(Content Warning: this post will talk about sexual assault, more specifically CSA, trauma, and pedophilia)
Earlier this week, some readers on social media brought to attention some highly questionable content of All Of Us With Wings by Michelle Ruiz Keil. In their (incredibly valid) criticism, they talked about the fact that the Love Interest of the book is a 28-year-old man, while the main character is a 17-year-old girl of Mexican descent.
I highly encourage you to seek those posts out, as well as Gabi’s post about her experience reading it. I think Gabi talked about it in a great manner and brought in context that some folks might’ve needed. I especially urge you to read the words of readers of color who’ve been talking in depth about the issues of pedophilia and child sexual assault (CSA) that are in the book.
I wanted to take a moment to talk about my own hand in the discussion of the book. I received an ARC from someone else who’d already read it and they’d loved it, and then SOHO Teen sent me an ARC that I forwarded to another queer Latinx teen reader.
I hadn’t had time to really read my copy until recently for various reasons, but mostly it was because I’d read around Goodreads about the fact that the love interest was older than the main character and that turned me off. I’ve probably read about two chapters of it, and though it contains a lot of things that should be talked about more in YA (trauma, recreational drug use, drinking, casual bisexuality), the fact that a grown man was gonna be pursuing an underage girl made me distance myself from the book.
As someone who, at fifteen years old, was pursued by a man in his late-twenties (even though I had a boyfriend at the time), and had friends who were pursued by older men while we were in middle school, I cannot condone this kind of narrative. Unless you’re using it to directly negate and criticize this type of behavior from men, I don’t want to read and re-experience what I, and people I know, went through.
Gabi’s post delves into how there are bystanders who victim-blame the main character and don’t really condemn the relationship and how, though the characters end their relationship, the book’s ending leaves the relationship as a sort of open-ended narrative.
I believe we can talk about teen girls and how they deal with trauma without having them be groomed by older men, especially when the character had gone through CSA and had been assaulted by a father figure beforehand.
If I’d actually known that the characters get into a relationship, instead of what I’d originally thought would happen (that the main character gets fixated on an older man but gets rebuffed by the man– as should happen if men were actually shit and took responsibility for their actions), I wouldn’t have helped boost the book online. I wouldn’t have taken pretty pictures of it or told people to buy the book.
Even though I want to promote more Latinx voices, I don’t think I did this responsibly. I want to bring to the forefront the writings of Latinx, especially Latinx who live within the margins, but if it comes at the cost of re-traumatizing readers I will not continue promoting that. I also believe we have a responsibility to critique our own community when we do something wrong, and in this case we did something wrong. I respect Michelle and I think she writes with a beautiful prose. However, I want to make it clear that I can’t continue promoting her book in good conscience.
I also can’t keep quiet about this situation. Doing so means ignoring valid criticism coming from QPoC, especially Queer Teens of Color, of the book, and it means siding and condoning these narratives. I might value uplifting Latinx voices, but I won’t do so at the cost of turning my back on people affected by a book. One of my missions when I started #ReadLatinx was to bring more Latinx voices in publishing to the forefront, but that also means being able to critique and be able to create discourse around books by Latinx, be it positive or negative. Most importantly, my goal was about Latinx readers finding themselves in literature, and that meant having accurate representation that we can latch onto.
It deeply saddens me when adults who are committed to uplifting Latinx voices and helping Latinx audiences find themselves prefer to remain neutral in a situation such as this. If you’re not able to separate yourself from the relationships we have, I don’t know what to say. I think, in the spirit of unity, one thing we should be able to do is reach out to our friends and colleagues when they’ve misstepped and done something wrong from a place of wishing to grow. We can’t say we’re against bigotry and the issues that affect our communities (such as the oversexualization of Latinx girls, especially Queer and Trans Latinx, at the hands of a cisheteropatriarchy) and still remain silent.
All of this to say that, we have to remain critical and not become biased in regards to our own community. We can’t overlook these issues. Doing so is how situations of anti-Blackness slip through the cracks, how we help foment transphobia or ableism. Every time we raise our voices we are doing a radical act, and we have to take a look at our actions and decide whether being complicit in our community’s own oppressive structures is good enough.
I apologize for ever promoting this book. My posts will remain up because I believe in learning from your actions, but know that I do not condone the contents of the book. I will not be complicit in the re-traumatizing of readers. Will you?