Author: Richelle Mead
Star Rating: 2/5
Genre: Low Fantasy
Zhang Jing pauses in her breakfast. It will not happen again, she signs to me. I mean it.
Hush, I say. It's a topic she can't even hint at in this place. And despite her bold words, there's a fear in her face that tells me she doesn't believe them anyway. Reports of blindness have been growing in our village for reasons that are just as mysterious as the deafness that fell upon our ancestors. Usually only miners go blind, which makes Zhang Jing's current plight that much more mysterious.
Upon the tallest mountain lies a village surrounded on all sides by tall boulders or cliffs with abysmal drops to the jagged rocks below. The soils of this village cannot produce fruit bearing trees or other produce. The people cannot leave to obtain goods. A zipline carries up the needed materials for the village in exchange for the metals mined each day like clockwork. It is quite literally their lifeline. Most mysteriously of all, the entire village is deaf.
Fei and her sister Zhang Jing have lived in this village all their lives, as has everyone else. They've lived comfortably in their silent world. It's hard to miss that which you do not know, and the girls have never known sound. A blanket of unease covers the village when the miners begin to go blind too. Without sight or hearing, the precious metals cannot be mined and the zipline stops delivering their only food. Fei fears for her and her sister's future as Zhang Jing's own sight begins to wane.
It is up to Fei and her mysteriously restored sense of hearing to venture down the treacherous rocks and save her village.
This book is a difficult one for me to review. I initially picked it up for the novelty. The book was rather moving to me. I found it fast paced, though it lacked necessary world building, but most importantly I was excited to read a novel from a deaf person's perspective. This book also promised a story fueled by China folklore and legend. I simply loved being able to pick up something so "different." I'm sure you are seeing the problem well before I did.
It's been a few weeks since I've finished this book. Something was holding me back from writing this review, though it wasn't until recently that I was able to pinpoint just what that was.
I'm disgusted with myself.
In my 21 years, how many books have I read that featured a character with a physical disability? Three? Maybe four?
And out of those, how many were by authors who were own-voices? I can only think of one. Just one. This book was not one of them.
And again, how many books have I read that have taken place in Asia. Not many... fewer than a dozen even? ASIA. OUR BIGGEST CONTINENT!
Again, how many of those were own voices? I can only think of two or three. I've certainly read books by Asian authors who wrote white main characters. Did they choose to write those perspectives? Were those the perspectives they thought would sell rather than write their own voices?
I am disgusted with myself.
The reason why you pick up a book matters. It's okay to pick up the story of a life far different from your own- in fact, you should. It is not okay to pick up a story different from your own world perspective because it's a novelty. A person's disability does not exist solely for my entertainment. This book did not try to educate or realistically portray what it is like to live without hearing.
I'm not saying that non-white POV's should only be educational. I'm saying that as an able-bodied white woman, I should be educating myself FIRST on the realities of diversity. I want to live in a world where the bookstore is filled to the brim with diversity. However, I don't think it can happen correctly until I, and people like me, can learn to see the societal "conventional" as no longer conventional. A book shouldn't be entertaining to me because of the diversity alone. The characters should be allowed to just be their unique selves just as people in the real world should be able to be. I wouldn't make a pint to befriend someone who is different than me just because they are different, and I shouldn't treat the characters in books that same way.
To top off my discomfort at my own actions... one of the first books I've ever picked up with disabled characters and also one of the first books I've picked up that take place is Asia, wasn't even written by an own voices. Not only did I fail to take a step back and educate myself on facts before picking up a novel, but I allowed another assumedly able-bodied white author to display these POV's. The literature I ended up consuming was in fact not based on any Chinese folklore, nor was it written by someone intimately knowledgeable on the topic. I also consumed a story whose plot and marketing campaign cashed in on the fact that characters with disabilities aren't prevalent in our bookstores. To top it all off, Fei's deafness wasn't even used positively. Instead, the author decided to use it as a plot device- have Fei regain her hearing in order to be strong enough to save her village. Apparently, you can't accomplish anything when you are deaf. Huh.
Shame on me.
Shame on the marketing campaign for this book.
I will strive to do better.