I was wondering if there would be a backlash to the twist on racial issues I present in my new Young Adult novel, Save The Pearls, Part One, Revealing Eden.
This lack of objection does not come in a vacuum, either. Literally, dozens of bloggers, mostly in the YA and romance book community, have reviewed the book, along with such mainstream sources as The San Francisco Book Review, Fresh Fiction, The Midwest Book Review, and others.
Before you assume that this post is merely a means to flaunt those rave reviews, pay attention to what exactly this lack of racial commentary might mean.
First, some context: In the dystopian world of Revealing Eden, extreme solar radiation has wiped out most of the white race whose lack of melanin causes them to succumb to the Heat. The survivors, called Pearls, suffer from oppression under the new majority of dark-skinned Coals.
When Eden unwittingly compromises her father's secret biological experiment, perhaps mankind's only hope, she is cast out -- into the last patch of rainforest and the arms of a powerful beast-man she believes is her enemy, despite her overwhelming attraction to him. To survive, Eden must change -- but only if she can redefine her ideas of beauty -- and of love.
Her love interest, Bramford, is a Coal. So yeah, this is about an interracial relationship in a post-apocalyptic world. Or more narrowly, if you take out the question of race, a Beauty and the Beast story in which both parties must find self-acceptance (no story spoilers) before they can discover true love.
Not too many years ago, I can imagine that this story might have generated heated comments about the sexualized fantasies about black men. And yeah, there was one. And having checked out that blogger, I strongly suspect that he belongs to a much older generation than young adults.
Otherwise, I'm happily surprised to say there has been not a blip of protest.
So what does the lack of any racial outrage or puzzlement or fervor amidst the tremendous rain of positive reviews possibly say?
Conceivably, if the book had not reached the African-American community of readers, if such a category still exists, perhaps there might be some backlash. The first young African American reader who responded to me loved the book. But then, she's the kind of free spirit who would eschew limiting herself to a single category.
Or perhaps -- and this is what I hope -- the YA generation sees race in a way that is unique to them, unique in our history. After all, they have arrived on the scene decades past the integration of schools and Jim Crow, even well past the days of The Cosby Show.
Soap-mouth-washing words that were forbidden in my youth now populate rap songs so often I wonder if, happily, they have lost their vile connotations.
I have endeavored to raise my children with a color-free mentality. My son once mentioned that his color was white while mine was tan. This was said with no more feeling than if he'd been describing the different colors of our bedrooms.
No doubt most kids today would laugh at or find puzzling an incident that I now see influenced the way I thought about race in a blink of an instant.
Imagine this: a fourth grade girl with wild curly hair, huge green eyes and large bee-stung lips, her skin perpetually tanned from the Florida sun, stands alone waiting for her mother to pick her up after school. A large yellow school bus begins to pull away when a young boy sticks his head out of the window and hurls a racial slur at the girl.
Her first reaction is shame. He has slandered her with an ugly epithet -- a disgusting remark about her lips. Later, she wonders how he could possibly have mistaken her race. She is white, the remark usually targeted at blacks. (The term "African American" did not exist in that day.)
Confused and hurt, she wonders why her appearance should elicit such hatred. She hides this incident in the back of her mind and never repeats it to anyone until many years later when she writes a book in which she turns racial stereotypes upside down.
Only when I began to answer interview question and answers, did I recall the incident, and wonder how it had informed the story. Writers pluck bits and pieces from their lives and weave them, often unconsciously, only hoping the seams between reality and fiction do not show.
I am not naïve enough to think we live in a world without racial issues. In fact, I hope that my book will give those who have never experienced prejudice the opportunity to think about it in a new way, especially in terms of how our decaying environment one day may turn around the status quo.
The majority feeling that bloggers have expressed about Bramford: he's sexy, not because of his color, but because he's a strong hero. A comment on his beastly transformation at Bookies is the norm: "...became this sexy, strong, mysterious character who I fell in love with." Or as The Cozy Reading Corner writes: "Bramford is beastly... in a good way."
Or as Jean Vallesteros at Jean Book Nerd comments: "The relationship with Eden and Ronson is quite appealing. Although they are so opposite from one another, they discover something special in each other."
Primarily, the young adult community's comments on Revealing Eden have tended to embrace the way in which the protagonist learns to value her inner beauty. As Melissa Silva wrote for The Bookshelf: "A great story showing that you can't judge a book by its cover, and that beauty comes from within."
Which is the real message of the book, and why I love writing for open-minded young adults! Let's hope they carry a better view of the world into the future.