secanno's review

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emotional hopeful informative inspiring reflective fast-paced

4.5

5aru's review

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inspiring reflective

4.75

An excellent insight into the representation (or lack thereof) of racialized people within fantasy and speculative fiction, and the role which race plays into our imaginations of the impossible. I only wish Thomas had dedicated more space to her theory of the dark fantastic, but the case studies she chose were nevertheless illuminating as to its workings.

choirqueer's review

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5.0

This was awesome. I definitely recommend it. I skipped the 2 chapters that focused on TV shows since I haven't seen those shows at all, but if I ever do watch them I'll come back to this book for its commentary. The chapters on books were all about books that I've read, and the author's insights are phenomenal and of great importance.

eowyng's review

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informative

eyan_birt's review

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5.0

Fantastic work and has given me much to think about as a white person and long fan of fantasy. Of worlds where there was always a safe space for me to participate, but I had never looked around to realize it was also only people who looked like me present.

Intensely readable, understandable, quotable, and brilliant.

nghia's review

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2.0

I think I would have enjoyed this more if it catered more towards a popular audience. Instead it feels like Thomas is trying to a lot of intellectual groundwork to make this a foundation for very academic future work. She has no problem writing sentences like

Therefore, in the tradition of memoirs by readers of color, such as Karla Holloway’s BookMarks and Richard Rodriguez’s Hunger of Memory, my theorization of the construct of the dark fantastic is autoethnographic as well as phenomenological


I know what all of that means (though I have no idea who Holloway or Rodriguez are) but...sheesh, talk about writing like an academic. She also name drops a metric ton of references that mean nothing to the casual reader but presumably mean something to a bunch of academics?

The first step of the dark fantastic cycle, spectacle, extends beyond the marble halls of the fantastic into the real world. As Daphne Brooks and Qiana Whitted observe, audiences in the West have long marveled at the presence of the Dark Other in genres ranging from theater to comics. Visual difference has fueled the Western fantastic imagination since medieval times, creating what Stuart Hall terms the “spectacle of the Other.”


In just two sentences she name drops three people. The following sentences add in: Paul Ricouer, Robert J.C. Young, Anne McClintock, Hazel Carby, Michelle Alexander, and Dorothy Roberts. That's just a single page. This kind of thing happens constantly and...I dunno. It somehow gives the paper a feeling of the kind of thing an undergraduate writes with tons of references they expect their professor to pick up to give off a vibe of "I did all the required reading".

Eventually, I got tired of wading through all of this. Especially because I just didn't find anything particularly interesting here. I mean, she's right. You can't really argue with what she writes. But I also feel like I've read a hundred Tweets, blogs, and articles making the same points over the years and I never really felt like Thomas brought a lot more to the table. Do books and media tend to use dark-skinned characters are some exotic Other? Absolutely. Do characters continually get whitewashed in ridiculous ways? Definitely.

It is crazy that some fans of The Hunger Games freaked out when a black actress was cast to play the part of Rue, a black character? (Something that apparently many fans didn't even notice in their readings...) Sure.

Ultimately I guess I just wasn't invested in the massive amount of literary analysis and academic theorizing engages over single instances. The book has 5 chapters and one entire chapter is devoted to Rue from The Hunger Games. It was just...more than I needed, I guess.

sr_toliver's review

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5.0

I’m going to write a longer review for Research on Diversity in Youth Literature, but I want to put a shorter one here since I just finished it about 30 minutes ago.

As a Black girl nerd, I was beyond excited when I heard that this book was going to be a thing. I truly felt seen, like someone was going to finally present some of the conversations that me and my friends have been having in private or in closed social media groups. I want to say that I was NOT ready for this awesomeness.

First, the scholar in me had my pen out, underlining key phrases that I could use to bolster and/or ground some of my current work.

Second, as a nerd who has many conversations online, I greatly appreciated the way that Thomas infused the words of university academics and public scholars. I do this in my own work, but I don’t see many people who will quote tweets, blogs, fan fiction, etc. There are everyday people doing important analyses, and Thomas ensures that their scholarship is included alongside university professors. That is powerful. I especially loved that there weren’t distinctions throughout to separate who had “knowledge”. Like, instead of saying Dr. this and university professor that to contrast working-class student writer or business owner who reads comics, she just used their names and what they wrote. I just don’t see that too often.

Third, as someone who grew up on the stories my grandfather told me, where he weaved personal life stories to the show we watched together or the news story that we both read, Thomas weaves the personal, the creative, and the academic in a similar way. Reading the chapters felt like I was listening to my grandpa analyze tv, news, etc.

