Even though Laura Moriarty’s new book, American Heart, hasn’t been released yet, it had already attracted the ire of the perpetually offended. On Goodreads, the novel has been slammed for supposedly pushing a “white savior” narrative. Yesterday, an independent critics’ website, Kirkus Reviews, removed its positive review “because some of the wording fell short of meeting [their] standards for . . . sensitivity.” Whatever happened to not judging books by their cover?
In the novel, Moriarty’s fifth, the U.S. government deports Muslims to internment camps in Nevada for practicing their religion, which move is marketed to Americans as “better for everyone’s safety.” This invites indifference from the book’s protagonist, Sarah-Mary Williams, a young white girl who “isn’t concerned with the internments because she doesn’t know any Muslims” and believes media and government reports praising the set-up. That is, until Sarah-Mary meets Sadaf, a Muslim girl on the run. After a while, her perceptions change, and she sets out to help her in her quest for freedom.
Struggling to grasp how this could possibly be offensive? Well, struggle no more. On Goodreads, reviewers take issue with the fact that Sarah-Mary decides to help. This, they argue, is reflective of an offensive “white savior” narrative by which Moriarty suggests that minorities such as Sadaf need someone white to save them. Here is the top-rated review, for example:
f*** your white savior narratives
f*** using marginalized characters as a plot device to teach the white mc [sic] how to be a decent person
f*** you for perpetuating the idea that marginalized people need to suffer in order to be worthy of “humanity”
f*** this book and everyone who thought it would be a good f***ing idea
According to a Facebook post by Moriarty published this weekend, the “white savior” narrative isn’t true given the conclusion of the book. Indeed, instead of believing only she can save Sadaf, Williams realizes “that she alone can’t save anyone.” Moriarty points out that most of the Goodreads reviewers “openly admit to not having read the book,” which means their understanding of the book’s message must be limited to the introduction provided on the website.
Moriarty writes in her post that, despite these reviews, she felt vindicated by a positive review on the website Kirkus Reviews, which, in part, called it a
“ . . . moving portrait of an American girl discovering her society in crisis, desperate to show a disillusioned immigrant the true spirit of America.” [and] “sensible, thought-provoking, and touching . . . and so rich that a few coincidences of plot are easily forgiven.”
Last Friday, however, Kirkus announced it had decided to rescind its positive rating, suggesting its decision was fueled in part due to negative reactions to its review. Even though the reviewer was an “observant Muslim person of color,” the review apparently fell short of their “standards for . . . sensitivity.” The editors, in a note published to the website, said they are “evaluating the review and will make a determination about correction or retraction after careful consideration in collaboration with the reviewer.”
Moriarty, meanwhile, urged followers of her Facebook account not to fill Goodreads with five-star ratings to combat the negative ratings, but to purchase the book when it is released and rate it honestly. She concluded her post by pointing out the “sad irony” that a reviewer’s independent opinion about a book praising diversity and freedom is being suppressed by the howling of the mob.