Monday, January 26, 2015


A few days ago, I wrote about the ways that Amazon is using a snippet of School Library Journal's review of David Arnold's Mosquitoland, due out this year

In contrast, Barnes and Noble uses the entire review. The reviewer, Angie Manfredi, pointed to Arnold's use of lipstick as "warpaint" and noted that the protagonist is "part Cherokee."

Today (January 26, 2015), David Arnold tweeted the photograph to the right as part of a hashtag started by Gayle Forman. I take it to be his way of showing us his protagonist in her "warpaint."

Mr. Arnold? Did you imagine a Native reader of your book? Did it occur to you that this "warpaint" would be problematic?  I see that this is the person in the book trailer. In it, she is shown putting on this "warpaint." How did the particular "warpaint" design come about?!

The book trailer ends with "Mim Malone is not ok." What you have her doing is not ok either.

Update, 2:04 PM, January 26, 2015
A couple of people have written to tell me that the cover of the book shows the girl with the "warpaint." Here is a screen capture of the girl on the cover. Though the image is pixelated, you can see the "warpaint."

Someone else asked if I could elaborate on why this "warpaint" is problematic. The protagonist is, according to the review, part Cherokee. As a part Cherokee person, she applies "warpaint" to her face when she needs it to overcome something. It plays into stereotypical ideas of Indians "on the warpath." Frankly, I don't know any Native person--Cherokee or otherwise--who would use lipstick in this way, in this pattern, in this day and time, to overcome adversity. 

It suggests to me, that the protagonist is clueless about her Native identity. Is that part of the storyline? That she is ignorant about her Cherokee heritage? Does she, along the way, learn that what she is doing is goofy? Inappropriate? Stereotypical? 

Update, Tuesday Jan 27, 8:18 AM

Reaction to the "warpaint" from Cherokee librarians, writers, and parents:
  • "Sigh. Just once I wish they would pick on someone else."  
  • "Part Cherokee? Which part?" 
  • "Slowly bangs head against desktop."

People who really are Cherokee are weary of their nation being used over and over and over and over and over, and misrepresented over and over and over and over... 

Update, Sunday April, 2015

AICL's full review of Mosquitoland includes Mr. Arnold's response.

AICL's Open Letter to Mr. Arnold includes another response from Mr. Arnold. 


Unknown said...

Perhaps if you actually read the book, you would have the answers to your questions. The war paint is something she uses to connect to her mother. And yes she is clueless as to her 1/16th Cherokee heritage. The markings are something she uses to feel empowered when she feels like her life is completely out of control. At the end of the book, she realizes it's not and that the "paint" never meant what she thought it did, so she leaves it behind.

Debbie Reese said...

Thank you, Miss Kaple, for your comment. It prompted me to update the initial post on MOSQUITOLAND. It now has links to my full review, and, an open letter.

Mr. Arnold responded to both.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Ms. Reese, for responding and for providing the link to your full review. My comment was based on a post that was either much shorter (or was one that I did not expand) which led me to believe you had not read the book. Your detailed review makes it clear that you did, and I now see a few passages that could be of concern.

I am still a fan of the book and the symbolism of the lipstick for Mim, but I can see where the visual images take it to a different level. Hopefully, the author can influence the marketing of the book and script-writing of the movie to either eliminate - or illuminate - the issue.

I always appreciate learning something new every day, and your posts did just that.

Unknown said...

Instead of judging a book by its cover maybe you should actually read the book.

Jean Mendoza said...

Natalie, part of the point of the blog about Mosquitoland is that book covers can be judged, as well as what's inside the books. A cover is meant to grab attention for the book and hold it long enough to get a potential reader to open it and start reading. A cover can represent, or misrepresent what's going on inside the book. A cover can also misrepresent/stereotype/erase people, cultures, and so on. This kind of thing happens all too frequently, and when it does, calling attention to the problem is a reasonable course of action.