Critical Reviews of Diverse Books By Non-Own Voices Reviewers

is it 3_00pm_I’m sure every, if not most, blogs have read books in order to give them a critical review. Critical reviews are good, especially if the books have been known to be problematic, harmful, or just controversial in some way or another.

But when it comes to diverse books that represent marginalized peoples, I always feel…iffy, when non-own voices reviewers read the book solely to critically review it.

I’m not saying that non-own voices readers shouldn’t read books that feature marginalized peoples. That’s the very, very last thing that I would ever say, and in fact, I want people to read diverse books. While not every book is meant to educate, I still believe that others reading these books allow them to see the world as we see it, and at least help them in their journey of understanding others.

However, when it comes to reviewers who critically review novels, can non-own voices reviewers accurately review a diverse novel? Can they write a critical review that is still loyal to the original message and representation of the book?

Honestly? I don’t think so. 

I almost feel rude saying that, but lets put it this way. It’s similar to when someone is reading a book, and while one person sees something as offensive (let’s say the book is saying something racist, promoting racist stereotypes, etc.). While a white person might not catch that the stereotype is racist, other people of that race probably will. So a white person critically reviewing a book with racist stereotypes might not see the racist stereotypes, which would kind of defeat the purpose of critically reviewing something, when you completely miss one of the most harmful parts of it.

Personally, I see critically reviewing a novel as going into the novel with skepticism. And not just that, but going into the novel knowing that it might be harmful or bad or problematic. You’re reading knowing you might not like it, but reading it anyways to point out to others what might be wrong with it. And if a non-own voices reviewer is critically reviewing a diverse book…..see where I’m going here?

There’s also the matter of allies or others in the community. I can totally get behind someone who is bisexual critically reviewing queer books–but when that identity isn’t theirs in the book, where do they get the basis for what they point out? Sure, there’s every possibility that this bisexual reviewer could point of transphobic rhetoric, but will they really get the subtleties of it? Will they really understand why certain words or phrases hurt people, or will they just know that they do?

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know that I’ve done a few critical reviews of my own, including And She Was by Jessica Verdi, and The Handsome Girl and Her Beautiful Boy by BT Gottfred. You’ll notice, however, that both of these books feature some sort of transgender character. And She Was features a trans woman, and Handsome Girl features gender questioning as well as sexuality questioning. Neither of these books ended up being that good, but I could tell from their summaries that the representation in them wasn’t good either. I still read them, though, knowing that others, especially non-own voices readers, might read the review and stay away. Because no one needs transphobic books in their life, am I right?

I’ve talked about non-own voices reviewers and why they shouldn’t critically review diverse books, but I wanted to add something that can be helpful. Non-OV reviewers, how can you help?

  • If you find yourself in the possession of a diverse ARC that sounds iffy, ask around to see if anyone of that marginalization would be willing to read it. (If you can’t cover shipping, see if the reviewer can, or if not, see if you can crowdfund.)
  • If you find a problematic sounding book, search for reviews by OV reviewers before picking it up. If those reviewers have said bad things, boost those reviews rather than writing your own.
  • If you find a problematic sounding book, and there are no reviews by OV reviewers, ask around to see if someone would be willing. If no one is, feel free to read it, but don’t try to critically review it. If you write a regular review on it, make sure to mention you probably didn’t catch harmful phrases.
  • If you end up reading a book with harmful phrases, make sure to mention it in your review, but also say that since you’re not of the marginalization, you probably didn’t catch everything.

As for resources, I really only know two: Corey’s Reviews of Trans and/or Non-Binary Lit by Trans and/or Non-Binary Reviewersand the Aro/Ace Database (however, the Aro/Ace DB does not link to the reviews. It marks triggers, but otherwise nothing else. It is made and kept by someone who is aroace, though.) The Intersex Database is run by Bogi.

(Feel free to comment other databases!)

- Avery (2)

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What do y’all think? Do you believe that non-OV reviewers should critically review diverse books? Did I miss anything you think I should have said? Let’s chat in the comments!

7 thoughts on “Critical Reviews of Diverse Books By Non-Own Voices Reviewers

  1. I think it’s pretty bold and misguided to think you could critically review representation that you haven’t lived in any way. If I’m reading a book with a bisexual character and a Black character, I could critically review for the bisexual aspect, but I wouldn’t ever feel comfortable critically reviewing the Black rep. It’s possible to notice things and mark down what may possibly be harmful–which I try to do–but you also need to note that you’re not of that marginalization and that there’s likely facets you missed, or even misunderstood, like you mentioned, Avery.

    It can be a tough line to walk, but in my opinion, you’re better off acknowledging you’re not any kind of expert and deferring to people who are.

    Also, there’s a small intersex database here: !!

    • Exactly! If I read a book that has marginalizations that I don’t fall under, than I feel it’s better to just mark “This book had xyz representation, but I can’t say much on the rep itself because I am not of that marginalization.”

      Also, thank you!! I will add it to the list.

  2. This is an excellent post and I tend to agree with everything you said. However, I feel like some experiences intersect in some cases, and one person who’s been in the reviewing community for long enough might be able to pick up things that other (OV) readers have previously criticized. I’m talking mostly about lgbtq+ rep here, but for example I think that there are a few rules that apply to the whole community (for example the outing of a character, whether the character is bi or trans, is not okay, and I’ve called out a book that did just that to a trans character even though I’m only OV for bi/pan). Other aspects of rep are much more nuanced though and unless I’m OV I tend not to say anything about them or just mention that they are there if I haven’t found OV reviews.
    I am much more careful when reviewing books with POC rep though because I know that’s not something I should have any saying in as a white person.

    • I agree! I do feel that there are some general pieces that someone not of the specific marginalization can catch, but to talk about it in a nuanced way to critically review it is where my problem lies. I just wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about rep, that I’m supposed to be critically reviewing, so generally.

      Thank you!