Now, this isn't a rant, but I find that the characters in Blackman's books are all so uniformly normal that it depresses me. There are "mums" and dads who invent things, like in Blackman's novel Dangerous Reality and Hacker. There are kids who have groundbreaking medical procedures, as in Pig Heart Boy. There are parents accused of breaking into pharmaceutical companies on behalf of environmental terrorist organizations, and then going on the lam, as in A.N.T.I.D.O.T.E.. Just normal kids with normal lives, having...
Okay. So that last bit about the terrorist parent is perhaps not quite so normal. But, what I love about Blackman's books is that the kids get to have "real" fictional...lives, well rounded in all the routine, normal ways. Lives unhampered by race.
(Okay, so maybe this is a rant. But, it's just a teensy one.)
I've just read Dead Gorgeous, and like the title suggests, it's about someone both dead, and... gorgeous. It's a good old-fashioned haunted house story, with a few modern twists.
Nova lives with her weird, hippie parents, and her sister Rainbow in an inn, which is filled with the usual cast of strange people, some of whom are just passing through, and some of whom have been there for quite awhile. One of the longest-running residents is usually invisible -- because he's dead. He's a ghost named Liam who can make himself less ghostly when he's upset, which is pretty often. Liam left the world when he was about 16, after a huge and awful fight with his Dad, and he has a lot of unfinished business.
Nova and Rainbow aren't all daisies and sunshine, either. They're a lot alike in what they want, but they go after it in different ways -- Rainbow does a lot of screeching and poetry writing, and Nova... goes underground with her sorrows. Liam sees in Nova someone familiar, and he truly wants to help her -- like he wasn't able to help himself. But first, he really needs to get one of the residents of the inn to leave. Liam's not the haunting kind of ghost, but for some reason, he's getting antsy. He tells Noval that Mr. Jackman's got to go. Soon.
Ghosts. Sisters bickering. Weird people passing through an inn in a coastal town. Guests who fail to properly flush the community toilets. Just...life. Parents, gainfully employed, mentally present, socially acceptable (accept for the little rant about the non-toilet flushing). Even the ghost is the "regular" kind, not a product of voodoo, nor does Liam produce rolling white-eyed terror and discussion of a "haint." Granted, I'm drawing from American traditions of African American stereotypes rather than British stereotypes (and they exist), but from an American perspective this was almost eerie to read. There was so much that wasn't there.
I love the covers of Malorie Blackman's novels. They feature kids of many shades and features with facial expressions no less, all of them are of African ancestry. Blackman has been told that her books would perhaps "sell better" without these covers, but they were immediately appealing to me, and I can't help but imagine them appealing to all kinds of kids grabbing them at the library. It's hard to put my finger on how novel covers featuring African American characters are different, but there's a difference, all the same. Perhaps British publishers are willing to take greater risks in depicting black kids just being... kids. Maybe there's not so much the concern with being PC? Who knows. Either way, I really enjoyed this book, and I'm a bit envious of Blackman's body of work. People have reviewed A La Carte and have remarked at how "refreshing" it is to see a character with dreams and goals like other, normal teens, even if she IS an African American character (And WHOA am I paraphrasing, but this is my rant, okay?). And I've thought, Wow, have some of us got a long way to go in how we think about people of color.
Last week, Colleen pointed me to
These are the types of things we had pointed out to us in grad school, in lit crit courses where such things were obvious. Somehow, it's unexpected to catch it in the here-and-now, in modern YA lit. Yet, Lainie is "refreshing" because she's got goals and dreams and wants a career when she grows up.
Boy, have some of us got a long way to go when we think about people of color.
Okay, < /rant >
Buy Dead Gorgeous from an independent bookstore near you!