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One Book, Two Radically Different Opinions: An experiment in reading

killtheboybandYesterday, I wrote a post about losing my confidence as a reviewer. But tucked in that post I also touched briefly about the difference in the way that teens read books versus adults, focusing on the title Kill the Boy Band.  I was intrigued by the difference when I stumbled upon Sarah Hollowell and I believe Angie Manfredi and perhaps a few others discussing the topic of fat shaming in this book. In fact, Sarah Hollowell and I had an interesting private discussion about the book and the way adults were reading the book vs. the way our TLT teen reviewer read the book. Ky, our teen reviewer, has raved to me many times about this book and wrote her brief review stating: Kill The Boy Band is a book filled with crazy twist and turns, betrayal, and murder!?!? Though you might think the title tells it all, you’ll be surprised to find out that the title is just the beginning of the story.  This book had my mind racing and i could hardly put it down.

So out of curiosity, I asked Lexi to also read and review this book for us. Lexi is an older teen, a frequent reviewer, and a very prolific reader. She is also an intelligent and thoughtful teen and reader. We’ve had great conversations about books. Here’s what she says:

Lexi’s Review

“Happiness isn’t always easy…but it’s a priority.”

First off: FAN GIRLS ARE CRAZY!

No matter what this book tells you about how these girls aren’t as crazy, don’t believe a word because these four girls are crazier.

Kill The Boy Band is told in the perspective of teenage superfan who isn’t the most reliable narrator and has the reader questioning her sanity at points. But compared to her friends, whom are all residents of locoville, she can be said to be the most sane but in the loosest meaning of the word.

This girl, (which I don’t think we are given her real name so I will call her Sloan), tells her version of a rather scandalous and murderous series of events revolving around a group of a British teen boy band.  There are lies and secrets that hold friendships together and tear people apart. But it’s not without great consequence that Sloan and her ‘friends’ make it out Scott free.

Even with the absurd obsession of the boy band , the Rupert’s, this book also displays a lot of feminism. Being a social media based story, a lot of things that are widely discussed and argued about  feminism and slut shaming on the internet is seen in the book. This book, I feel, would help girls understand a little about what feminism is and to be the most bad ass girl they can be without the excessive apologizing to others for being who they are.

A major thing I admired about this book is the condemning of slut shaming. Boys can be as promiscuous as they want to be but if a girl simply goes out in revealing clothing they are criticized left and right. This book reminds girls that its okay to dress how we want, to not be ashamed of what we love, to have sex or don’t and to be who we are.

The thing I really love about this book is the diverse image of girls. You have Apple, who is a 267 pound Asian girl whose size is never seen as an issue. Fat shaming is a huge deal in our culture and by writing a character whose size doesn’t mean she is any less is something we need more of. Then we have Isabel, a Hispanic girl who can break a person with one look. She is not your stereotypical girl. She is tough and has a masculine edge to her that by no means makes her any less of a girl. These are girls who don’t fit what society says makes a girl feminine and yet here they are.

This book is about girl power. It’s about reteaching our girls on how to behave because society has told them that only feminine, slim, white girls who don’t question things that need to be questioned are who they need to be. If anything I hope this book teaches girls that it’s okay to who they are and to never apologize for the way they look because they are perfect when they are themselves.

Read it. It’ll blow your mind in the best way possible.

A Third Point of View

In comparison, at Women Write About Comics, Sarah Hollowell states, “This is spectacularly bad fat representation.” She gives very strong examples to support her argument that Kill the Boy Band perpetuates fat phobia, fat shaming, and problematic fat representation:

Two chapters in, and here’s what we know about the fat girl:

  • she stress-eats so compulsively she’ll chew on her hair without food around

  • even as a baby she ate so much she’d eat right out of the trash.

Hollowell goes on to state that she is disturbed by the positive reviews that she keeps seeing and how they don’t mention the awful fat representation. In addition, she notes “there are also issues of race, mental health, homophobia, and beyond . . . ”

And in a Twitter discussion yesterday Jenn H told me that she had several teens that DNFed this book because of both fat shaming and racism.

This fourth reader raises another good point about the way that members of a fandom are stereotyped. Even Lexi above basically says fangirls be crazy and uses the term “locoville”.

So here I have four different conversations with several radically different opinions of this book. It’s a reminder that every reader approaches the same book differently. It is especially interesting to me that Sarah sees this book as being fat shaming while Lexi sees this book as being fat accepting. Is the age of the reader the difference? Or are we not doing a good job of teaching teens about the topic of body and size acceptance? Or are other factors at play? As Sarah notes in her review, readers seem very divided on how this title approaches the story of Apple and her body size.

I, to date, have purposely chosen not to read Kill the Boy Band yet because I found this discussion to be an experiment of sorts and I wanted to be able to follow it without my own personal bias or opinion clouding my observation of the conversation. It raises for me a lot of questions about teens and reading and how they approach a book versus how adults approach a book. It also raises for me interesting questions about teens and the idea of fat shaming. Are we doing a good job of making our teens aware of this topic? We hear talk a lot in the media about the struggles teens face regarding self esteem and body issues, but are we doing a good job of teaching teens to examine and critique messages about body shapes and sizes in the media they consume? I fear the answer is no.

Comments

  1. I loved Kill the Boy Band and have no issues with anything raised by the book. It’s a satire, people. I will interview Goldy on my website in April, and look forward to learning more about this author! If you haven’t read Kill the Boy Band, read it. It’s hilarious!

  2. This is a fascinating, sort of enlightening experiment. I actually wrote a post at GeekMom about this same time (I’m REALLY behind on my Feedly, I’m not sure what times up with what anymore) about the topic of reviewing from different angles. I’d made the dichotomy between “reviewing to help librarians pick what to buy” and “close critiquing so as to raise awareness about issues in media” a little too clear, though, as you show here– we ought to take SOME responsibility so as to not perpetuate HARMFUL content to our patrons. But what’s harmful content and what’s overthinking it? And when you start talking about “protecting our young patrons from harmful content,” whose idea of harmful content are you talking about? A positive and empowering portrayal of, say, a transgender teen is automatically going to be considered “harmful” by a certain subset of the population. I don’t blame you for feeling like you’re losing reviewing confidence. I wrote my post (okay, I was trying not to be all self-promoting but since I keep talking about it, it’s here: http://geekdad.com/2016/03/write-a-review/ ) in part to try to sort out my own feelings of confusion on the issue, but now I’ve read this and I feel like I falsely simplified the issue in my own post. I get dizzy.

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