Let’s Discuss | Non #ownvoice reviews

I’ve been thinking a lot about hosting this discussion as it’s something that has really, really bothered me over the past few months. As I’m trans I will use specific examples that I’ve seen of reviews by cis reviewers to demonstrate my points!

I remember reading a review not long after I started book blogging by a fellow #diversebookblogger who had rated a book with trans characters in it very badly. With my curiosity piqued I decided to check the review out to see why the reviewer had rated it so badly as it was a book that I had never heard of or read myself.  The reviewer called the author (and the book out) as being transphobic because they felt that the language used in the book was discriminatory towards trans people and that a lot of the characters were really tropey. Luckily, the reviewer provided multiple quotes and examples to back up their points of how transphobic this book was.

Reading through them though I got the impression that the cis reviewer had misunderstood the book, the authors and the characters. The examples they used to illustrate their points did not seem transphobic to me, but rather real-life examples of things that people actually say about and towards trans people. The way that the trans people in the book spoke was the way that some trans people speak and the way that they acted. Obviously, I had not read the book so it could be that I wasn’t appreciating the examples within their context but made a decision to comment on the review anyway just giving my perspective as someone who is trans and explaining my opinion.

Sadly though, this is not the only time I have seen either from that individual reviewer or from other reviewers about diverse books. I’ve used the example of books with trans characters because I can speak from experience on that subject, and I would be interested to hear from other marginalized identities if they have had these experiences.

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Personally, I find these reviews very disappointing. A large part of my issue is when cis reviewers speak with such authority on a topic or identity that is not their own. I’ve seen countless books and authors dismissed as transphobic in these reviews which are then commented on by a lot of other cis reviewers who equally denounce the book based on this one person’s review. I find this incredibly troubling and, to be honest, I’m getting sick of groups of non #ownvoice reviewers sitting around congratulating each other on calling out a book without ever speaking to someone from that community! It’s important that we recognize how much influence book reviews can play in making or breaking certain books, especially if you are a popular blogger with a large following, so taking the time to do research and speak to individuals from that community is important.

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Reviewing a book as a non #ownvoice reader can be difficult and you don’t have to like the book. It is okay to say that you did not enjoy a book and explain why you didn’t like it. But it is also really, really vital that you recognize that that book was not written about you nor for you. There have been books that I’ve read in the past that I haven’t particularly enjoyed like Juliet Takes a Breath, but when it came time to review that book I explicitly stated that JTAB is not a book for me, that I didn’t enjoy it, but that I’m incredibly glad that it exists because stories like that are important.

Obviously, if something is offensive then explain that in your review. Just don’t speak as though you have the ultimate authority on the topic. Do some research. Are there #ownvoice reviews about that book? If there’s not, say that you couldn’t find any and be prepared to change your review if approached by an #ownvoice reviewer to reflect what you have learned. You don’t have to like it, you don’t have to agree with it, but at least demonstrate in your review that you have listened and taken onboard feedback.

That’s personally how I feel reviews should be approached by non #ownvoice reviewers but it’s something that I would love to have a discussion about with you all.

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Let's Chat! (1)

  • How do you feel about non #ownvoice reviews? 

  • Are there any issues that you have with these reviews or do you feel differently on the matter?

  • Are there any changes that you would like to see in the book blogging community around diverse book and ownvoices?


EST. 2015 (1)

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28 thoughts on “Let’s Discuss | Non #ownvoice reviews

  1. This is exactly how I feel about all the bad reviews of When Dimple Met Rishi on Goodreads. Did none of you white people consult an Indian person when talking about certain points in the novel that you felt were unrealistic, contrived, or whatever other criticism you came up with? Or heck even a brown person (but only because certain aspects of the culture displayed in the book, such as familial relations, are pretty common in most brown cultures, but yes brown people are not a monolith and not everything will be similar)? It’s so infuriating.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I saw so much, rightful, backlash against white reviewers doing that and those are exactly the kind of reviews I’m talking about. It’s totally okay to say if you didn’t like a book, or you weren’t sure about the representation in it but the least you could do is recognise that you DON’T KNOW because you are NOT THAT IDENTITY. Basically, don’t speak like an authority on things that have nothing to do with you and even when they do affect you recognise that other people all have different lived experiences and we all deserve rep!

