LET’S WHISPER: Can you truly be ‘represented’ in a book?

Representation is so important in books.

Especially lately, with all YA book bloggers making sure that minorities are given the spotlight and that #ownvoices books are hyped up. I mean it’s just amazing to see so much representation in books and SO SO important in the world we live in today (Which isn’t very nice apparently).

But then…sometimes this wonderful idea goes very, very wrong. In which it becomes ‘mis -representation’ and THAT is exactly what we DON’T NEED in books because it can be offensive and misleading.

But, I have a few opinions on these two opposite topics and I thought that I’d make a post to clear all that up. So, what is representation exactly?
Rep

According to Google…

the description or portrayal of someone or something in a particular way.

And representation IN BOOKS is portraying a certain set or type of people in the correct manner by creating a character(s) like this and developing them splendidly.

Long-Divider

WHY REPRESENTATION IN BOOKS IS AWESOME

  1. It educates people who are a bit oblivious
  2. It clears up misconceptions
  3. It helps us get to know the world around us better
  4. It makes the book much more realistic and interesting
  5. It makes your day when you see yourself in a book *cue squeals*

Long-Divider

WHY MISREPRESENTATION IN BOOKS IS HORRIBLE

  1. It CREATES misconceptions
  2. It can be offensive to many people
  3. It can ruin the whole book for you
  4. It will probably cause of lot of hate and drama
  5. It educates people in the wrong way.

Rainbow Book

Even when you’re NOT represented in a book, and you see some different, diverse characters, it spices up the book SO MUCH. Because you’re learning and reading. It’s a WIN, WIN situation.

But that’s not really the point here. I want to talk about ‘Can YOU be represented in a book?’ because that’s the question we really want to see here. I mean when you see yourself in a book and you can relate a character, it immediately increases how much you enjoy the book! Diverse books are mostly loved because a lot of people can see themselves in it which makes the book a)more real b)more enjoyable. Because if we kept on reading books about default characters, it sure would get boring.

Personally, I’m yet to read a book where I am truly and perfectly represented. I mean I’ve read books with amazing bookworms and felt represented but…nothing more than that. And you know why? Because I think it’s very hard to be perfectly portrayed in a book. Not impossible, but near it.
Take this example, you have a mental illness. You read a book where they have the same mental illness and everyone has said it’s represented so well. So, you being the amazing bookworm, read this book and obviously, you somewhat relate to this character but you don’t truly and 100% connect with them.

And you know why? Because you’re not the same. You have different parents, different personalities, cultures, past. You might be a different age and have had different experiences. You might be on the opposite end of the spectrum or deal it with completely differently.

And you know what? THAT’S OKAY. Just because they have something in common with you, doesn’t mean you’re not being represented. It means THAT PART OF YOU is going to be represented and maybe not even perfectly. So the author necessarily hasn’t gotten it wrong, they’ve just gone about it in a different way and the character they’ve crafted IS NOT YOU.

I mean it’s a completely different story when you’re represented negatively or in the worst and horrible way or if the facts don’t add up and it’s representing or you very badly and painting you in a different light. That’s wrong and problematic and NOT OKAY. The author clearly hasn’t got sensitivity readers or done their research and have gone somewhere wrong along the way.

BUT I’m talking about #OWNVOICES and how it is a wonderful movement and hashtag here in the blogosphere and everywhere. But remember while those voices CAN be the echo of you, some author’s voices don’t always speak your words. Own voices allow authors to speak for many people and sometimes that does NOT include you and your voice has a different opinion. Which is totally fine. Just because you have a different experience and different opinion, doesn’t mean the other person is entirely wrong.

So, the answer is YES. You can truly be represented in a book. But one thing doesn’t define us. Just like a trait or characteristic won’t define a character. We are made up of lots of things that make us who we are. Correct representation is IMPORTANT and we need it in so many more books!

a recap

  • Yes, you can be represented in books
  • Sometimes you don’t FEEL represented
  • which is okay because everyone’s different
  • But misrepresentation IS BAD
  • and the author has done something wrong along the way
  • Own voices doesn’t necessarily speak for you
  • You’re not defined by one thing
  • Rep is important and it’s amazing to see yourself in books

So that’s why I’m going to leave a list of books that represent or minorities or just people who aren’t usually represented in books. I admit I’ve only read The Hate U Give from here but I’ve heard the rest are amazing!

