This is not a book review.
It’s not a book review because I don’t think I can review this book without inserting my own bias. I want to talk through what my past five days have been like with this book. See, something interesting happened with Shadow and Bone. I actually got into the fandom before the book.
A week ago, apart from knowing it exists and thinking it might be nice to read someday after all the books on my nightstand have been read, Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo wasn’t really on my radar. I was reading Internment by Samira Ahmed (haven’t finished but I recommend it anyway) and Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller (literary, so more of an acquired taste). I wasn’t looking for a new book.
As both a writer and actor, I follow two major groups on twitter: publishing and film. Now, I’m not sure when I followed them, but at some point I’d followed Shadow and Bone author Leigh Bardugo, and I followed Eric Heisserer, writer and executive producer on projects such as Arrival and Bird Box, and as I recently found out, showrunner for an upcoming Netflix series adapted from Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone trilogy and Six of Crows duology.
I only found out that last fact when I saw a tweet on Twitter about the casting of the main character from Shadow and Bone. What caught my attention was that Leigh Bardugo and Eric Heisserer have decided the main character would be half-asian (and, it is assumed, half-white).
And although I’d only read Six of Crows up to that point, I was immediately excited. The only other book character I can think of who was, like me, half-asian and half-white, was Lara-Jean Covey from the book series To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, and in the Netflix adaptation, she was played by Lana Condor. I thought Lana Condor was a perfect Lara-Jean, and I’m glad they cast asian and and half-asian actors to play the Covey sisters instead of going with white actors as originally planned. But this Shadow and Bone news was a step more, because they were looking specifically for a half-asian actor to play a half-asian character, and they weren’t putting the call out to full asian actors.
Now, if you aren’t mixed-race yourself, you might not totally get this bit, so I’ll try my best to explain it. Growing up, I was often the “asian” girl or the “half-asian” girl (and in some unfortunate instances, the “Chinese” girl (I’m not Chinese)). Among full asians, either among asian friends or extended family on my mom’s side, I was the “white” girl. It would be an understatement to say it was rare for me to be recognized in my entirety. No one ever referred to me as “half-asian and half-white” or “white-asian mixed”. On occasion I’d be referred to as simply “mixed” or “biracial”, usually by other biracial people, but for the most part I was only half, and only ever the half that represented the “other” to whoever was addressing me. When people asked “What’s your mix?” or “What are you?”, I know they only cared for half the answer.
So when I saw a character who was half-asian and half-white, and would be cast that way (as much as I love Lana Condor, I did feel a loss that the one book protagonist to ever be the same-ish mix as me was played onscreen by a non-mixed actress), I got excited. And I proceeded to learn everything I could about this character. I got pulled right into the fan art, the fan casts, the fan trailers, everything. I liked what I was learning, though it was obvious that everyone imagined this character as white. It didn’t matter if her eyes were brown or blue, if her hair was dark or light, her ethnicity stayed pretty much the same. But that didn’t matter to me.
I bought the books the day after I learned the protagonist was biracial. I proceeded to read the book which, as you can tell from the title of this post, took four days. Was it good? Was it bad? I couldn’t tell you, because to me it was something else entirely—something special. For the first-ish time in my life, I could totally imagine myself as the main character. I mean, To All the Boys was really nice, but the main character was so different from me and I was much more similar to her older sister…who was barely in the book.
In the Shadow and Bone books, the protagonist is rarely described physically beyond being skinny, mousy, and not much to look at. Yet, somehow, knowing they would cast a half-asian half-white actress to play her was enough for me to feel like I had representation. So I loved the book. I’m already on the second. But I also know that my experience with reading this book was very personal and that not everyone will have the same reasons for loving it as I did.
And that is why this is not a book review.
Thanks for reading.