Friday, November 26, 2010

Please Be Nicer

I've been reading a lot of Goodreads reviews lately, and though this only indirectly related to reading or books, I wanted to address it here because it's an attitude that really does bother me.

In reviews of books like The Truth About Forever, Dreamland, The Pact, Twenty Boy Summer, and other books that have protagonists dealing with things like depression, grief, and people dealing with serious relationship/family/emotional issues (things like losing someone you love, being neglected, or being in an abusive relationship), I've found a lot of reviews that say things to the effect of:
omg, can't she/he just GET OVER IT ALREADY!!!??
i have little sympathy for people this stupid/weak. ugh. 
The answer to the first question is MAYBE NOT and to the second -- sorry everyone can't be as strong/intelligent as you.

The fact is that people go through things. Real people, real issues, every single day. And even though the reviews I've read are for fictional books, aimed at fictional characters, the sentiment behind them startles and worries me because I can only assume they feel the same way about actual people who go through these things. Asking someone who is depressed if they can just "get over it already??" is insensitive and rude. The word "depressed" gets tossed around a lot, and pretty carelessly by many people, but depression is a real issue. And it's not a bad day, or a bad week, or something most people can just snap out of. Clinical depression is something that makes people feel hopeless and worthless; it's so much more, so much worse than just having a bad day. It often requires medical treatment and isn't something that should be treated lightly or scoffed at.

And guess what?

There are things in life that hurt people. The death of a loved one. Heartbreak. Family problems, personal problems, health problems, all kinds of things that aren't obvious when meeting someone could be affecting them emotionally. And I know there are people who are able to get up, dust themselves off, and move on when it comes to these things,b but for other people the events can be crippling. We all handle things and react to things differently. What might hurt one person, might affect them for years and so much longer than anyone thinks it "should" could, for someone else, not be a big deal.

We are all fragile, and different things can break us.

I am not stupid or weak. My friends and my family are not stupid or weak. And yet so many of us, so many of the people I know and love, have been through things that hurt them, that broke them. Anyone -- if hit at the wrong time, with the wrong thing, can become that "stupid" or "weak" person. They can fall apart. They can lose themselves and find that it's really not that easy to get over it.


  1. I totally get what you're saying, and I'm a bit guilty of the first one more than the second one. I would never classify someone as weak or stupid for grieving over a loved one. I have mentioned in two recent reviews (Freefall and Adios, Nirvana) that I was a bit "oh, just get over it already!" to the main character but I did also mention that I've never had anyone that close to me die, so I'm a bit clueless when it comes to those sorts of things.

    I don't know if I'd do the same in real life, but I guess because they're fictional characters, I feel they should be over it already, lol, which is an odd statement to make.

    So I'm kinda half and half. I do that sort of thing but at the same time, I recognize that I'm not really the best judge of that sort of thing since I haven't been through it myself. Great post!

  2. Book Chic No, I understand completely what you mean... in books it gets boring to read about. But still when I see people make those kinds of comments that seem more directed at the people in the book than the story itself it makes me think that's probably the attitude they have in real life, too, and it's not a good one.

  3. Wow, you brought up an great point - and it makes me stop and consider if I am guilty of making such statements or forming such opinions while reading. I definitely don't think like that for real-life grief or depression, and I'd like to think I'm the same for fictional characters.

    However, I think sometimes the characters can get a little too whiny - or stuck in a rut - which granted isn't THEIR problem or sometimes that's the whole process. I think it's more I'd like to see progress in their fictional lives - yes, they're sad, but how do they move on? What do they do to reconcile? Shouldn't that be the point of the story: There's hope at the finish line?

    On the other hand, you'd want as realistic story as possible - and it should be okay for the character to never be 100% over it.

    I read Twenty Boy Summer, and I wasn't too impressed. Nothing against the characters - I just expected something different than what I actually read. Or something different than the ending, but in no way did I think that the grief in that book was overdone or unnecessary. It was just hard for me to relate to the character - and, like I said, I thought the story would turn out in a different manner.

    I also wonder if the negative reactions that you encountered is due to the age or maturity of the readers. Maybe they weren't ready for such "heavy" themes and reacted poorly, but I would sincerely hope that if something similar happened to them or someone close to them, that they'd receive the book with more favor and understanding.

    Anyhow, sorry to blabber. Just an interesting post, and I thought I'd share too! :)

  4. The only one of the books you've listed above that I've read is Dreamland, and that was a while ago. I have to agree with James that I feel like some things, like someone super close to me dying, I can't entirely relate to.

    However, I think some people do get really insensitive. Mental health problems are real. I do think a story should have some sort of character arc, and that the character should reflect or maybe even heal a little bit in some way. For me the hardest stories to read are the ones where characters seem to make mistakes that get progressively worse and then not come out of it at the end of the novel with a single bit of insight or knowledge as to what they could do better next time.

    So am I little insensitive? Probably. But I also try to take into account that people do get depressed and upset for real, and sometimes it's something that I can relate to. It's good to see authors writing about how people learn from their mistakes, and better if they can cause the reader to care so much about a character that it leads to tears, as opposed to just hitting us over the head with it.