Image result for when dimple met rishiImage result for gentleman's guide to vice and virtueImage result for the hate u give

Let's Whisper

AND THAT was my first discussion on this blog! What books do you feel YOU’VE been truly 100% represented in? What are some your favourite #OwnVoices books? And why do YOU think representation is important? It’s all you! Also, are you wondering why this post is so short as well as the title because I SURE AM?

Ilsa - Edited

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55 thoughts on “LET’S WHISPER: Can you truly be ‘represented’ in a book?”

  1. Loved your first discussion on A Whisper of Ink *sighs* I’m loving your blog name. Loving everything about you and your blog.

    I think representation is important in informing us all about the world beyond our location *starts singing send me your location, let’s focus on communicating* and it helps us break down ill-formed thoughts and concepts about certain areas and cultures in the world. I mean a lot of books tend to be set in Western society and Western cultures but slowly we’re seeing more diverse books pop up in all genres for all ages where characters originate from a variety of countries, cultures, backgrounds and so on. And it’s nice being able to pick up books where the whole spectrum of us is represented like there’s a part of us in one book out there…it’s a nice thought to have.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I am glad you like my blog name! That means so much ❤

      Representation educates us! 100% like The Hate U Give and The Bone Sparrow. It clears up a lot of steryotype and misconceptions about lots of people!I love seeing myself in a book I agree! I love all the diverse book we're getting in book these days and all the deserved hype they get1 It's amazing just like this community!

      Like

  2. I loved reading this!! Representation in books is really important, but the one thing that irks me the most is when authors add in #ownvoices characters *just* for the sake of seeming like a saint. Now I get that not every author does this, but there are some books in which there are characters that are written so badly and just use stereotypes and AGH sorry I feel strongly about this. I haven’t read many books that represent Indians, or pansexuals but I’m pretty sure there are quite a few… the ones I’ve read don’t really connect with me. But, like you said, different people deal with things differently. I’m just glad the representation is there, tbh xD

    Liked by 1 person

    1. YES! I totally get you there! Some books just seem ‘diverse’ and ‘full of rep’ for the freaking sake of it and you ca just see how fake and flat it really is. No worries, I feel very strongly about representing characters properly and making them UNIQUE and not just letting them be defined by one thing. I’m glad there’s representation in books too!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This was a very well thought out, and well written piece. The first book I truly saw myself represented in was A List of Cages by Robin Roe. The main characters have ADHD, Dyslexia and other learning disabilities. I’m not dyslexic but the other two things apply to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Yes to this post! The first book I can remember being represented in is All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, the way it portrayed mental health was astounding. It felt like I had written it myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad you felt represented in ATBP! Though I’ve read it and enjoyed it some people say it has ‘gross rep of mental illness’ but i guess that was this whole discussion is about. some people feel it’s great and others don’t! Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I love this discussion! I really love #ownvoices books and want to support them, but I think sometimes bookworms expect books about minorities to be 500% like themselves. Which is kind of ridiculous. Like two people can belong to the same minority and YES have things in common…but no their journeys aren’t identical! I mean I’ve had this just personally with reading books dealing with anxiety disorders which I know first hand and I’ll read it and go “woah that was a HORRIBLE misrepresentation!” And then turn around and see another review, also with the same disorder, saying “this was so me!! The author was spot on!!” So I think we have to remember this! You can belong to minorities but have different experiences within that.

    But that saying it’s always so beautifully lovely to read a book that really gets you. *happy tears* I’ve had that happen and it’s a feeling that EVERY reader deserves!!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. THANK YOU! I definitely agree with you! People aren’t the same…just because you have things in common DOES NOT mean that it’s going to be all you. Yes definitely. Some people feel represented in books and then others like ‘UGH NO NOT ME’ and that’s totally okay because everyone has differet experiences! So glad we agree on that.

