I always look at the negative reviews before buying a book and some people complained that the tone was off with this book. I wasn't sure what that meant, at first, because I was so taken in with the first essay about voice work, the problems with white people voicing people of character, and the bleak history of racism in classic cartoons (see the "Censored Eleven"). But a few essays in, I began to see what people meant. When Isen is writing about personal experiences or things that are clearly passions for her, she has an intoxicating, compelling pop-fiction sort of tone that is light but concrete, making ideas both thought-provoking, accessible, and fun to read.
But when she's having more of a "teaching moment," and talking about data and statistics, the writing gets very dry. Textbook dry. It's an odd shift and sometimes these tonal jags occur multiple times within essays, which makes them difficult to process and hard to read. I understand why she might have done this: maybe it feels disrespectful to talk about things like discrimination and infrastructural racism in a light, poppy tone. But it also didn't quite make the book gel for me. I'm not saying that what she did was "wrong," from a technical or a moral standpoint, but for me, it made the book not quite work.
That said, there were some essays in here that I absolutely loved (in fact, I'd say I loved most of them). My favorites were, as I mentioned, the one on voice work. I also loved the essays criticizing the centering of white male voices in the lit-fic cannon; the voyeuristic consumption of traumatic essays; the lack of diversity in publishing (and how some of these problems are encapsulated in books like AMERICAN DIRT and THE OTHER BLACK GIRL)-- loved this essay SO much; and then, last, but certainly not least, the way Canada is portrayed as a "better" America while glossing over its own problems.
Overall, this was a good essay collection and it's honestly worth reading for the great essays alone, and even the weaker essays, like her disenchantment with law and white feminism, are worth reading, although for people who are already informed about these issues, they don't really offer much new to the table. Her pop-culture commentary is where her strengths lie and I hope she writes another collection, because I love her writing style and the way she talks about the funhouse mirror that pop-culture can be and how the view changes depending on your privilege and race.
3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars
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