Lauren Ho

Bestselling author of Adult and YA fiction

Some thoughts on the whole Ownvoices reviewers debate after GMAbookclub’s Kevin Kwan interview

Good grief. That was a painful thing to see unfold. A book, timely and well done, that has explicit (it’s acknowledged on the jacket FFS) themes of internalised, external and familial racism, prejudice and cultural identity, with a biracial character, should NOT have been dissected on a book club of that stature without more ownvoices (OV) reviewers, or at least a more diverse bunch! I mean, come on.

A ownvoices book can run the risk of being dissected by certain reviewers who are insensitive to the nuances and range of a foreign culture, reviewers who might dismiss characters as being problematic without trying to understand their lived experiences or the cultural/generational context. I’ve seen it happen to so many OV books. A DIVERSE OV-skewed (different races, different genders) panel would have been the right way to go for a book with SUCH a strong OV slant. Sex and Vanity deserved that. Like the rest of Kevin Kwan’s books, Sex and Vanity has important things to say about race and culture beneath its glossy veneer (by the way, please read Sex and Vanity–it’s good).

Listen, I am NOT saying OV books should only be reviewed by OV reviewers. That’s extremely limiting. We need diverse reviews from diverse reviewers. But it’s also the awful, sad truth that even when it comes to ARC distribution, there can be a stunning opacity as to why some reviewers get picked over others when it comes to who should get physical and even e-galleys (and note I am *not* speaking for my publishers, which I have worked with to ensure OV reviewers are included as far as I can influence these decisions for LTS ARCs, limited though my influence is), but this is an industry-wide blind spot.

With the important changes happening in publishing thanks to the awareness that the BLM brought, we are only now seeing this trickle down to reviewers. Listen, publishers:
Representation matters in art, in fiction. And this extends to who should get the all-important access to galleys. We all know there are economic realities to how many copes of ARCs can be put out there, but in general we need to ensure BIPOC reviewers get to review books by BIPOC authors, and that more accesss is given to OV reviewers for books with an OV slant. I am glad that these difficult discussions are finally happening. I hope it will lead to real change.