      I KNOW. I LOVE when I get represented in a book perfectly. *celebrates*

      Like

  6. Hm I can’t say that I’ve ever really felt TRULY represented in a book. When I feel represented, it’s usually a character I WISH I was more like. I don’t think I would like myself in a book very much haha I’m quite boring. Although I can relate very deeply with characters who have been/are being physically/mentally/emotionally/sexually abused, because I’ve been there, but the situation is never quite the same so I don’t think I feel *represented* per se.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Loved your first discussion on A Whisper of Ink! I have actually yet to find a book that represents me and the health situation I’m in. It would be absolutely amazing if an author wrote about a teenager living with chronic pain, because that isn’t talked about enough and it really, really should be.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh that’s a shame, I would have read it as well! Hopefully another author decides to give it a go, that would be amazing🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  8. You worded all this SO eloquently and it could have gone so SO SO badly. Well done.

    As a Caucasian American, I feel that I don’t have much right to participate in conversations about #OwnVoices. I support them 6000% but don’t feel properly qualified to comment on inaccuracies or perfection of portrayal. That said, I agree that the YOUness of representation is something that rarely will happen. You’ll get YOU-ishness, but it’s so unlikely it’ll be perfect.

    I was reading an old Goodreads thread yesterday re: Leigh Bardugo and gross inaccuracies of her portrayal of Russian culture. It was one of those conversations where some people were SUPER offended, some people thought it was funny, and some people shrugged it off because it was just INSPIRED BY Russian folklore. It’s interesting to look at these conversations and identify the voices in them: there were people who were within that culture and without passionately in each group.

    I CAN agree with what Cait is saying about representation of anxiety disorders – depression as well. Unless you ARE a person with those experiences, it’s difficult to portray them correctly and often times they are portrayed to the worst stereotypes with odd examples that are poorly researched. Even someone with a deep experience will not be able to echo mine perfectly.

    Rural culture gets a similar rap (we’re not rednecks up here, geez) and so do “intelligent women”/nerd culture. STILL. There are STILL so many instances of “if you’re not going out with friends all the time you’re not living” and “if you’re smart you’re not pretty” and so forth. These are obviously less shockingly insulting than misrepresentation of Indian culture, for example, but they are important to me and it is agitating when the happily ever after includes the girl ditching books forever and running away with a hunk to nightclubs.

    I think that #OwnVoices is such an important movement not only for cultural backgrounds (although, not denying that, it really is!) but also for accurate representation of ANYTHING. It ought to bring the importance of experience and research to proper light… if you haven’t lived it, you better have a Ph.D. in it, because otherwise you are perpetuating rumors and misrepresentation.

    And now I’ve rambled on for a while and probably offended someone. *sigh* But I agree with you!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, wow…this is one LONG comment! (I’m not complaining! I LOVE long comments! and long posts! )

      I definitely understand that when you read a book and people are represented and it’s not you…you have no idea on what to say because it might have offended people and that can become very confusing? Usually, i just say ‘i’m not sure about the representation in this book’ since that seems like the safest way to go.

      I mean…I don’t understand how everyone is so offended by authors writing about culture? Are we not allowed o be inspired and take stories? But I guess I’M not Russian so I can’t say much but i think it’s wonderful people talk cultures and use them in stories?

      I think writing about a topic you don’t know about can be difficult. I think authors definitely need to research and make sure that they have a character who portrays something right. And even if it IS #OwnVoices you might still not feel represented.

      I definitely agree that these stereotypes are brushed past! I don’t think they should be. Living can be your idea of fun, and that can be going on all the time and it can be eating and books. And I also agree while these might not be strictly offensive they can be a little annoying and frustrating.

      OneVoice is great for representation. But I definitely feel like you CAN research and have sensitivity readers and interview people to represent things you haven’t necessarily experienced!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I am the QUEEN of unnecessarily long rambly things!

