Why I’m Not Reviewing Carve the Mark + Committing to Diverse Books

Sigh. Veronica Roth, why did it have to come to this?

If you’ve been around from the beginning of this blog, then you know that I admire the bold choice Veronica Roth made with the ending of the Divergent trilogy. I’m not a big fan of the trilogy in general, since I think the second and third books didn’t really deliver on the promise of the first one (which was flawed but had some great moments). But I was into the fact that Roth rejected the YA love triangle that was so ever-present at the time (y’all know how I can’t stand those lopsided monstrosities) and delivered a narrative with consequences.

Given that and the fact that I’m really into giving authors another try since last year, I was excited to pick up Roth’s new YA sci-fi, Carve the Mark. I didn’t look much into it other than to read a quick synopsis that indicated to me that there would be space (!) and male and female perspective characters. Cool. I don’t actually need to know very much going into YA sci-fi/fantasy books to be interested in trying them.

But I do usually check reviews to see if a) the book is unanimously considered tragically bad, or b) for situations like the one I’ve just run into. There weren’t really reviews of Carve the Mark when I pre-ordered it, but I was operating on the basis that it probably wouldn’t be entirely bad. (I’m not that cynical, okay. I think most authors improve over time.)

But I wasn’t expecting to find out that it’d be a problematic mess. In retrospect, maybe I should expect that more often.

I was just catching up on BookTube today when I came across a mention of a Carve the Mark controversy. “Controversy?” I thought. I mean, the book hasn’t even come out.

Carve the Mark

And then I took to Google. There, I heard what others had to say about the insidious racist elements in Carve the Mark and cringed. And I went straight to my Indigo order to cancel it. (Props to them for getting back to me in less than 24 hours, by the way.)

I don’t want to rag on Roth forever. I haven’t read this book, so I can’t review it for myself, and it is impossible to know someone’s intentions. The book uses racist tropes. I’m not going to pay for it, and I’ll be more apprehensive about this author in future.

More importantly, part of committing to reading more diversely, for me, is trusting when other people in the blog/review community say, “Hey, this is problematic in a way that affects and disturbs me.” Part of that commitment is saying to myself, “Hey, I probably don’t need to spend money or time on a book that negatively impacts the marginalized.”

(It’s really important to me to commit to reading more diversely because I just read whatever came at me last year and, although I read a lot of women, the stats for LGBTQIA+ and PoC protagonists and writers were pretty sad. I also read almost nothing about characters with disabilities and mental illnesses. I’m a bit embarrassed about not reading more narratives outside my experience, but as a queer gal with depression, I’m not even reading ones in my experience? I don’t even know?)

…anyway, all of this is not to say that it’s a bad thing to review the book; someone has to point out its issues, after all (or no one would have known about them in the first place!). But I don’t want to spend money supporting it to do that (people with ARCs won’t have to, so I hope to see some thoughtful critiques from them), and as a white person myself, I’m in no way uniquely qualified to pick up this book and speak to the impact of its racist narrative choices.

I’m happy to call something out if it’s already made its way to my hands, but all else being equal, I’d rather not spend money on books with these types of issues and save my spending power for books that support and amplify diverse voices.

I have to admit, it was reasonably easy for me to click Cancel. I’ve never ranked the Divergent trilogy among my favourites. It does some fun things with the tropes it uses, but it was very derivative. Some passages were memorably well-written (Tris flying through dystopian Chicago on a wire, the truth-telling trial) and made me hope for Roth’s future books; others were utterly forgettable. (Most of what happens outside of the city is a fog.) Tris and Four are okay characters with an okay romance. I did like how they felt more grounded in their familial past than most YA protagonists.

So obviously I’m not a Roth diehard for whom this would be a difficult choice. But even if you are, I’d urge you to join me. From the reviews I’ve read, it sounds as if this book will disappoint you, and I think it’s perhaps more important now than ever to reject books that use racist, problematic narratives, and to support diversity and diverse creators. (If you’re looking for some new releases to add to your wishlist/TBR, a helpful blogger has posted some exciting 2017 releases with diverse protagonists.)

In any case, thanks for joining me today, and I do promise that after this extended holiday diversion, we are back to Weekly Reads on Friday. I’ll speak to you again soon!

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