Monday, June 18, 2018

Book Review: The Continent

Title: The Continent
Author: Kiera Drake
Genre: Teen, YA, Fantasy
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I have re-read my review below a couple times and believe I have expressed myself appropriately. Yet here I am terrified to hit 'save' and post it for fear of hate mail, awful comments, etc. This fear in me in is ridiculous... and so I hit save knowing that if anyone chooses to skew my words on me or throw them in my face that they truly didn't understand, or want to understand what I'm saying below... I encourage respectful and genuine discussion about this book or the themes in it. I will not tolerate flat out hate comments or derogatory words. Let's be respectful and engage in meaningful and hopefully, educational conversation on both sides so we can help see each others POV. 

The Review
The Continent is a really well written and enjoyable book. I'm really disappointed that it has been boycotted by so many people who know so little about it; or who haven't even given it a chance. It seems that even if you resolve issues sensitivity readers may have in your book and spend countless hours editing it; it's impossible to get any respect. Shame on all those who are 'boycotting' or otherwise slamming The Continent without reading it. It's unfair to expect an author to resolve issues that may exist in a story and then refuse to even read their final product. That is not supportive or any way to get others to see your way of thinking.  This does not create an equal society or even help us progress towards one. What it does do is make those who complained more at fault than the original publishing team involved. Shame on all of you who will not read this book because you heard something or read the original ARC. You are part of the problem. If you don't help people to see and understand your POV in an encouraging and tolerant way then you are just begging for the fighting to continue. Ironically war and fighting is a central theme in The Continent and Kiera Drake shows us a unique way of approaching a problem like this by the end. 

On that note; let me start by being very, very clear. There are NO 'major problems' or 'issues' in this book that I see. Any issues or problems that may have existed in the original ARC manuscript last year have been resolved. Now maybe my opinion as 'just a white girl' isn't important but here it is regardless: 

Tribes & Skin Colour
The most ferocious of tribes that has killed the most people is described as white, translucent skin. The Spire is made up of all colours of skin (from it's original 4 regions) and folks there are more of a melange of colours than any specific one due to offspring of parents from different groups combining. 
There is NOT ONCE any mention of the following: 
- skin as dark as the night or midnight
- almond shaped eyes
- Or any other 'food' related comparisons. 

There is a great irony here, that is lost on many, that the change of the main killing tribe on the Continent to white skinned from whatever they were before changes NOTHING about the story whatsoever. It doesn't affect how anyone (in my opinion) would read this story or relate to it. Because it's just a detail that is insignificant. What is important to note is that there are two tribes with different cultures that are at war with one another for reasons most folks on both sides can barely recall or relate to. I honestly could care less what colour anyone's skin is in any book. Culture is much more important. A Canadian, like myself, can be of any hundreds of colours of skin. The type of culture someone is raised in is far more influential than anything. A past boyfriend was Canadian born to Chinese immigrant parents who had a huge influence on his view of the country compared to my 8-generations back Canadian parents. Whether we had the same colour of skin or not was not what defined either of us; it was the cultural influences around us that did. 

Special Snowflake?
The other major complaint I've heard (from people who haven't read this book) is that they don't want to read about a 'special snowflake' of a white girl 'saving' anyone. So let's make this really, really clear. The end of this book does NOT result in our lead gal 'saving' one group or another. It does not result in her single-handedly saving any one specific tribe. 
Ironically if you were to read this book, which I encourage anyone with an interest to do, you will find that the ending is far more complex than you might have expected. You'll also experience the immense change in our lead gal that results in you barely recognizing her and her values after her journey and time on the continent. 

Is there elitism?
Yes. Of course many of our characters start out as racist, prejudice or otherwise snobby towards certain ideas, groups or cultural attributes. This is how you show progress in characters. And it is exactly how you help readers come around to the values you are instilling. Something a really good YA/Teen book (in particular) does. 
When I first read The Giver as a child, my first real dystopian book that I 'got', I had a revelation that sometimes the laws or rules of a society or group are not the best or only way to exist. This is CRITICAL to our children learning when it is time to rebel and when it is time to concede. Without examples of poor and good behavior we cannot allow them to understand the differences or come to their own conclusions about what is morally right or wrong. Or what they want to be most important to them. I hope we teach our children and have a culture of morality that allows most to come to the conclusion that we should all be equal at some level. And we should all be celebrated for our differences not made more important because of them. 

I am very sad for Kiera Drake to be dragged through the mud after clearly trying very hard to please her sensitivity and preliminary ARC readers. Again, I don't know what that original ARC was like first hand; but IF it was even half as bad as some say, then I think the final published version of Drake's debut novel must be vastly improved. Instead of misrepresenting any one colour or tribe of people she clearly represents them as just different, in their own way. No one tribe or group of people is right or wrong in the Continent and that is exactly as it should be. It also makes for an excellent, contemplative read. I adored the love interest and other characters. And while I didn't think it was a five star book it wasn't far off of one. Certainly I kept wanting to pick it up and continue reading each time I had an opportunity. 

Make it an Essay/Book Club discussion
I would gladly give this to any YA or teen reader (young or old) and encourage them to think about some of the prejudice comments from the adults at the beginning; and then write about or consider the change in the lead gal through her journey. There are many excellent literary essay questions that could be written about based on the events and characters in The Continent. Things like: what would her parents think of our lead gal if they saw her at the end of the book versus the beginning? What would one of the Continent groups have thought had they seen the destruction of their war from the heli-plane above first? You can also get into the illusion of peace and if we ever really exist in a 'time of peace'? Given the current US government I think a dissertation could be written on the topic of comparing the ideals of peace and government rule in the Continent versus those of Trump and his cronies. 

My final word on this book is, if you have any interest at all in the blurb, or want to read about the idea of war/peace, prejudice/tolerance, etc. then JUST READ IT. And even if you are disappointed or don't agree with me, at least you can have an educated opinion on Drake's novel, instead of just regurgitating others comments without actually evaluating the source material. I believe in always basing our opinions on actual facts or first-hand accounts whenever possible. No book should be reviewed without someone at least attempting to read 25% or more. And for those that gave up three chapters in, shame on you for deciding you knew what would happen. For the record, you're wrong it does not play out the way you all assumed it does. So give it a shot and see. At least then you have a basis on which to have an opinion and are your own person and not some other reviewers parrot.


Terri said...

I like your review and look forward to reading this book! Thanks!

Leonore Winterer said...

If seen it both with this book and others...people assume for some reason (other reviews, the author behaving in certain ways, whatever) that the books is going to be bad or offensive and then they don't bother reading it (which is fine) but still feel the need to leave a bad review. I get it, you don't need to support the author when, for some reason, you don't feel comfortable doing so, but how is leaving bad reviews without even trying to read the book doing anyone anything good? I, for one, like the idea of the blurb, and I think I'd enjoy this book very much.
(Also, that might be me being a foodie and having so many positive associations with food, but I still don't get the whole 'comparing skin tones/eye colours/whatever to food is offensive' thing! I'd much rather get 'You're eyes are the colour of hazelnut chocolate and your skin is like vanilla ice cream' than the 'you're pale like death and have eyes like a cow' I'm getting now!)