Thursday, November 23

All My Negative Feelings About ALL THE CROOKED SAINTS by Maggie Stiefvater

"This is the way of our work: We cannot help but color it with the paint of our feelings, both good and bad."

Here is a thing everyone wants: a miracle.
Here is a thing everyone fears: what it takes to get one.


Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.

They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect.




First thing first – it has to be mentioned that the latinx representation was questioned even before the publication. As a non-latinx person, I highly doubt I picked up on everything, or even half of what could be hurtful for latinx people, but I did feel like the representation was superficial. #OwnVoices reviewers and authors have pointed out countless times that throwing in food + words from a language will not make the representation strong, and that seemed to be pretty much all Maggie did with the latinx characters in All the Crooked Saints

We had the strange town name Bicho Raro criticized early on by #OwnVoices reviewers for its meaning having a lot more to do with dicks than "rare bird", like Maggie seemed to think so. The Spanish in general wasn't top notch either, to say the least. My "favorite" example is Joaquin's DJ name: Diablo Diablo (Devil Devil), which was supposed to sound rebellious, I guess?? BUT IT DID NOT. On the contrary, it very much seemed like a non-latinx person's idea of a cool name. I studied Spanish, and it is an incredibly rich and beautiful language, so the fact that this was the best Maggie could do, or cared to do, is a disgrace. ESPECIALLY for a writer who seems to pride herself on her flowery and metaphor-filled writing... but, I guess, that only applies as far as writing in English. 

One more thing about the cultural rep - the food scenes, because, obviously, you have to have latinx people cooking. Don't get me wrong, I love food descriptions as much as the next person, and Mexican food is awesome, but I'd have appreciated a backstory on why Marisita liked to cook, how she learnt it, from whom she learnt it in her family, or really, any info. Random latinx character cooking various times throughout the book just felt so so superficial.

I could talk about the plot, I guess, but it would be rather pointless, because there was very little of it. The romance, though, now that dominated the book, and not in a good way. Nearly everyone was in love with someone, or desperately hoping to find love in the future. It was ridiculous, especially because there was zero reason to even include romance. 

I mean, read the book, and then tell me Beatriz needed a love interest, or the drama between the parents was necessary, or that Daniel's character required someone to be in love with to want to help a pilgrim. I feel like the messages, which were rather obvious and just not as deep as they were made to look like, could have been a lot stronger if it was only the Soria family concentrating on THEMSELVES mostly.

As for the characters - the frequently changing perspective and little time spent building-up the characters made them hard to like. It is true that Beatriz was smart, cool-headed and tech-savvy, Joaquin was a DJ with a grand list of favorite musicians and huge plans for his future, and Daniel was a kind-hearted and great person. All that sounds interesting, huh? But that interest fades when those details are not showed us, but rather told us. 

I'd have loved to see more of Joaquin getting lost in music, Beatriz doing her thing with electronics and Daniel being all pure and lovely, but, alas, there was little to no real character build-up. Back to Joaquin for a moment - it was hard to believe for me that characters with Mexican heritage didn't like/know any Hispanic songs, and only played English ones on the radio. (At least as far as I can recall, correct me if I am wrong!)

I like Maggie's writing style, I really do, but in All the Crooked Saints it was just too much for me. When there's so little plot or character complexity, using such flowery language will only make the book worse. Also, and maybe I am over-reacting here, because I hate this freaking expression, but here's a direct quote, after two of the pilgrims saw Joaquin looking at them:

Tony narrowed his eyes. "Why is he spying around?"
"Boys will be boys." Padre Jiminez said carelessly. 

I'm just... why the hell was that necessary here, and what the fuck does it mean?? I'm so so so tired of "boys will be boys" being thrown around, so while I know this is NOT the context it's truly tragic in, I still find it really bad. 

And then: 


"Many women would have been crushed under this newfound responsibility, but Maria Lopez became an enraged lioness in the face of bad luck."

YOU! DON'T! HAVE! TO! BRING! OTHER! WOMEN! DOWN! TO! PRAISE! ONE!

Again, I know this is possibly me over-reacting, but if you absolutely MUST compare a person to others to show how great they are then for fuck's sake, have the decency to say "many people", not "many women".

Overall, I was not a fan of All the Crooked Saints. The story dragged, the writing was over-done and the characters didn't live up to their potential. But more than that, I'm disappointed in Maggie Stiefvater for not giving latinx people the representation they deserve. All the Crooked Saints is a striking example of why novels with #OwnVoices representation should always come before those with non #OwnVoices rep.

