For this month, I wanted to do something a little different and look at a more womanist issue that’s close to my heart, and that is mental illness as it affects specifically black men & boys. Unfortunately, we still live in a society where black and brown bodies are villainized as we are seeing at an increasingly visible and alarming rate. To condense my thoughts a bit, for me womanism still gives allotment to discuss the ways in which men are impacted by discrimination.
You might say, that’s heavy but what’s that got to do with Shatterproof and Xen Sanders? To me, speculative fiction is at its best when it comments on social issues. However, I’ve avoided stories that deal with the topics of mental illness because the stories I was exposed to early in my life were … well, bad. Like, real bad. Usually reflecting the problem that mental illnesses are poorly understood in real life. I’m sure we’ve all seen the tropes, ranging from “mentally ill people are evil” to “depression is magic!” And, really, until recently a lot of those stories were focused on white men. So, nah.
So how did I end up with Shatterproof? In recent times, reading these kinds of stories has gotten a lot better. You have to support what you want to see more of, so despite my painful history I wanted to give this a chance. Did I mention paranormal romances are my guilty pleasure? Is it really guilty if I’m not sorry? Anyway, I read the synopsis and loved the premise, so I dove in.
Not wanting to die … wanting to die. The extreme difficulties of just living. Thoughts I admit I have struggled with. I never thought that I would say a book that starts with a suicide attempt would make me happy, but I’ve had a personal month of dealing with draining personal issues and my own depression, so this ended up being very cathartic for me to read. Saint and Grey’s relationship is EVERYTHING. The paranormal aspect is thoughtfully handled and never feels like it’s going to swallow up the plot, which despite the characters, is very human and down the earth. The prose is visual and lush but doesn’t veer into purple territory and just made me nostalgic for the overstuffed books of my youth before everything became … minimal (not saying minimalism is bad, but sometimes I need coffee described in four dimensions, you know?). Even the author’s notes made me cry. At some point I muttered to myself, wiping my tears away, “this is ridiculous”. It’s not all tears, though, as there is some seriously good world building here and it actually got scary at points. Did I mention accurate portrayals of voudou? Now I have. Oh, one more thing: shout out to Nuo for being awesome. Oh, you thought there were no women in this book? Wrong. Sanders definitely knows how to craft a female support character that doesn’t just disappear in the background or show up when someone needs a pity party. Basically, the friend you need in real life.
It’s so rare to see something that reflects a part of my life that I rarely talk about because it’s so heavily stigmatized. This is even commented on at times by Grey. At first, I thought maybe the self-harm and suicide would be too triggering for me to handle. Unfortunately, that’s just at my discretion sometimes. But there were many subtle touches here to portray the individual experience and at no point did I think love and/or magic was somehow going to fix everything. And that’s a good thing. It really felt like people working on themselves with their own coping mechanisms. In fact, my only true complaint about this book is sometimes Saint and Grey contemplate their navels too much (this is actually very realistic in my experience, haha).
I’m very glad I was able to read Shatterproof all the way through; in the larger scheme of things, finding even something I relate to a little makes all the difference and reminds me of why I got into fantasy and sci-fi in the first place. I definitely feel encouraged to keep finding things that reflect my whole experience, like it’s really out there and I don’t have to be afraid (or groan) anymore. You can buy Shatterproof directly from Riptide Publishing and feel free to check out Xen’s website for more.