GIE Reads: Snowsisters
Today. I'd like to talk about SNOWSISTERS, a contemporary coming-of-age, coming out LGBTQ YA novel by Tom Wilinsky and Jen Sternick that caused a bit of a stir on GoodReads when it first came out.
But first, a brief synopsis (from GoodReads):
High school students—Soph, who attends private school in Manhattan, and Tess, a public school student who lives on a dairy farm in New Hampshire—are thrown together as roommates at a week-long writing conference. As they get to know each other and the other young women, both Soph and Tess discover unexpected truths and about friendship, their craft, and how to hold fast to their convictions while opening their hearts to love.
I found this book brutally honest one moment and adorably sweet the next. Snowsisters is filled with all the angsty drama and tumultuous emotions of coming of age. The camaraderie between the girls was wonderfully rich, punctuated by realistic dialogue and a believable, developing f/f relationship. The way Soph and Tess navigated the tough decisions before them was poignantly reminiscent of growing up, making those fateful moral decisions that determine your strength of character going forward. The Happy For Now ending made for a satisfying finale, but I’d certainly love a sequel. 5+ stars! Highly recommended!
And Now a Thought:
Before I read this novel, I went to GoodReads to see the reviews, and I was shocked to see a number of them calling the book transphobic and homophobic. While I agree that there is some triggering language--one of the secondary characters IS transphobic and homophobic and isn't exactly shy about it--the book itself is not. In fact, I found the lesbian characters and the transgirl character well drawn, realistic, and respectfully done.
Suffice to say, as an out gay girl, I'm not part of the trans community, so I can't speak for those folks. I do hear those who wish there was stronger representation for Orly in the way of POV, and I hear the concerns of those that some of the language is triggering.
Those are valid concerns, and I'll say this: representation is tough, and we don't always get it 100% right, but it's intent that matters.
It's clear to me, from the context of the language, that the authors of SNOWSISTERS had good intentions when writing these characters.
Let me explain:
Context is, according to my trusty Merriam-Webster Dictionary: "the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed."
There's the part I want to highlight: "In terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed." Which means, that, without context, it's not fair to judge a book as homophobic or transphobic based ONLY on certain words, phrases, or pieces of dialogue because you're not taking into account the circumstances under which these words are presented.
Can these words still be triggering? Sure. Can they still be hurtful? Absolutely! And I 100% support people taking caution in the things they read, and it always, always helps for authors to have trigger warnings in their Forewords.
But taking these words/phrases out of context to judge the book (and by extension, the authors) as homophobic and/or transphobic simply isn't fair, and it's not a strong thesis, either.
(Is this where I should mention my bachelor's in English Literature and my master's in storytelling and the fact that I've taught English at the university level?)
In Snowsisters, one of the main protagonists, Tess, struggles with her own sexuality and with sticking up for Orly, the transgirl character. She makes some bad decisions (namely, not sticking up for Orly when she should).
But here's the rub: It's never presented as a good thing that she fails at this. In fact, she learns a valuable lesson from this and grows as a person, which by the way, IS WHAT CHARACTERS IN NOVELS ARE SUPPOSED TO DO.
Likewise, Chris, the secondary transphobic character is very vocal about her disdain for Orly, even going so far as to misgender her. But again, Chris's attitude is NEVER presented in a positive light. In fact (spoiler alert), she loses a lot of friends because of her treatment of Orly.
Also, by the end of the book, the female characters have learned that Chris's behavior is reprehensible, and that Orly is every bit as much a girl as they are, which, to me, seems EXTREMELY valuable--to have that logic laid out on the page in a fictional novel where no one gets hurt in real life.
That's not to say that reading homophobic and/or transphobic language isn't hard and triggering.
It certainly can be, but SNOWSISTERS has merit as being part of the larger conversation about coming out, coming of age, and the prejudices that exist--yes, even in the LGBTQIA+ community.
If it brings even one person to a better understanding of the issues that face us, if it teaches one person tolerance, then it's worth it.
P.S. Read what the authors have to say about the representation in SNOWSISTERS and their many sensitivity readers here.