        Research and sensitivity definitely can happen… but I do feel like there are authors out there who brush over it in such a way where “reading other fictional accounts” and “watching movies” becomes research (I am reading a book now that I feel like watched American Pie to research teen behavior). Wikipedia searches also need to be approached with care. I LOVE it when authors include a reference section in fiction books… it shows, at least, that they tried. And, naturally, not everyone will be happy. But it is very possible to be gracious and respectful.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. This was a great post, A while back I read an Interview that Penelope Douglas made and somebody asked her why she didn’t write a Latin american character and the answer she gave was because that she wasn’t so familiar with the culture and she was afraid that it would be a misrepresentation of it…I agree with her, it’s better not to write about something that you don’t know much about because you might end up hurting some people and contributing with bad cliches about how certain cultures or types of people are like. I don’t think you need to put something in your book just to fill a criteria of diversity or anything just because it’s what’s trending at the moment, this just makes it a badly done work.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes! I definitely feel like authors shouldn’t be obliged to include diverse characters especially if they fear mis-represenation and that they don’t know enough about a certain topic.no represnetation is better than mis representation. thanks for your comment ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  10. The closest I’ve been represented is Benedict’s Sherlock… No i’m not an Englishman but he portrays aspergerians so well….I haven’t read many books where characters are downright aspergerian, just implied.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. YES YES YES AND YES!!! I don’t think someone can be truly fully represented, because only a certain part of you will be. If you want FULL representation of yourself, you’re going to have to have a character who is EXACTLY like you. It’s not misrepresentation — it’s just representation of just one part of you. And even then, some of it isn’t exactly representation, but just the fact that you’re able to relate to their situation.

    Also, a lot of people think that just because they can’t personally relate to the situation that it’s misrepresentation… but it’s not??? Everyone has different experiences, even if they’re in the same minority group, and just because it’s “wrong” for you doesn’t mean it’s wrong for everyone. But if everyone’s saying that it’s wrong and offensive and rude, etc… it’s probably not good rep. XD

    And I so agree!!! We AREN’T defined by one thing (which is why we may be only represented for one part of our identity), and we especially aren’t defined by the minority group we belong to! And YES YES YES to the importance of seeing yourself reflected in books! A lot of Young Children™ read books and it’s REALLY important to see themselves in those books. And also a lot of Old Children™ read books and it’s still important for them to see themselves in them. XD

    LOVE THIS POST ILSAAAAAA! (Look, I remembered this time.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. WOOWOW LOONG COMMENT! Thank you!!!!

      Yes I so agree with you! We’re not exactly the same person so you can’t expect to 100% connect to that character. EVERYONE IS UNIQUE AND DIFFERENT in their own way. Unless it’s really negative and gross portrayal of you, you can’t be sure that it’s ‘misrepresentation’ Though yes, if everyone is saying it’s horrible rep then it probably is.

      yes, definitely not defined by our minority group. Really important and amazing to see yourself in a book! AGHHH THANK YOU

      Liked by 1 person

  12. This is so interesting, and I’m really glad you’ve touched upon this. I have a novel in the works that’s very special to me, because there’s an aspect of one of the main characters I’m directly modeling after my own experiences and life. I’ve yet to find any character/novel that really represents this issue in a way I identify with, so I’m simply going to do it myself. I won’t be asking for sensitivity betas or anything of these pertaining to this issue because I don’t want it to be altered to fit someone else’s experience.

    I admit, this does have me worried. I’ve discovered that my identity does not fit in well with others of the same identity. My character could come off as false or portraying something in the wrong way. But then I wonder, how can it be wrong if it’s based after what I’ve lived through? I’m tired of this part of me being ignored in media and literature, and what little I do find never being remotely close to how I feel.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you commented this amazing comment! Writing a book representing yourself really helps to show how different people deal with certain things so that’s great you’re taking that job into your own hands! I’m sure your novel is GREAT! I totally understand not wanting sensitivity readers because that’s YOUR experience and you want your character to be like that. But yes, the way you think or craft that character could be offensive to others. But I don’t think they have the right to say it’s ‘wrong’. Your voice deserves to be heard!

