YA Book Comparisons by Authors Of Color and Unfair Critiques of BIPOC Work {Book Blog Discussion Revisited}

As it often happens in the book community, discussions are often recycled, repeated, in an almost yearly cycle. However, one cannot ignore the nuance and expansion that each of these discussions brings (no matter how monotonous), which sheds a new light on a different angle of which to view it. Today I’m revisiting an article I wrote originally in October of 2019 to explore the idea of comparative titles or reader comparisons in general, and how they impact the ratings/perception of YA Fantasy novels, particularly by authors of color.

Due to specific expectations or perhaps the overworked concept of “comp titles,” the main point of my 2019 article was to showcase how these books, almost always by authors of color are harshly critiqued or left with unfair ratings due to surface level comparisons. So why am I revisiting this discussion again? Well news broke on November 4 that Hafsah Faizal’s upcoming 2022 novel (which sounds phenomenal btw) titled “A Tempest Of Tea” would be a new fantasy duology featuring a “gang of outcasts and a deadly heist.”

According to Faizal via Twitter, in the span of less than 24 hours, 19 to be exact, her unpublished book with only an announcement already started getting compared to no surprise… Six Of Crows.

Many in the book community, rightfully so, have taken to Twitter speaking out against this unfair critique. As mentioned in my 2019 discussion, surface-level comparisons such as these often undermine the lengthy discussions and research authors of color input to delve into topics such as colonialism, slavery, race, and much more unlike the white authors to which their novels get compared to. Especially when authors of color are crafting works based on their own distinct experiences or culture.

It’s truly disheartening to see because it instills this idea *specifically* among the book community (or industry) whether it’s readers, publishers, etc. that authors of color or BIPOC folks, can’t have their novels stand on their own. In my previous piece I examined this through The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi and Nocturna by Maya Motayne (which are both excellent YA Fantasy titles).

*Note: I’m not here to completely disregard comp titles or anything, because without a doubt they can invaluable tool to increase awareness, draw in similar readers, or help titles during different stages of the publishing process. For information on the usefulness of this method, I recommend reading “Comp Titles: An Elevator Pitch For Your Book” from the Penguin Random House blog ‘News For Authors’.

As mentioned numerous times by authors, readers, and so on, SOC did not invent heists nor will it ever be the only novel that does so. (Especially since Ally Carter’s Heist Society came out in 2010 and is often forgotten). Maybe I’ll delve into this in another discussion, but I feel this largely has to do with the rise in online book community spaces just as SOC was released and hyped up which then in turn, led to this book being pushed and later cemented among that wave of readers, reviewers, etc. finding their online space.

Now back to my main point, in the end us as readers need to be more cognizant that as publishing continues to become more inclusive and diverse, we need to understand that many communities of color have not had their chances at telling the stories we’ve encountered hundreds of times. While of course not every book is for everyone (which is absolutely valid), I think if anything, this is a great opportunity for readers to see how authors use their unique and distinct backgrounds to explore tropes/storytelling from their particular lens.

In an article from Bustle on November 24, celebrating Sabaa Tahir’s finale to the ‘An Ember In The Ashes’ quartet, Tahir mentioned how there is still much work to be done in “[diversifying] YA publishing,” additionally she stated:

Over and over, authors from marginalized groups are told, ‘We already have a book like this,’ or ‘We already have an author like you.’ But books by marginalized authors shouldn’t be a quota you fill…”How many vampire books written by white authors? Dozens. I’ve nothing against that, but authors from marginalized groups deserve the same respect. Just because authors have similar experiences or ethnic backgrounds doesn’t mean their stories will be identical. We contain multitudes and our work is meaningful and distinctive.

Sabaa Tahir via ‘The An Ember In The Ashes Series Might Be Over, But Sabaa Tahir Is Just Getting Started’ from Bustle

Where traditionally, marginalized and BIPOC writers have been on the outskirts, we should not overlook the strides made when a new author of color publishes, because each one is an accomplishment, inspiration, and hope for a future beaming with new writers waiting to tell their own stories too.

I will yet again, leave on this quote from Leigh Bardugo herself in a 2016 article from Bustle, where she states, “The truth is, I get a lot of praise for diversity, but there are far more diverse fantasy worlds out there.”

Any additional thoughts you’d like to add to this discussion? or Any related topics your interested in sharing? 📚✨

Additional articles from fellow book bloggers that also discuss this topic:

1.Michelle from MagicalReads7 post The Gilded Wolves Vs. Six Of Crows

2. CW from The Quiet Pond posting about Book Recommendations: Diverse Heist Stories (That aren’t SOC)

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