Since reading All the Bright Places, I’ve been thinking a lot about labels and stereopes, and how it relates to reading.
In American YA, we always see the stereotypes that most of us can’t relate to, such as jocks, cheerleaders, nerds, band geeks and popular mean girls. Stereotype too much, and we can’t relate and write off these characters as flat and one-dimensional. As readers, being able to connect to the characters is a huge factor in determining the enjoyment of a book, and most of us enjoy multi-layered, rich characters.
In All the Bright Places, we saw Theodore Finch struggling against the labels that people wanted to place upon him. Delinquent. Depressed and suicidal. Loner. None of these accurately described Finch at all, and he made me think a lot about how this reflects our attitude in society. How often are we quick to judge others we don’t know, suppressing them into neat boxes in our mind? I don’t know how many times I’ve gotten to know someone and thought back to my initial impression of them. Often, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I studied a Psychology subject at uni, which taught me that we automatically do this in order to process the masses amount of information. Everyone is unique, but subcultures and stereotypes exist to help us form an identity and express ourselves. This internal processing mechanism helps us decide who we are able to relate to or who we wouldn’t want to associate ourselves with. But by doing so, we box ourselves into the mindset of not being able to experience rich and diverse worlds, from people of all ages and walks of life. Isn’t that what life is about, experiencing all life, cultures and people it has to offer? If only as a society, we better represented individualism and people being different, because that’s the honest way to go.
It’s evident that we’re calling out for diversity in literature, including YA. The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign is almost a year old, and we’re slowly seeing more of this happening. But there couldn’t be enough, we’re still seeing those stereotypes repeated, and more and more, my patience wanes with encountering them time and time again.
How about labels and stereotypes when talking about the books themselves? We need to know what genres the books are, the topics they cover, and what the characters are like, in order to determine whether we’ll enjoy them. Even doing this is rather difficult these days, with so much genre blending and books covering a myriad of characters and topics. But then we get the problem of categorising a book in a box, only to pick it up, read it and discover something totally different. Are you disappointed that you expected a contemporary, but it was filled with paranormal elements? Did you enjoy the unexpected surprise, or was the twist not to your liking?
Whether it’s characters, events, book genres or people in society, the message is evident: stereotypes and labeling inhibit us from enjoying life in it’s fullest form.
How do stereotypes and labels affect your reading?
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