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      1. “Basically, don’t speak like an authority on things that have nothing to do with you and even when they do affect you recognise that other people all have different lived experiences and we all deserve rep!”

        YAS!!! Another issue I have with ownvoices reviewing is when people go, “that’s not true because I never experienced that”. Identities are not a monolith and diversity within diversity is a thing!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Totally agree with you here – when talking about books that feature POC or trans characters in particular I try to state in my reviews that I am not of those marginalisations, and therefore my opinion should not be taken as gospel. I have no doubt I’ve missed microaggressions and things simply because I do not have the same lived experiences.

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  3. I honestly try my best not to voice any opinion on cultural / sexuality matters when it isn’t something I’m very familiar with myself. I just think those are things you can hardly comment on if you’re not overly familiar with the subject in general. Sometimes you can mention that, sure, that “didn’t feel right” or that didn’t feel right but that’s simply personal and completely different from stating “something is wrong”. Those are two different things to me personally.
    I remember reading one book with a plus-sized MC where there’s something said at the beginning that had me all “What the actual f..” but in the end I simply realized that people actually say things like that – I was shocked at first because it was so blunt and out there in the novel but in a way that’s a good thing? I was scared of continuing my read, but I did and ended up loving the book; put a warning for the start of the book in my review and that’s it.

    I never really add to my review when I am or am not part of the rep present in the novel – I should start doing that since it’s something that’s important for a lot of people. I’ve been planning on it but since I’m all over the place lately, didn’t get a chance to edit all my reviews yet. [procrastinating book blogger represent]

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  4. Honestly, I think this is tough because it sounds like the reviewer in question had their heart in the right place in that they didn’t want words they assume to be hurtful or hateful used toward the trans community. Without reading the review in question it’s hard to say if they were actually speaking like they had authority over the subject, or if they were simply writing a review on their own blog. I’m NOT diminishing what you’re saying though, because it is ridiculous that people will stifle down the voices of people who actually are in the community themselves. That is NOT okay…but then I also think that has layers in itself too. I could read something about a character who shares one of my identities and think it’s awful and poor representation, while someone else in the community could love it. Whose right? The person whose opinion the majority agree with? It’s the same, tricky situation. Which one of us gets the right to leave a review? That’s why I think it’s dangerous to tell someone they aren’t allowed to have an opinion on something. Yes, you’re right, no one should say they have the ULTIMATE opinion on a book, but if particular language or ideas made them uncomfortable, they’re allowed to feel that way.

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    1. Oh definitely, everyone is entitled to share their opinions and I never said (nor would never say) that someone doesn’t have the right to write a review of something. Everyone has the right to review and my issue is not that they reviewed the book.

      What I’m trying to suggest is that people are careful when they call things out. It can literally be as simple as prefacing it by saying “I didn’t like X thing and *I* feel like it was transphobic/whatever but as I’m not from X group I can’t say for certain so would love to hear from #ownvoice reviewers”. It’s about opening up a discussion rather than slamming your foot down on a representation which is about something you have no lived experience of and can’t really say whether the rep is realistic or not.

      If you’re from that community, then for sure, go ahead and say how you feel. I’ve not liked particular reps that other people felt were really good, at the end of the day we’re all entitled to our own opinion – it’s just about showing a level awareness and understanding that we all interpret things differently.

