The unspoken pressure of writing #ownvoices reviews

Recently, I’ve been kind of stressed.

Particularly surrounding writing my review on a particular book called Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed which most of you have undoubtedly heard of in the YA book community.

I started writing it a while ago, way back in January, because I read it then and I was so excited! I have almost all of it done, yet… I just haven’t been able to publish it.

I’m HELLA NERVOUS. And stressed. And it’s ridiculous, cause, well, it’s just a book review, right? I’ve never had troubles posting a review before.

THIS POST IS ALREADY STRESSING ME OUT

But see, the thing is, Love, Hate, & Other Filters is one of the FIRST times I’ve written a full-length #ownvoices review (on an #ownvoices book). (I’ve previously read Saints & Misfits though which I also identified with, but didn’t write a full review on.)

Sure, yes, it’s extremely freeing to be able to write on something that’s so close to what I’ve lived through myself, and I of course want to share my thoughts on a book that may (or may not have) properly represented marginalized people.

But the thing is, it hasn’t been that easy for me.

And that’s what I wanted to talk about, because this topic has been stressing me out and making me panic every time I read over my review, and that’s not okay. 

Why writing ownvoices reviews are stressful.

In theory, sure, yes, I just write a normal review, you know, just like I would any other review, yes? Which is still hard but whatever

Yet that’s the thing: I feel like I can’t treat it like any other review because I’m writing from an #ownvoices perspective. I don’t know if it’s just me putting unnecessary and invisible pressure on myself, but somehow, writing this review on Love, Hate & Other Filters is infinitely harder than me writing a review on any other book.

Why? Well, let me give you a list because otherwise this will be an even larger mess.

There is a social expectation that you know what you’re talking about/ are a trustworthy source on the representation in a novel.

Slkwejflkjwkjefj this drives me crazy because I know I’m totally guilty of also relying on ownvoices reviews to be a reliable source on marginalized rep in a book. It makes sense, of course! The best people to speak for a book’s rep on a minority population are the people who are part of that minority, not people who have no experience living as part of that group. Of course. You can’t ask a human what it’s like to be a turtle, you can’t ask non-marginalized people what it’s like to be marginalized. Simple.

Yet, I feel like that also places so much pressure on the ownvoices reviewer to be 100% correct and reliable on what they’re saying, because other readers who are not part of that minority will look to the reviewer for indication on good rep.

I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but … am I the only one who sees that unspoken pressure there?? It feels like there’s much less room for error for those reviewers, especially because there’s not always many of them in the first place, and so there’s more pressure to be “right”?

I would feel AWFUL if I said something (that I believed to be true) and a reader trusted me on it, only to have it be perhaps contrary to other valid opinions, or if someone was harmed while reading the book. (*More on this later!)

Not to mention…

Everyone has different experiences.

Just because I’m a Muslim, it doesn’t mean my experience as a Muslim is identical to every other Muslims out there. Just because I’m a POC, it doesn’t mean my experience is identical to other POCs.

We all have different experiences.

I just feel like, with some things, there are people who have a preconceived notion of what the experience of a particular minority should be like, and can enforce those notions on the book, even when it might not be so for the author’s or the character’s experience?

Especially with an #OwnVoices novel, the author is sharing (some version) of their experience, or their background, or knowledge. So if my experience doesn’t match the one in the book, does that automatically mean the book is in the wrong? Or that I am? That either one of those experiences are invalid?

No.

But the issues comes when reviewing, making that distinction between your OWN experience affecting your opinion of the book versus the book itself.

Of course we have every right to dislike a book if the rep was inaccurate. But can you always truly ascertain if the rep was such based on your own experiences? Just because I didn’t see myself represented in the narrative, how can I say that the rep wasn’t good/bad? When there are so many different experiences for everyone, or if the book is ownvoices?

So many rhetorical questions, I know, but seriously, this is the heart of the issue I face, content-wise.

I feel like, because books featuring diverse leads are so hard to come by, we put all our hopes and expectations for what we WANT to see on the few diverse books (for a particular minority group) that ARE published. And when they’re not met, we’re disappointed.

Which is 100% valid as well! Everyone deserves to see themselves represented in books! And it’s normal to want to project your wishes on a particular book when those types of books are so far in between.

But one book with a marginalized main character, is just ONE BOOK with a marginalized main character. It’s not fair to ask one book to represent all of us when there are so, so, SO many different experiences out there.

Who’s to say my experience is wrong, or someone else’s opinion is wrong? No one. Everyone’s ownvoices experience is allowed to be different. It doesn’t make anything less valid.

See, if we take Love, Hate & Other Filters as an example, I personally did not fully relate to the Muslim rep. It felt brushed aside, and didn’t always take it very seriously, despite being a huge selling point of the novel.

But every Muslim’s experience is different! Can I truly say that, because I didn’t personally relate to Maya’s actions and thoughts, that it was bad or inaccurate? I don’t feel like I have that right. I speak for MY experience, not for anyone else’s, so who am I to say, really.

Because sometimes, the things the reviewer is attacking or criticizing are things that someone else relates to, and that can be hurtful! I’m not saying not to be honest; our opinions as reviewers are valid and you shouldn’t have to hide them.

But there has to be a way to express your own feelings and experiences without belittling or looking down on other experiences; you don’t need to sacrifice your honesty to be considerate.