Lastly, as a Black girl, this work was validating. I, too, loved Rue and lost it when she died. I grew up reading the Harry Potter books and watching the films, but I was always too scared to dress up for fear of being ostracized. I always wondered where I could be located in fan communities that always showed Black girls on the sidelines, but never on the field. I found my space (in my twenties) in the fantastic writings of Octavia Butler, Nnedi Okorafor, Nalo Hopkinson, and numerous others - all authors that are mentioned as writers who break the cycle of The Dark Fantastic through emancipation. Basically, Thomas shows us the cycle, but she also shows us how the cycle has been and can continue to be broken.

Thomas’ work is essential reading. It shows us what happens to the endarkened in the Western, mainstream imaginative that centers whiteness. It shows us what we can do to alleviate the violence that not only happens to fictional characters, but also to real Black girls. It asks us to respond to the call and assist in breaking the cycle of The Dark Fantastic. Breaking the cycle is essential, for, as Thomas says, “resolving the crisis of race in our storied imagination has the potential to make our world anew” (p. 169).

ally_h's review

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5.0

This review appears elsewhere at Separate Minds Book Blog.

In The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games, Dr. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas explores the diversity crisis in children’s literature and in their TV/movie adaptations. What follows is a thought-provoking and insightful literary criticism of some beloved works of fiction.

According to Thomas, not only is there a problem with the lack of representation of Black characters, but the manner of representing them often fails as well.

Thomas draws from her own experiences growing up as a Black girl in love with fantasy stories and science fiction. She explains that many African American children grow up believing that speculative fiction is not for them.

Beyond being a genre primarily dominated by White authors, fantasy works generally paint the world in an idealistic light foreign to many Black families in America. Princes may slay dragons and save fair maidens in books, but Thomas was told by her mother that no prince was coming to save her. “In order to survive,” she writes, “I had to face reality.”

In Dark Fantastic, Thomas focuses on the portrayal of Black girl characters in popular fantasy books and TV shows. She discusses Rue in The Hunger Games, Guinevere in BBC’s Merlin, Bonnie Bennett in The Vampire Diaries, and characters Hermione Granger and Angelina Johnson in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

Exploring the narratives of these characters and how audiences have reacted to them, Thomas theorizes about the “imagination gap” that leads to a lack of representation and instead promotes the concept of the “Dark Other.”

The Dark Other, like the aforementioned female characters, is always on the margins of the story, the obstacle to be overcome. The Dark Other leads Black female readers to see themselves as the villain of the story. In contrast, she says, “When readers who are White, middle class, cisgender, heterosexual, and able-bodied enter the fantastic dream, they are empowered and afforded a sense of transcendence that can be elusive within the real world.”

Thomas treats each story and character with detailed scholarship, highlighting both the work of scholars and fans. It was incredibly refreshing to see fans’ opinions treated as an important part of the discussion. She covers audience reactions to the casting of Rue, Hermione, and Bonnie, and how these reactions reflect on readers’ perception of Blackness. She touches on the resistance of the public to accept Black characters as innocent and the resistance of producers to allow Black characters to be the moral center of the story, while they instead have them serve as plot devices for White characters’ growth.

My favorite chapters were the ones discussing Bonnie Bennett, despite the fact that The Vampire Diaries was the one series discussed in The Dark Fantastic that I knew nothing about. Thomas delves into the reception of Kat Graham being cast as Bonnie. It was disappointing the ways producers changed the character following this casting. Unlike the Scottish American Bonnie McCullough of the book series, African American Bonnie Bennett is pushed to the shadows. She isn’t made out to be desirable or innocent, while the Bonnie of the books is both of those things. This treatment of Bonnie leads young Black viewers to love and want to identify more with the character of Elena, a White girl who goes to parties and is the center of male attention.

I found this book challenging, especially as someone who holds most of the literary works discussed here close to my heart. (There may or may not be a Hunger Games fanfiction out there under my name...) But it was apparent that Thomas has a lot of love for these stories and characters too. That doesn’t absolve them of criticism, however, and it was easy for me to accept the arguments laid out here.

Children’s and Young Adult Literature, while having made some progress since the advent of these series, still has a long way to go. So do the consumers of the genre, as we are equally indicted for the ways we ourselves push Black girls in fiction to the sidelines.

“When people of color seek passageways into the fantastic, we have often discovered that the doors are barred. Even the very act of dreaming of worlds-that-never-were can be challenging when the known world does not provide many liberating spaces.”


There is still an imagination gap to be filled within fantasy worlds, from District 12 to the Wizarding World. “The fantastic,” after all, is meant to stimulate the imagination, not limit the dreams and self-esteem of so many of its readers.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough if you are wanting to think critically about race and ethnicity in YA Lit. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas has done an extraordinary thing to make this academic work extremely enjoyable and understandable for the casual reader.

librarydeluna's review against another edition

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challenging informative reflective

4.0

spetty88's review against another edition

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challenging informative inspiring medium-paced

4.0