CW: I will be discussing Canadian residential schools in this post. I won’t be going into any great detail – frankly they’re a part of North American history I still need to educate myself on – but I wanted to mention it straight away in case any of you don’t feel up to reading about the recent news in Canada yet again. I can’t even begin to imagine the pain that Canada’s Indigenous communities are going through right now, and the pain they’ve been going through for centuries.
So at the end of May the news broke that the remains of 215 children had been discovered at The Kamloops Indian residential school in Canada, a Roman Catholic school established in 1890 and closed in 1978. These residential schools were set up to separate Indigenous children from their families, communities and cultures and ‘civilise’ them, and they’re a product of European colonialism. The horror that so many children experienced at these schools is despicable. It wasn’t enough to completely remove these children from their families, many of them were subjected to abuse, including sexual abuse, torture and murder. It’s a horrendous part of history, and that so many of us can turn away from it is a privilege when there are Indigenous communities continuing to live with that trauma. In fact the last of these schools closed in 1996. I was five years old. In the realm of history, this practically happened yesterday.
In the wake of this news, when many Indigenous people were brave enough to share their experiences or their family’s experiences online, and petitions were being shared across the internet, a couple of interviews with TJ Klune on The House in the Cerulean Sea resurfaced and some readers across Twitter began their cancelling campaign. In two interviews (here and here) Klune talked about how he had an idea for The House in the Cerulean Sea which was further inspired when he came across the ‘Sixties Scoop’ and learned about Canada’s residential schools which, as an American man, he hadn’t been taught about in school himself.
Many readers immediately took to Goodreads to change their rating to 1 star – that’ll show ’em! – or to remove the book from their TBR, and I have a lot of complicated feelings about the whole thing.
I am disappointed in Klune because I haven’t seen him sharing any of the petitions or talking about the recent discovery of the 215 bodies. If you are influenced by a trauma that didn’t happen to your people, I do think the decent thing to do is to devote some of your time and your platform to helping them in the wake of such news. I felt the same way when authors such as Jay Kristoff and Marissa Meyer, who have both written books influenced by Japan and China respectively, were completely silent in the wake of the attacks against Asian women in the US earlier this year. He did recently share something on Twitter about not being in a good mental health space, and everyone deserves time to take care of their mental health, but it has been over two weeks since the news broke and it’s a shame he’s said nothing.
That said, I feel very uncomfortable with the amount of white voices I’ve seen declaring they’re no longer going to support the book or they’re removing it from their TBR. Frankly, unless you are from one of the communities directly hurt by this horrendous news, I don’t care what you think, and you’re taking up space that we should be giving to Indigenous voices right now. What is removing TJ Klune from your TBR going to do, unless you’re replacing that slot with an Indigenous author?
I guess that’s what I find most uncomfortable about this. There was so much discussion around TJ Klune over on book Twitter, which is such a toxic place anyway, that could have been taken up with recommendations of educational books or books by Indigenous authors that have nothing to do with residential schools, because we shouldn’t only be interested in what these communities have to say when they’re discussing generational trauma. We should be reading their happy stories, too, and reading them because they’re good authors, not so we can say we’ve ticked an Indigenous box.
It was also frustrating to see people sharing the interviews with ‘Why is no one talking about this?’ – well, because barely anyone had seen the interviews. I know I hadn’t and I never would have made the connection between The House in the Cerulean Sea and Canadian residential schools if I hadn’t seen it, and I don’t think most other people would have either. Also Indigenous people have been talking about this – this being the actual residential schools that really existed, and not a fictional orphanage in a fantasy book – for years. Can we please stop acting like we’re discovering information as though it’s the first time it’s ever been discovered?
Ultimately reading books, or choosing not to read them, isn’t going to help the communities these people on Twitter are trying to defend, at least not right now. Wanting to educate ourselves is fantastic, but putting together a book list so we can feel like better allies isn’t going to do anything for the communities who are hurting. Cool, so you removed TJ Klune from your TBR – now what? Are you going to donate money to a charity? Sign and share a petition? Participate in activism?
What are you going to do now?