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Posts Tagged ‘The City We Became’

Today I’m following up on my previous post about the contrast of characters who are Innocent or Not Innocent. For most writers, I think we understand that stereotypes do not result in very good writing. No one likes them. In fact, I’ve noticed that a lot of writers want to conceal the nature of stereotypes by calling them something else. “Tropes,” for instance.

You say to-ma-to, I say to-mah-to.

However, a clever writer can have fun with stereotypes, flipping them and such. I’ve done that myself, and I find it a really effective way to get readers to question some assumptions they might not even have known they had.

One book I read recently does a really good job with this. That’s The City We Became, by N. K. Jemisin. Jemisin is a multi-award-winning author, and that’s for good reason. She uses stereotypes liberally throughout the book. In fact, every one of her principal characters is a stereotype. Before you complain about spoilers, I just want to point out that the cover copy on the book says this exact thing.

I’m speaking here of the stereotype as a character which embodies and personifies a set of ideas and actions that are closely associated. In this book, the main characters embody and personify the five boroughs of New York City: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx and Staten Island, with Jersey City playing a strong supporting role. Jemisin explores what it means to exist as a stereotype while also being an individual.

She brings in a whole lot of other stuff, too. There are queers, racism, sexual harassment, artistic fraud. There’s a strong vein of homage to a certain vintage horror author. There are a whole bunch of observations that might have made more sense if I had ever lived in New York City. The thing is, none of it felt forced or packed in for the sake of woke-ness. The book is big because New York is big.

I especially enjoyed this book because it expands the definition of what Urban Fantasy can be. Not that there’s anything wrong with vampires, werewolves, love triangles, et all. Those concepts were very successful, but they’ve all been done. Many times. The genre was overdue for a shake-up.

As writers, if we want to avoid using stereotypes, one thing we can do is to be aware of what’s current for our genre. You recognize stereotypes once you start seeing them repeated. For that reason alone, I urge you to read The City We Became. Personally, I can’t wait for the next book.


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