      Like

  13. I’ve read only When Dimple Met Rishi, but that’s the book I feel most represented in. I somehow don’t find books with Indian characters having significant roles, especially not as MCs. And I really related with Dimple, so there’s that!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Well said. We are all unique, complex individuals. We all feel and experience different things. And while it’s important to have representation, it’s also important to be able to read about DIFFERENT types of people. I would be so close-minded and ignorant if it were not for books. I love being able to see and understand other people.

    Like

  15. Wow, this was an AMAZING, very thoughtfully written post!! I agree with all of the points you touched on.

    I think diversity in books is so so SO important, and it’s always cool to see yourself– or at least part of you– reflected in a protagonist. I remember as a kid, it was so hard for me to find heroines of my race, both within books and on TV screens, and I’m sure many others had the same problem! I still get so delighted whenever I find a character I can relate to.

    I feel like good representation is especially valuable because it helps not only the person/people being represented, but also everyone else who gets to experience new cultures, new customs, and new perspectives. Woooo diversity!!! XD

    Liked by 1 person

    1. WOW THANK YOU! For my first discussion, that means a lot! xx

      YES, seeing yourself in a book is a feeling everyone deserves, no matter who you are! As a child, I admit all book characters i read about where white so I feel you there. Just another reason diversity is so important!

      Good representation IS definitely amazing but definitely to achieve for authors these days.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. This a very good post! You’ve addressed each issues properly & with sensitivity. I, honestly, don’t think there can be “proper” or a “complete” representation. I am yet to read a book with a Filipino main character, much of an Indian-Filipino. Perhaps it could be the lack of access for writers from certain countries for translation of their works.

    It’s a bit hard for me to read books related to sexual assault because of what I experienced, and only a few books properly portray mental illnesses. Even that is a challenge. Because depression or anxiety really varies from person to person. I think we also need to be aware that what some people might consider “representation”, others might find offensive. Though I do believe that authors should have certain freedoms when it comes to creating diverse books but with proper research and possibly under the guide of someone who is from that particular community. It’s something that I’ve been taught as a social researcher which can also be applied to writing.

    In the end, people are very complex creatures to be contained within a few pages of ink.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. AGH THIS COMMENT! took the words right out of my mouth!

      Everything varies from person to person so we can never reach a mirror image of ourselves in books. I definitely think authors SHOULD BE ALLOWED to write about different cultures without it being called ‘stealing’ or something horrible like that. There’s something called sensitivity readers and research!
      OMG YES! Words are very complex, but humans are too so it’s difficult to represent with just ink! I honestly don’t have much to reply to this comment because I just agree with it SOOOO much!

      Like

  17. THANK YOU, this is wonderful! I know some books which “represent” me I suppose (I’m visually impaired). But I agree with what Cait said: I have completely different experiences to those who are in the same minority as me. I feel like it’s very very difficult to entirely represent one minority group because within that group, there is so much diversity as well!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. This is so true! It’s impossible to find a character that is completely like you (that would be a bit creepy haha) You can have the same gender, skin colour, sexuality, mental illness and a lot more, but even then, you won’t be 100% represented, because this character has a different past, was brought up differently, grew up in a different place and thus has a different culture, reacts to things differently etc. I also think it’s a bit much to ask to be fully represented, even if you just want to see your mental illness for example be portrayed EXACTLY as you how you experience it. That’s impossible, and there are so many people with different experiences! Great post 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry for such a late reply, Michelle! Yes, if I found a character 100% like me I would be like ‘is this author stalking me or what’ XD Just because you have similarities, doesn’t mean you’re going to connect to that character completely. To be fully represented and expect that is a little absurd because it’s practically impossible. You can’t expect authors to KNOWP ERFECTLY how to represent YOU!THANK YOU FOR SUCH AN AMAZING COMMENT ❤ I was just nodding along.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Oh this is such a great post, and SO TRUE. It’s so great to see #ownvoices books taking the spotlight and to have so many diverse books overall, but you’re right – there will never be a book that’s 100% you, unless you write it and it will be an autobiography or something. I think it’s hard to find someone that has the exact same experience as you, it is almost impossible. Still, it’s good to find a little bit of yourself in this book, and in that book, and in this book… There are just so many books to read ahah.
    Great post! 🙂

