Thinking with reviewers, part 1: Katie on family in WHAT CAN’T WAIT

(This week, I’m working through recent angst over one reviewer’s comments by doing two posts on positive experiences responding to reviewers.)

Yeah, sometimes writers feel about as enthusiastic about having their work reviewed as the little guy in the picture above, but thoughtful reviewers do good things for us writer types. They’re also great ambassadors to other readers. In this post, I show how a smart reviewer got me thinking and I continue to look for newe ways of reflecting on the Gurdon thing. 

When Katie Coops reviewed What Can’t Wait recently, she noted the following:

…this book was the first time I’d seen a Mexican family life laid out. I know this is in no way representative of all Mexican families just like any YA book with a Caucasian family does not represent all Caucasian families (thank goodness, because the Kitrell’s in Breathless are pretty awful), but I think there are probably some similar aspects in many Hispanic homes.

Here’s what Katie’s post got me thinking.

Overall, most readers get this, but there have been some responses to What Can’t Wait that are along the lines of, “but that’s not what being Mexican-American/Latina/poor/from Houston/etc. is like.” I wish I could send Katie as my ambassador to explain that Marisa’s family is Marisa’s family, not meant to “stand for” any one experience. Because every family has its own unique culture, too. Some families value education; some treasure time together; some expect sacrifice; some hinge on humor.

It was also interesting to hear Katie reflect on her memories of working as a teacher because one of the reasons I wrote this book was to imagine the other side of some of my students’ lives, what was going on for them when I wasn’t hassling them to apply for college or read The Kite Runner or memorize verse from Macbeth. What Can’t Wait was penance, in (very small) part, for my first year of teaching when I failed to ask my students “What happened?” and “Are you okay?” when they were absent or not doing what I expected in my class.

With all the (mostly justified) fuss over Meghan Gurdon’s WSJ pieces (I wrote about the first one here, the second one here), I keep coming back to the feeling Katie expresses well at the end of her blog as a core takeaway from many books worth reading: “We never know what is going on in someone else’s life.”

Good books = lessons for the teen. For the teacher. For the parent. For the human. But all these lessons come about because of an encounter, not because the writer has planned or planted the lesson. 

For Gurdon and company, I’d also like to point out that “good” depends on what the reader needs. And that range of experience we were talking about probably means that we need all the books we have, including the dark or frustrating ones, as well as a lot more.

Psst! Parts of today’s post began as a comment on Katie’s review of What Can’t Wait.


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