Relating to certain representation where most people don’t or not relating to certain rep where most people do

Jjkjaksdjklasjd being a black sheep is already difficult enough, okay. I think in this community though, it is possible to find others that feel the same way as you about any book, even the most popular ones, but at the same time, there’s always that odd discomfort when everyone is raving about a book or everyone is disliking a book that you hated/enjoyed.

It’s just awkward???!

And as rebellious we all like to think ourselves to be, that want to fit in and have people with the same feelings as you will still be there, you know? At least for me.

That’s true for any book, but it becomes even more so with diverse books where there’s also the question of proper representation. Of course I want more diverse books, but I don’t want them at the cost of misrepresenting anyone? It’s just such a disservice, and so harmful, and just DON’T DO IT.

But this ties back into the whole different experiences thing, because what one person didn’t enjoy, or thought was inaccurate, could actually be something that resonated with you a lot. Or it could be the other way around, what they loved was something you didn’t enjoy at all.

And that doesn’t have to be a bad thing, at all! Different perspectives are crucial and important and they’re all to be considered.

BUT IT’S STILL STRESSFUL TO BE A BLACK SHEEP.

Especially with the whole feeling like you’re meant to be a reliable source on this? What if you loved it but someone else/majority hated it, or vice versa? Of course it’s valid, but it’s also incredible nerve-wracking. 😳😅😂

The fear of backlash + being hurt from other reviews

OF COURSE I want to share my thoughts on the book. OF COURSE my opinions are valid, and acceptable. OF COURSE I should be free to express my opinions without worry. I know this.

But the internet can be VICIOUS, and, although I’ve never had to deal with a hateful comment in the blogging community myself (because y’all are so lovely!!), I certainly don’t want that to change now, and I don’t want to be on the receiving end of someone’s hate. I just don’t.

Rationally, I know that probably won’t happen, that I’m making this out to be bigger than it really is, but writing that review is personal, to me. I don’t often talk about my culture or background, ethnicity, or religion, because I haven’t always been that comfortable with discussing it. I haven’t always gotten the best reactions in the past.

I see things in other reviews, for any book, where reviewers comment on things that were ‘unrealistic’ or that they hated about the main character. And the thing is, sometimes, and this ties back to my last point up there, I related to that aspect they hated so much. Maybe it’s exactly what I do myself.

So yeah, not gonna lie, that freaking hurts. A lot. Even if I know it’s not directed towards me, or that it’s unintentional, when it comes to part of my identity, ouch, okay. That’s all I’m going to say.

I’m not trying to gather pity or suddenly make your paranoid if you’ve criticized a character for something others might relate to, (because God knows I’ve probably done this as well)!! But another stressful thing is worrying about how people will take the review, if you’ll be accepted, or if people will claim your opinion as invalid?? IT’S SCARY.

That’s honestly one of my biggest fears when it comes to reviewing, for any book; that I may unintentionally hurt someone due to my own biases and experiences. Please tell me if I ever do this!! It is never my intention, I swear. 💕

Basically, to sum it up:

  • Social expectations are freaking HARD; there seems to be a sort of expectation that because you’re #OwnVoices, you know what you’re talking about and many people look to you for the green light which means there’s a smaller room for error
  • Everyone has different experiences which make it difficult to accurately comment on the rep; the question is, if the rep doesn’t match what you’re familiar with, is it still okay/good rep?
  • Being the black sheep is stressful when there’s a smaller community of OwnVoices readers; liking rep others dislike or disliking rep others like leads to possible backlash or insecurity
  • Tying everything together: with social expectations, the complications of considering more than just your own experience, and facing the opinions of others, who may or may not agree with you, writing that review can be extra difficult

So will I ever post my Love, Hate & Other Filters review? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s probably one of the most personal reviews I wrote, ever haha and I’m not sure how comfortable I am with it yet? (Maybe after the reactions on this mess of a post haha. )

But I hope this post explains more on why that is? I don’t know if this is only a me thing, if I’m imagining this pressure when it comes to writing an ownvoices review? (These could totally apply for non-diverse review-writing as well; it’s just that I personally struggle the most with this one.)

I tried to make this post as cohesive as possible, and I want to just say as a disclaimer this is just MY OWN EXPERIENCE. You can of course disagree with me, but please be respectful!! My heart probably couldn’t take it otherwise 😂 (Underneath my scary exterior, I’m actually a huge baby)

I would be seriously impressed if you managed to stay interested in this whole post for the entirety of it!! I’m sorry if I rambled, if I was contradictory and confusing. What are YOUR thoughts? I know I am basically TOO PARANOID and might be *slightly* (hehe) overreacting about this, but I really would love to know what you all think.

If you’re part of a minority and have read a book representing yourself, have you ever felt this sort of pressure? If you’re not part of a minority, but are a book reviewer, have you ever been a black sheep in the book community? (Feel free to spill which book it is!! *waggles eyebrows*) Should I still post my LH&OF review? 

Spread some book love: what is a diverse book you read that you loved, or that represented you?! I’m taking recs!

Talk to me!!! I want to hear from everyone, don’t worry if you’re part of a minority or not, what are your thoughts?!

(I know this post is me overreacting as usual but shhh it’s still stressful)