Thank you so much for reaching out and asking about this issue with BITTERSWEET. You are not the first reader to do so, and it’s important to talk about.
Since you asked the question in three parts, I’m going to copy all three below so readers can follow, then I’ll post my response at the bottom:
Hi Sarah, I recently read your book “Bittersweet”. On page 110, the character Dani states “..what kind of hockey team has not one, but three black dudes? No wonder they can’t win.” She further goes on to say “yeah, but did you ever notice there aren’t many black guys in the NHL? There’s no hockey in the homeland, Hud. It’s unnatural.”
I found this comment to be quite offensive. Given the young adult nature of the novel and that it was set in Canada, a diverse and multicultural country, these comments were extremely inappropriate and degrading. They are placing false, unnecessary stereotypes on the black race, indicating that they cannot play hockey solely because it is “unnatural” or “uncommon” because of their background, which is ridiculous.
These are not the kind of comments that need to be made in a young-adult novel, where teens will be reading these thoughts and, possibly, believing them to be true and natural. I understand that this novel is a work of fiction, but these are comments that could be instilled in a young mind and potentially applied to a teenager’s life, which is unfair. I had to get my feelings on my distaste to you, as I was enjoying your novel until coming across this page. I hope to hear what you have to say.
First, let me just say that I’m sorry. I never intended to degrade, offend, or push stereotypes on readers. Though I know good intentions don’t count for much if I’ve done exactly that — hurt or offended.
(Quick background for those who haven’t read the book: Dani is the best girlfriend of the main character, Hudson. Dani is black and Hudson is white.
In the scene Anonymous referenced, Hudson and Dani are talking about Hudson’s decision to work with the losing high school hockey team, using her figure skating skills to help get the boys in shape for a better season.
The story takes place in a racially diverse town in Western New York state, and the team includes players from all different racial and ethnic backgrounds.)
This scene was a mistake on my part in which I attempted to convey a flippant joke by Dani — a black character — about her assumptions on the dearth of black hockey players in general, and the differences between what she considered “the homeland” and the frigid Western New York town where the girls live. It was borrowed from an old joke I’d heard from friends growing up — friends who lived in that area of WNY where the book is set — and at the time I wrote the scene, I unfortunately didn’t look past my own bias to consider how it might actually be hurtful rather than funny.
As I mentioned above, I’ve heard from a few other readers on this very issue, namely readers who were hurt by my implication that a hockey team with black players “can’t win,” which wasn’t my intent, but was how some readers interpreted the scene, and so is entirely my fault.
For the paperback version of the book, I had that line removed and the scene slightly tweaked to clarify that Dani was not intending to say that black people can’t win at hockey, or that they shouldn’t play. However, in the paperback version, Dani still makes the “no hockey in the homeland” joke. I was still seeing it through my own bias — readers had pointed out that the comment “no wonder they can’t win” was hurtful, and I realized it and changed it. But I didn’t consider how my bias might STILL be blinding me to other possible interpretations to the rest of Dani’s jokes — interpretations that are NOT funny, that are actually part of the problem. And for that, I’m deeply sorry.
Started in 2009, BITTERSWEET was the first novel I’d written with a conscious attempt to write about characters who weren’t white. I made assumptions and mistakes, and in my attempt to correct them, I made more mistakes.
I’ve learned, and continue to learn, thanks to readers like you. And because I continue to write about diverse characters, I hope that readers will feel comfortable in calling me out when I make mistakes like this, because I know, despite all those good intentions, that I WILL make mistakes. It’s such an important conversation to keep having.
To Anonymous and others who’ve brought this issue to my attention — and especially to those I’ve hurt with this scene but who chose not to say anything to me directly — I hope you’ll accept my sincere apologies and know that I intend to keep learning, to keep trying, to keep doing better.