Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tired Of Hurting

I just finished Shannon Hale's Book Of A Thousand Days last night. It was recognizably Mongolian inspired to me (as well as fairy tale inspired) and I loved it. I'd picked it up at the library because the cover says she was the writer who wrote Princess Academy which is another YA book I've read and greatly enjoyed.

I like plucky but thoughtful/reflective female protagonists. Young women who think before they act (and after they act and better yet during the action). They are more believable and admirable to me than heroines counting on luck or even strength/aggression.

Flipping to the back of Book Of A Thousand Days, in the library I saw that Shannon Hale is white. And I was filled with a keen disappointment. But I had enjoyed one of her other books and I hadn't once thought those characters where white, so I thought I'd give this one a try.

I feel I can safely say that this is two books now by Hale that I've read that are nothing like Lian Hern/Gillian Rubinstein's Across The Nightingale Floor. The two Hale's tales I've read have not been generic white fantasies dressed up in exotic cloth. The culture of the protagonists have helped form them uniquely. To take out an aspect of Dashti's life and trials and substitute it with something else, would change the story completely. As to take out an aspect of Miri's life and experiences.

The same cannot be said for the characters in Nightingale who could as easily drink beer as sake, eat wheat as rice, dress in robes as kimono, use broadswords as katana, have lords and a high king as shoguns and emperor (even if the last two terms were not specifically used - it was very obvious what they were).

But this is the cover of The Princess Academy that I read; A string of girls against iconic style mountains wearing clothing that made me think of the mountains of Peru, or at least that area of high mountains and tribes in South America.

This is the cover I found on Hale's website. Either Miri is now white, or some other girl in the book is and she is thought important enough to be on the cover. There is a third cover I found while looking the first version up and at least there the girl on the cover has been drawn and painted with browner skin and dark hair and against a background that looks more South American than European (or even at a stretch, Greek)

I'd liked Hale's writing enough that I came online to see what other books she'd written. And now I'm struck with bittersweet, because apparently she's behind the plunky retold Rapunzel reviewed by Karen Healey of Girls Read Comics; She's the author of the book who was interviewed about gender and fairytales and comics. She managed not to make me feel sick inside, in that telltale way I get these days around white feminists. And First Nations people matter in this (Rapunzel) fairytale, in terms of the fabric of the world's society.

But there's that cover. There's Dashti represented only as hands on Book Of A Thousand Days (inside at least she and her world are, to me, obviously Asian). And the hurt is so strong and so deep - the odd sense of betrayal that I had dared hope this writer would be different - even as I know writers seldom have say over their covers at all. But the hurt doesn't care about that fact; all it feels, all I feel, is that here is yet another example of more people in charge of media distribution going 'Oh, the consumer won't buy a PoC lead'.

I'm aware of my hurt. I know why I'm hurting. What makes me truly upset is all the girls who don't know where that splinter in their soul is coming from. The ones who're encouraged to read ghettolit because it's about them, because it might be the only thing for them; heroines who use their body and sex appeal to deal with drug dealers, scoundrels, ex-cons and pimps.