Reviewing stuff is not easy.
Recently, I was looking through my archives and because I don’t have a whole lot of archive, I ended up reading some of my older reviews and posts. Narcissistic, I know, but hear me out. Basically, it was like reading essays I’d written as a 12-year-old. (Only a little better, since 12-year-old me didn’t read anything but Harry Potter.) It wasn’t the grammar (except, who am I kidding, it is always the grammar), it was mostly about, “I thought that?! I wrote that?!” And then present!Yash shakes her head at past!Yash, and then the horrible onset of shame …
*ahem* All this started with a conversation I had with Lindsay (from Me on Books) about Catherine Knutsson’s Shadows Cast by Stars. I’d really enjoyed it but apparently, in my excitement over a dystopian novel set in Vancouver with a biracial protagonist, I neglected to see how Knutsson’s writing wasn’t nuanced enough when it came to Metis people and their heritage. It’s probably only one of my many reviews/interviews that will come back to haunt me the more I learn. (And really, that’s the only bright side– the learning as I go along.)
It’s just very incredible to me how much things can change over two years. It is incredible to me how much I’ve failed to consider back then*. And how much clearer I can see things now. Except, that’s always the case, isn’t it? Standing in the here and now, looking back, you will always see things clearer.
I do try my best not to screw things up, though. I’ve been secretly in other parts of the internet making guidelines for how I’d like to write reviews and I’ve decided to edit them and post them on here. I’d like to keep adding points to this list as I go along and maybe compare notes next December. As of now, my guidelines are mostly reactionary** and mainly addresses how people talk about female characters:
- “I just can’t relate to her.” is not a good enough reason for anything! You must elaborate on things! Is it because of the writing? Really? Because she’s not a prospective friend/romance. She’s a character. Also, do you relate to everyone around you? Ever thought that maybe you don’t have to relate to someone for them to still be a. real and b. meaningful to someone else’s life?
- Also, “She’s just so annoying.” / “She’s so b****y.” / “She’s so selfish.” / “She’s so cocky.” are also not exactly A+ observations; please refer back to point 1. Especially, when in a male character, these same qualities are seen as roguish, or charming, or mere confidence.
- You can’t call a character weak just because she’s emotional or impulsive. You can’t ask for a strong female character and then be pissed off because you were given a three-dimensional character (without superpowers).
- You can’t hates love triangles because “they take away a woman’s agency” but also hate it when the woman gets to choose; how is she wrong if she picks A and if she picks B?! And if she picks herself, then it’s back to the b****y/selfish/cocky points. (If she picks both, though this is incredibly rare, we move on to sl**-shaming.)
- A line I see often in reviews: “Ugh, she has to save the world– not make out with X or Y …” *sigh* I feel conflicted about this one, but I also think this is a matter of personal philosophy. Lately, I feel like maybe love should matter the most, especially when the world is on the roller-coaster to hell. In either case, let’s be real- if you are okay with male superheroes who save the world and get the girl, you ought to reconsider your opinion on teenaged girls who snog their crushes/true loves and overturn oppressive regimes.
- I just don’t get reviews that say, “X character was so badly written I couldn’t even finish it”. In my opinion, this is casual talk. Something you gossip about with your friends. But don’t pretend that by posting it online, it’s become a “review”. Just say “not read/finished” and be done with it. If you’re going to review, it’s gotta be all or nothing, IMO.
- On a related note, it is very much possible (and sometimes a good thing) that a character starts off being weak, doubting herself, and grows over the story to finish strong. Just saying.
- I’m going to add “too girly” / “too masculine” to the list of things that have no place in a review. (Or at least, my future reviews.) When you read about different kinds of women and then proceed to write a review that not only misses the point of experiencing and accepting different ways of being, but also polices how femininity (or femaleness) could be displayed or experienced, you are just being horrid on purpose.
- It is, however, probably a good thing to point out that we don’t get as many female characters who like to be masculine or androgynous– unless they are written to be stereotypes with no character arcs.
And now, I think I’m going to add another point to this list:
10. Research, dammit. If your review is late, it’s late. Is it’s an arc, the publishers will deal. If it’s not an arc, your readers will deal.
I want to say that last point is specifically about representations of race and culture, but I can’t. For instance, even though Catherine Knutsson did not write with the nuance she should have, it must be noted that she only recently found out she was Metis, and her experience of race and racism is probably different to those who grew up knowing they were Metis. No amount of research will help me there, I think, since I’m from India and my opinions on this particular matter are tangential at best. All I can do is point to other reviewers who have better insight into these complexities …
Interestingly, this does lead to a different kind of research. Hmm. Gonna have to work on this list some more. So. Do any of you guys have writing you regret? Do you have rules or guidelines that help you along? If so, what kind? Do you have trouble sticking with these guidelines? (I know I do!)
*I kind of wish my reviews have a countdown, like Snapchat, and disappear after a certain amount of time. Like, “No, Yash probably doesn’t think that anymore. Here’s something newer instead?”
**You can tell I was annoyed when I wrote these. Sorry.