The story idea: 2/5 
The realization of the story: 1/5
The characters: 1/5
The cover: 3/5
Enjoy factor: 1/5


 
Some latinx authors you should check out after this mess:
*links lead to authors' Goodreads page*



10 comments:

  1. I was very excited with it but then I saw the whole Twitter discussion and I was like nope, I'm not gonna touch this book ever. I don't know how Stiefvater thought Bicho Raro was "rare bird" when it literally means "rare bug" but for example in Spain it's a derogatory term used to say someone is really weird, normally the intonation used is also negative. I'm not sure how the term is fully used in Latinx culture but it's not possitive however you look at it. What bothers me the most is when authors who include bad representation don't own it and apologised. Makes no sense but then again maybe they don't want to admit they did shitty research. Know I understand some Welsh people saying her Raven Cycle books were also full of shit but I know next to nothing about the real legends about the Raven King

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    1. Argh, I wish I hadn't read it either! I only saw the Bicho Raro discussion, and I wanted to believe that it was a genuine mistake on her part, but it's incredibly clear that she did not give a shit about the latinx rep. ALSO, the fact that, like you said, she denies to have made mistakes is just baffling. I'm pretty sure I won't buy any of her books in the future, maybe ONLY if they receive positive feedback, because what she was doing when she called out pirating was so disgusting, imo. I found it so distasteful, because the whole "if you don't buy my books, you won't get more, INCLUDING the Ronnan trilogy that I know a lot of you want" super-manipulate and childish. She was tweeting this TO HER FANS, who, let's be honest, most likely own a copy already, and it felt very much like bullying them into buying more. Also, SO INTERESTING that she tweeted that after All the Crooked Saints was deleted off of The New York Times bestsellers list.

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  2. Quote:
    "if you absolutely MUST compare a person to others to show how great they are then for fuck's sake, have the decency to say "many people", not "many women"."
    LOL, you have a point here. Of course it may be a case of a third person narrative where we are only shown what a character thinks (same for "boys will be boys"), but their thoughts should be challenged somehow...

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    1. YES, EXACTLY! If it were challenged, that'd have been okay, of course, but here, it was just integrated into the book. And the comparison itself, if I remember right, came from the author herself, not from any of the characters' minds.

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  3. Oh no!! I am so sorry you did not enjoy this. When Maggie first announced this book I was so excited for it, although I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. It’s a shame with all the negative latinx rep, I would have expected a lot more from her.

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    1. Same. :| I don't think I'll be reading much - if anything at all - after this, because the way she refuses to admit to her mistakes is so childish, and it does not speak well for her character. :|

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  4. I haven't read this yet but I'm pretty wary about it after seeing all the complaints about it. I agree with you that when it comes to representing a culture, #OwnVoices is best. And if an author isn't comfortable writing outside of their culture because they don't know much about it and research isn't in the question, then they should feel free not to write about it. I just think authors are being shamed for only writing about 'English' experiences and such and so they try to diversify but if they don't have any experience with the culture and are on a deadline, that's not the best idea. A lot of authors probably feel left behind by the march towards more inclusive diversity. Still, this book seems like it had so much potential from the blurb but it just wasn't given the time it needed to flesh itself out. Hopefully the next book you read will be better, Vera :)

    Laura @BlueEyeBooks

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    1. I just really, really wish she would have done her research better, to be honest. I feel like she did the bare minimum and then just checked her research box ugh. What a disappointment.

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  5. Oh dear, I'm sorry this book was a disappointment! I hadn't heard of it before seeing your review, but I'll probably steer clear of it now. Accurate representation of diverse groups of people is essential to promoting greater awareness and understanding, so although this book does seem to feature latinx culture, it's disappointing to hear that the representation was inaccurate and even hurtful. And I also despise comments like "boys will be boys" or "many other women would have..." It's so unnecessary and just perpetuates sexist stereotypes.

    Lovely review, though!

    claire @ clairefy

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    1. IT WAS SO BAD, you should def steer clear of it, because ugh ugh ugh so many other better ones out there. Also, what baffles me, and what I haven't even mentioned in the review, is that she refuses to acknowledge her mistakes, and somehow thinks it'll all just go away?? She is being so childish and just meh, I am very disappointed. Also, YES, I feel the exact same way about those type of expressions. Thank you!

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