death [IB]. Akata Witch had definitely been my favorite in that group, since it takes place in the real world and could easily be classified as paranormal thriller rather than fantasy.

Zahrah the Windseeker is about a girl who was born with vines growing out of her head, making her “dada” and her hair “dadalocks.” This is the type of thing that is semi-accepted in her society (a parallel globe that tells stories about Earth as a sort of urban legend that may or may not be a real place) but still looked at with a bit of derision, if not total ostracization. Zahrah still goes to school and has friends and all that, and her parents are not dada, so I guess it’s some sort of recessive gene or similar.

Anyway, Zahrah learns that she has an additional weird thing about her: she levitates, and after conferring with a dada woman she meets at the Dark Market (think Knockturn Alley), she learns that this is her body learning how to fly. She and her best friend start going to the edge of the Forbidden Greeny Jungle (how adorable is that name?) so that they can work out her flying lessons in private. Then her friend is bitten and falls into a coma, and of course the only cure is in the egg of an elgort, a dangerous creature living in the heart of the Forbidden Greeny Jungle. Nobody in the world ever goes there, so he’s going to be lost forever.

Zahrah, of course, heads into the jungle herself to track it down, meeting magical mentors, fantastic beasts, and little communities of almost-people.

Classic setup for a fantasy quest story, no? Yes. It has a vaguely Snow Queen-esque setup, with a girl hero setting out to save a boy that is decidedly not a romantic prospect. It has a magical journey and a sassy guide. Actually, that part reminded me of Ella Enchanted. Ella has her magic book, and Zahrah has a computerized compass that is always nagging her about how far from home she is. It takes place in a world that is as overrun with technology as ours is these days, but technological advancements involve using plant energy, so it’s familiar and refreshing at once.

None of those things is weird. None of those things, generally speaking, is unfamiliar to anyone who has read a fantasy novel. Outcast kids finding themselves to be extraordinary is not a hard thing to find attractive in a story. Talking animals are a beloved device. A comedic sidekick, whether electronic or otherwise, is a pleasant thing.

This is a well written book that fits perfectly into the fantasy tropes we consider standard. Continue reading


that thing that happened with meg rosoff today

First, my friend Edi Campbell posted this, which made me ask where this was on Facebook, and she tagged me so that I could participate.

I’ll wait a moment while you read her post.

So then we were all talking about it on Facebook. I got involved because this is my area of activism and because I hate whitesplaining.

Then Kaye wrote this and Debbie wrote this and KT wrote this and lots of people wrote things, which you can find linked on Debbie’s blog (I’m linking directly to the three people who are personal friends or close colleagues, as well as fellow members of marginalized groups of various sorts, but that’s not to say I don’t value the other pieces I read, nor do I know everything about the authors of said pieces except that they are clearly intelligent and good people doing the right thing).

So then I wrote this.

And I hope we’re all still writing about things.

i’m black and i don’t even know about black history

How much do you want to bet that you don't know shit about this woman?

How much do you want to bet that you don’t know shit about this woman?

A month or two ago I went to a panel discussion with a friend on activism and social justice, mostly related to race and issues like this weird tradition we have in America of killing young black men for no reason. At one point, a panelist made an offhand comment about how, you know, “Harriet Tubman would go to a new plantation, be like, ‘hello, massa, I’m the old washerwoman from blah blah plantation,’ and then go and rally the slaves to escape.”

Hold the phone. WTF?

I, like probably every other black Millennial (and just Millennial) in the United States, grew up learning that there were only ever three black people of consequence in the world, and their names were Martin, Rosa, and Harriet. And even with that, that one comment made me realize I never knew anything real about Harriet Tubman. It’s not just that black history is a single story in American education. It’s that it’s a really fucking slim story. How did I get through a quarter-century and a bit more not ever learning that Black Moses didn’t use magic like Torah Moses, she was a SECRET AGENT. I even went to my bookshelf and grabbed this book, given to me by my second grade teacher with the strict instruction to tell the other kids that it was a book that came in late from a book order if anyone asked why she was giving me things, and it didn’t say anything except your general magical Underground Railroad.

My world has been broken. I know even less nothing than I thought. (Even more nothing? Integers are weird.) Continue reading