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  5. This is such an interesting and important post! I try, when I’m reviewing something that looks at an identity that I don’t share, to make it clear that there are just my thoughts about the book as a non #ownvoices reviewer, and say that whether I did or didn’t enjoy it, I’m coming at it from an outside perspective so there are almost certainly things I’ve missed or not fully appreciated. And it can sometimes be difficult for someone, particularly someone who’s not #ownvoices for a book, to see where a book is being harmful, and where the book is trying to show the harmful things experienced by a particular marginalised identity – I think it’s like weird way of trying to display ‘wokeness’, maybe? I don’t know what the best way of dealing with all of this is in the end, but thank you for such an interesting and thought-provoking post!

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  6. It can be difficult to strike a balance sometimes, but I agree that non-ownvoices reviewers need to try to look at the opinions of #ownvoices people, and do their best to incorporate that in their judgement.

    I think if you’re open about your opinions, open about major faults others may have come up with, and try not to be unduly harsh in general, as well as being open to changing your opinions if you gain new info. or a new understanding, then that’s the way to go. (If that made any sense whatsoever… I kind of meandered in that sentence!)

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  7. When I review a book, I don’t comment on the culture, I comment on the writing; character development; voice; themes; etc. If I feel the book fell short of the aforementioned, I say it. I will comment if I felt I haven’t learned anything new about the culture but I think that’s a writing issue. In Love, Hate, and Other Filters for example, I commented that I didn’t learn what it felt like to be the only Indian Muslim student in an all white school. The book is marketed as being about Islamophbia but it I think it failed the reader and that’s a problem because that’s something I would like tolearn more about. The author missed the opportunity to inform/teach the reader something new about her culture and struggles of living in America.

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    1. Thanks for your comment! I feel like that’s a really good way to review – that way you’re saying why you didn’t like the book rather than saying the book or the rep was *wrong*. That’s when I feel like it crosses into the territory of not okay!

      I started reading Love, Hate and Other Filters but sadly couldn’t get into it because I didn’t enjoy the writing which is a shame!

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  8. “I’m getting sick of groups of non #ownvoice reviewers sitting around congratulating each other on calling out a book without ever speaking to someone from that community! It’s important that we recognize how much influence book reviews can play in making or breaking certain books, especially if you are a popular blogger with a large following, so taking the time to do research and speak to individuals from that community is important.” — THIS!!! I totally agree!!

    I find it so troubling when I see allocishet reviews calling out books that are not in their lane … and speaking over people who are #ownvoices. It’s happened far too many times to count, particularly on twitter.

    When it comes to reviewing a book, we can all have our opinions – not everyone is going to like the same book – but when it comes to discussing how culture and/or sexuality was portrayed, just don’t unless you’re a part of that marginalisation. Sometimes I think people want to be good allies (which can be done by saying “hey, I’m not of this marginalisation but my friend is and this is what they had to say about the book” and linking to their review), but a lot of the times it feels like some people just want “woke” points, if you get my drift.

    One thing that has always annoyed me is when allocishet reviewers complain about the promiscuous bisexual stereotype. As someone who is bi, I have no problem with it (although that does depend on the book) but I’ve seen so many straight people call it out and I just stare at them like “ummm……?????” V.E. Schwab’s character Rhy from A Darker Shade of Magic is one such character who I like, and so many straight reviewers gave Schwab so much crap for it, that she eventually had to come out to justify herself. It’s so gross.

    Anyway, this was a great discussion!!! 😀

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    1. Thank you!! And thanks for your comment! Tbh, I definitely think in the examples I’ve seen it’s about looking like a good ally rather than being a good ally. I’ve seen posts that dismiss/reject diverse books which get SO MANY comments on them but #ownvoice reviews maybe only get a handful of comments. It’s always worth being careful what you’re calling out because let’s face it, we’ve all been wrong at times, and it’s better to be tentative than be called out for calling out (imo).

      Also YES. There are always reviews I see which take issue with particular representations like the promiscuous bisexual or anxiety rep. There are tonnes of non #ownvoice reviews where they completely miss the mark, or some which are #ownvoice but which trash the rep because it’s not “their rep”. I’ve read books where there’s a representation of something I have but it’s not how I experience it, but that rep is still important!