    Like

  20. I really agree with you about being represented not at 100%. If it happens, it’s amazing but I mean, as you wrote, even if a reader and a character have a thing in common, or more then one, still they’re not the same person.
    When I read, more then feeling represented, I try to empathize with the characters, trying to understend them as the persone they’re, whatever their culture is the same as mine or not.
    I still have to find a good representation in ya book of an italian girl, but there are millions of italian girls and each one is really different. I’m also ace, but ace spectrum is big. Neither I didn’t find a leading lady with my same syndrome, which also differs from person to person and can impact mind and body differently.
    To be honest, unless the authors use over done stereotypes – even if some of them are true (I’m referring to my country) – I’m always open to see how characters with the features named above are represented. I see it as a new experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Being 00% represented is JUST REALLY HARD. And it’s amazing if it DOES happen but when it doesn’t, we shouldn’t say that’s misrepresentation. SO I deffo agree with you there. I

      Trying to sympathise with a character who is written well is easy, but i feel that it’s great when you can personally empathise with a character and truly understand what they’re feeling.
      I totally get the whole ‘there’s diversity in minorities’ because let’s face it not all Italian girls are the same! And it’s cool to see how different we all really are!

      Like

  21. I love the point you bring up about all of us being unique and coming from different backgrounds even if we share many commonalities. I get really frustrated when I see complaints about how an #OwnVoices author portrayed something in a book, because they are writing from their own experience as a a bisexual or a muslim or a POC or a depressed person. To say they are wrong because it is not identical to your own experience is sort of wrong to me. Our thoughts, beliefs and who we are are colored by so many different things, and I am happy you talked about that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think we need to embrace our differences but also respect other people’s differences even if you have similarities. It’s definitely wrong to shun an author or say something is misrepresented just because you’ve experienced something different. Everyone has a voice and we’re allowed to use that. Thank you so much for you thoughts, they are much appreciated!

      Liked by 1 person

  22. I first have to just say. WOW.
    It’s like you peered into my mind and managed to unscramble and beautifully write about my thoughts on representation almost to an exact tee. You have written the most beautiful first discussion post.
    I think I might be reading all the wrong books because I’ve been finding it really difficult these days to see myself in these characters even part of me. They feel so stale and cliche. And it might be because I seem to have been picking up those cheesy romance books lately. The problem is a lot of young people who actually still read are reading those exact books and the misrepresentation that this causes can be catastrophic.
    Can you just imagine being in that awkward puberty stage again where you’re just starting to become interested in people romantically and seeing a portrayal of characters that are just all wrong and getting the wrong idea about how they should be? I know I read my fair share of those books when I was younger and it gave me the wrong impression and for years I ended up making a fool of myself. Good representation is SO important at that age because they’re still so impressionable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. OMG THANK YOU! This is my first discussion post so THAT MEANS SIMPLY SO MUCH TO ME ❤ WOW, I never thought anyone would say that botu my blog posts.

      AHEM MOVING ON XD

      Sorry to hear that you haven't been connecting with any characters lately. I've been finding some amazingly diverse books recently so yeah. UGH, those fluffy cheesy romances are NOT. MY. TYPE. A lot of people like them but I will always love fantasy. It's annoying, I agree, to see teenagers being represented in a wrong way and teens seeing them self in a negative light. All i can do is nod

      Like

  23. I haven’t ever felt fully represented by a book. There are a couple that have one aspect of my identity but not the other. And when I do come across representations of different aspects of my identity, none of truly resonateed with me.

    My favorite #ownvoices books are When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore & More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera. Despite not sharing specific identities with the main characters, I resonated so much with both of them. Plus, they were just fantastic books.

    Because publishing is so white, having #ownvoices representation for POC is a must. Kids of color have so little media that represents them. Kids NEED to see people like them existing in Romance, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and every other genre. When people don’t have representation, it’s alienating.

    Liked by 1 person

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