  5. Great point! I do think that when someone hasn't gone through that they don't understand and it's easy to think someone should be over it. When my mom died in 2006 I didn't realize how it would effect me still to this day. Is it in my face every day still? No but it does still play into my life and sometimes it is hard as hell to "get over." I'm going to be engaged soon and so that brings up things like how my mom isn't going to be there to help me pick out a dress or just be there at the wedding. I think if I read a review that said something that insensitive, it would be a slap in the face to me.

    The reality is..I would consider myself a VERY strong person and yet in the midst of some very trying times in my life (my mom dying, a friend committing suicide, my boyfriend's dad dying) I've found myself in a place I would have thought I was too strong to be in. I've struggled and sometimes it was hard to get out of bed and I wasn't myself. I didn't WANT to be like that. I thought myself stronger than that but sometimes it just happens and I'm glad books portray things like that. I'm sure it can seem whiny and boring in books but that's reality--and it's not always fun. Everybody "gets over" things differently and in a different amount of time. I definitely saw that first hand in how my sister and I both dealt with it.

    Anyways, interesting post! I haven't come across any reviews like that. I do understand that it is very hard for people to relate when they haven't gone through something. I'm sure I'm guilty in my reactions to how people have dealt with things. It's easy to think you would be different in dealing with it but you never know until it happens.

  6. hey Jordyn! Excellent post (again). I was especially interested in what you had to say because (unfortunately) I've had a tendency to be kind of hard on characters.
    First of all, you are absolutely right. Characters (especially in contemp lit) are supposed to reflect real life situations, right? And depression, family issues, etc. are very real. The cavalier "get over it"/"keep your chin up" attitude seems incredibly destructive, as well as insensitive, and yeah, it's just downright mean.
    Here's what I think, though. I've kinda expressed some negative attitudes about characters in my reviews before, and I guess I can be a little insensitive. Out of the books you mentioned in your post, I've only read TTAF... I love watching characters grow and see how they deal with their issues, but when I start to get picky is when characters kind of do a downward spiral. Like, dealing with issues by being self-destructive or irresponsible. Or when they make the same mistake over and over again (so I agree with Liz!). I think it's easier to be harder on characters because they're ultimately not real. It's easier (I think) to have compassion for someone that you know in real life, whereas just expect more out of.
    Hmm, probably rambled too much, but as always, I love reading your posts!

  7. First of all, everyone, thanks so much for your comments. And you DIDN'T rant too much, as pretty much all of you thought you did. Haha.

    the epic rat It's definitely easier to be hard on characters as opposed to real people because... characters are figments of the writer's imagination. I do definitely agree that there needs to be a balance between "reality" and "interesting to read" which is often a very difficult one to find (speaking now as someone who is working on a novel about a girl going through some major grief). By the end of the novel, in my opinion, there HAS TO BE some growth, hope, or optimistic outlook for the future otherwise it starts to depress the reader a little too much I think. So yes, it's a hard balance to find.

    And I don't know the ages of those who left the reviews that I read on Goodreads, but you could be right... age/maturity (as well as life experience) definitely comes into play there.

    Liz Exactly - books where the character just gets worse and worse and doesn't really make any strides toward changing are incredibly frustrating and can be ultimately really disheartening to read. In real life there are people who make the same mistakes over and over and just don't figure out how they need to change, but I agree that reading about it is unnecessary - books need a character arc and development/growth.

    Jamie Thanks so much for your comment and personal experience. Luckily the insensitive reviews seem to be much more of a problem on sites like Goodreads and Amazon and not blogs. Maybe it has something to do with taking reviewing more seriously if you actually have a site dedicated to it, I'm not sure.

    Amelia Oh, I can definitely think of characters that I've been hard on, but it hasn't been because of things they're going through or emotional/mental health problems, more like the way they treated other characters in the story (which, I think, is a separate issue). I agree with the issue you have about downward spirals - to an extent. I think as long as it's clear WHY the character is acting the way that they are (and they have some sort of positive growth by the end of the story) I can deal with and understand it. But if there's no clear reasons behind it and the character doesn't get better or start to get better by the end of the book, then I definitely count it as a serious flaw of the book.
    I definitely HOPE it's easier to have empathy for real people, but with some people I'm not quite sure...

  8. Like the others, this made me stop and think about statements I've made. I usually don't criticize fictional characters (they can "whine" as much as they want as long as it's well-written whining), but I know I've thought things like that about people. I tend to become bitter and selfish about my own problems and reflect that on others- oh she doesn't deal with my type of problem and of course my problem is worse. But just as no one knows my issues, I can't expect to know everything that breaks them. I need to be less judgmental.

    And once again, I go into self-analysis after reading your posts.

  9. A very well thought out and needed post. I have been noticing a lot of negative reviews lately. Not that a bad book should not get the review it deserves. But just knock down reviews :(

    Thanks for posting this. Grand for you for saying this as well.

    There is a new project starting in the blog-o-sphere that I want to get involved in, so spreading the word of greatness. I have a post up about Save a Tree, Read an E-Book.

    Mad Scientist