I reviewed this book last week, and in doing so made some serious mistakes, which I’m hoping to learn from going forward.
The whole time I was reading the novel I assumed the narrator was a boy. I can point to several possible reasons in the text why I came to that assumption, but in the end they are flimsy justifications for my assumption, held up only by gender stereotypes, clichéd attitudes, and expected conventions of storytelling, all of which I would be unfairly imputing onto the text when they simply are not there. In fact, the text was consciously constructed by the author so as not to gender the narrator, and there really isn’t a legitimate way to argue from the text that the narrator is either male or female. I brought my bias, assumptions, and lazy reading to the book and came away with an incorrect assumption, which I then propagated on the internet.
There is one really positive thing I hope I can take away from this mistake. I hope by becoming aware of this problem through misgendering a character in a book, I can be more conscious of others and in the future perhaps avoid misgendering an actual person in real life. I believe this whole learning exercise I am going through is part of the reason why the author chose to create the book in this fashion. It is a nice playground in which to learn this, and yet another way that this book can be used for learning and discussion.
Before writing my review I consciously avoided reading other reviews of this book or really anything about this book other than the book itself and probably the publisher’s blurb. I told myself I had decided on this because I didn’t want to be influenced by others and inadvertently restate whatever others said about the book. This is a semi-legitimate fear, but in reality my decision was an attempt to just get a book review written without thinking about it too much or spending too much time on it. It was a short cut, and it didn’t really work. I realize now that I owe it to any author or book which I am taking the time to write about to write well, and that includes doing proper research and close reading. Not only does this do the creator of the work better justice, but it also can save me from looking foolish; in the case of this book, some more reading about it would have prevented me from making Mistake #1 (noted above.)
By the way, We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey is an awesome book. You should totally read it and share it with kids that you know. Here’s my review:
After Earth is rendered uninhabitable for reasons*, Lan’s family are among the last 2400 or so humans living on the Mars base. When they start running out of food, supplies, and any other options, they are relatively excited to receive an invitation from the insect-like Zhuri and a couple of other species to come to the distant planet Choom as refugees. 20 years of deep-space hibernation travel later when the humans wake up in Choom’s orbit, things have changed and the Zhuri are no longer so enthusiastic about bringing in a species who just blew up their own planet. They nonetheless let one human reproductive unit come down to the planet and go to school and work as a trial: Lan’s family. Can Lan survive the school day and charm the Zhuri into letting them stay, and letting the rest of the humans come down as well?
On one level this book is a cartoonish/sitcom-styled sci-fi in which the goofball kid Lan, their despondent former pop star sister, and their parents find themselves trying to fit in with the mosquitoish inhabitants of a beige, hex-shaped suburbia on Planet Choom. On another level it is a sophisticated middle-grade satire and a masterclass in media literacy and political science that speaks to compelling contemporary issues such as the worldwide refugee crisis and the responding rise of populist/nationalist anti-immigration political movements, news media manipulation, and more. That might sound like a lot for an ostensibly humorous middle-grade novel, but I promise you it does not come off as heavy at all; it is light with some completely age-appropriate dark humor. I think kids will enjoy this on either or both the silly and serious levels, and it would make for great discussions.
*nuclear war, mainly
Correction: The text of this review originally referred to the character/narrator Lan as a boy. This was a presumption entirely made by the reviewer. The author kindly pointed out that Lan’s gender is never specified in the text. You can learn more in the author’s guest post on Nerdy Book Club: “One Book, Two Imaginations.”