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  9. Thank-you for writing about this topic!! As someone who is not marginalized but wants to support #ownvoices literature, I sometimes struggle with reviewing certain books. I appreciate that you used Juliet Takes a Breath as an example because I felt the exact same way as you did. I skirted around giving it a full, honest review like I might have with other books I don’t love; I instead acknowledged its significance and linked to positive #ownvoices reviews.Some books I love but don’t comment on at all (ex. THUG) because I don’t have anything worth adding to the conversation, which I’m not sure is a helpful strategy. This aspect of reviewing is something I feel I could improve on (especially getting a balance between saying “This is what I didn’t like” and “This is why this book is still important and valuable”). I appreciate that you’re opening up an important conversation and I will be following the comments.

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    1. Thanks Jenna! I get where you’re coming from, especially with JTAB and THUG. With JTAB I really wanted to review it because of the discussions around feminism, but with THUG I didn’t have anything to add other than – I LOVE THIS BOOK.

      Personally, with the trans stuff (as that’s the only example I can really speak on) I much prefer people to share their opinions, discuss the books, but also in a sensitive way? The main issue I had with the review I mentioned was that it was so dismissive. The reviewer interpreted something as bad but didn’t consider in their review that they couldn’t speak from experience. I feel like sometimes that’s all it takes!

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      1. Right, I think I understand what you’re getting at. Like, that disclaimer – acknowledging “This is outside my perspective/beyond my experience” – is a small thing that can make a difference.

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  10. I agree with Dawn above that when I review books, I tend to comment more on the writing aspects than on the representation of a particular group or culture. I would never comment on whether something is a “realistic” representation of a culture I don’t belong to, for instance, because how would I really know?

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  11. This is such an interesting post, it really made me think some things through. I’m always torn between not commenting on things that *I* find problematic, because I’m a white cis-woman and don’t feel like I have the knowledge to, and wanting to at least point it out – not in a ‘call out’ way, just in a heads up way if someone’s thinking about reading it. I wouldn’t want someone to read a book on my recommendation and be hurt by it. It’s very complex! But I appreciate your thoughts on it and I will definitley make an effort to look for own voices reviews.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Aurora. I definitely always think its worth mentioning if you think something might be problematic, I think the issue stems from being super “THIS REPRESENTATION IS WRONG” without considering you might be wrong?

      I found out a book was transphobic once from cis reviewers and that was reaaaallllllly helpful. I find the way that Destiny reviews books a really good example of how to do it right as she’s always very upfront about not being part of that community but also being a good ally ❤

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  12. I think this is a really important point to bring up! I try to look for #ownvoices reviews when a book covers a community that I’m not a part of. I’ve definitely made reviews before talking about how something struck me as not quite right, but when I do this I will always clarify that I’m not an expert and will link to #ownvoices reviews when I find them.

    Just yesterday I saw a book with an autistic MC and thought it looked interesting but possibly problematic, so I skimmed GR for some #ownvoices reviews. Lo and behold, there were several autistic people vocalizing that they felt the book was a poor portrayal of autism.

    While we should be conscious of issues outside our lane, so to speak, and should say something when we see something wrong, it’s definitely more important to defer to people who are in those communities. I don’t want a straight person telling me whether something is or isn’t biphobic and I don’t want to be that person to someone else either.

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  13. This is such an interesting discussion, thank you so much for writing it and talking about this 🙂 Like some other people said above, whenever I read a book, I tend to review it and stay aside from the culture and representation overall when it’s just not my place to talk about this when it’s not a culture or particular group I can belong to. I might mention every now and then that I appreciated the diversity, or that I heard some people talking about the harmful representation, for instance, but I’m always trying my best not to overstep for ownvoices reviewers that can speak about these kind of things in the book way better than I can 🙂

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