Title: Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses
Author: Kristen O’Neal
Blurb from Goodreads
Priya worked hard to pursue her premed dreams at Stanford, but a diagnosis of chronic Lyme disease during her sophomore year sends her back to her loving but overbearing family in New Jersey—and leaves her wondering if she’ll ever be able to return to the way things were. Thankfully she has her online pen pal, Brigid, and the rest of the members of “oof ouch my bones,” a virtual support group that meets on Discord to crack jokes and vent about their own chronic illnesses.
When Brigid suddenly goes offline, Priya does something out of character: she steals the family car and drives to Pennsylvania to check on Brigid. Priya isn’t sure what to expect, but it isn’t the horrifying creature that’s shut in the basement.
With Brigid nowhere to be found, Priya begins to puzzle together an impossible but obvious truth: the creature might be a werewolf—and the werewolf might be Brigid. As Brigid’s unique condition worsens, their friendship will be deepened and challenged in unexpected ways, forcing them to reckon with their own ideas of what it means to be normal.
NetGalley: A site where readers can request to read e-copies of books in exchange for honest feedback
I became a member of NetGalley in January 2017. Since then I have consistently had a high review ratio and have always provided prompt feedback for the titles I have been granted approval for. As of today (11/5/2021) I have been approved for 243 titles and have sent feedback for 218. None of my outstanding review copies have yet been published so I’m quite in control of my feedback ratio which currently is at 90%. In many ways I feel quite privileged that I get to use NetGalley as it has greatly enhanced my favourite hobby of reading, and I always strive to provide the most honest and relevant feedback that I can give.
But NetGalley isn’t perfect as we all know.
Sometimes we can request access to an ARC only for it to sit on our “pending requests” shelf for months on end, and then have a publisher approve us at the eleventh hour with the expectation that we read and provide feedback as close to publication date as possible.
Which is pretty unfair.
Because as book reviewers many people frequently have a designated reading list that is planned in advance of each month; this list can include ARCs that were received well in advance of publication so that reviewers can have reviews ready for their publication dates. And there are also all those unread owned and library books that reviewers want to get to also.
So it’s just basic etiquette to approve reviewers at least four weeks in advance of publication in my opinion.
But there’s also another issue when books languish on our pending requests shelf for months on end. And this issue particularly came to light for me with one specific book, but I know from my interactions with the book community on social media sites and my blog that I am not alone in these opinions.
Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses by Kristen O’Neal
Lycanthropy and other Chronic Illnesses appeared on NetGalley UK many months ago. I can’t remember exactly but it must have been late Summer or early Autumn 2020. Back then it had a different cover (a temporary one for review copies I believe); one that just had the title in a pink font and a patterned decoration surrounding it. I was immediately drawn to the title, had a quick scan through the blurb to ensure that there was chronic illness representation in the book, and hit that request button.
You see I’m chronically ill myself. My illness took hold of my life in my teenage years and has left a devastating wake behind it. It rules how I function day to day as I now live with chronic pain and other disabilities.
One of the reasons I became a book blogger was to draw attention to books that focus on chronic illness and disability representation, and to promote books that show illness and disability in an authentic fashion and to highlight the inherent ableism there is in many books that portray disabled and chronically ill characters.
So hearing this was an #OwnVoices book for chronic illness representation made me super excited and I hoped that NetGalley would approve my request.
But months passed and the book sat there pending approval.
When a book you thought was one thing but turns out to be another
And as those months passed I became aware of issues surrounding this book, Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses. From other bloggers and reviewers in the book community I heard that this book was #OwnVoices for the chronic illness rep, but yet it was inauthentic. Inauthentic because the main character was shown to be of South Asian heritage and not white like the author herself.
And then there were issues highlighted regarding the cover of the book and how it is racial brownface, and also how the wolf character that mirrors the MC is dehumanising of the South Asian identity.
I would direct your attention in particular to the following review on Goodreads for more information: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3824728041
Late approval from NetGalley
And so I decided that Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses was no longer a book I wished to read. I was glad that it was languishing on my NetGalley request shelf and once the April 2021 publication date passed by I was convinced that I would never be given approval for it.
Until Friday May 7th when I was given approval to read it.
And then I had to make a judgment call. Do I read it just to see what the illness representation is like? Or do I stay true to my beliefs regarding cultural appropriation in novels?
I do believe that every writer has the right to write whatever it is they want to write as I like to think that with careful research and great thought that a writer can perfectly inhabit the world of a character and have that world bear no resemblance to the writer’s lived existence…
However, I also believe that we should raise the voices of #OwnVoices narratives over those that research. Particularly when it comes to BIPOC storytelling.
So I felt distinctly uncomfortable about reading Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses.
Because on one hand it’s #OwnVoices for illness representation, but it can’t fully claim that #OwnVoices categorisation because the main character is not white like the author. The experience of South Asian heritage is not hers to tell. In the disability community, particularly in the USA, there is a distinct difference between how white disabled people are treated versus how disabled people of colour are treated. BIPOC persons face additional hardships and obstacles because of the racism that sadly is so prevalent in society. Therefore, a BIPOC disabled experience is vastly different to a white disabled experience. So I really wish that the author had chosen to tell an #OwnVoices story focusing on the experience of disability alone, rather than a researched BIPOC disabled experience.
This book in my opinion just cannot lay claim to the title of #OwnVoices because of partial lived experience and therefore it is not a book I am willing to read. I did give feedback to the publisher explaining in detail why I would not be reading it, and submitted my review through NetGalley.
Feedback for NetGalley
I also sent an email to NetGalley whereby I made suggestions that could be seen as in the best interest of readers, authors, publishers, and NetGalley. I think NetGalley should give reader reviewers the opportunity to cancel a pending ARC request once a set period of time has elapsed e.g. 8 to 10 weeks. This would result in fewer reader reviewers being granted access to an ARC title that no longer holds their interest (thusly helping reader reviewers to maintain a high review ratio which helps them with future ARC requests), as excited feelings about blurbs can certainly wane over time as mine did in the instance with Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses.
And from the publisher’s standpoint if I had been allowed to cancel my pending ARC request after a set number of weeks, then the publisher would have been able to award approval of this title to someone whose feelings about it had not changed and therefore this ARC could have gone to another more willing reader which has an increased probability of them receiving a positive review which helps to sell books!
I do however feel that my feedback letting the publisher know why this book is problematic in my opinion is valuable to them and their editorial decision making in the future. But part of me felt quite stressed about having to make that decision not to read the book, and it was quite exhausting writing a thoughtful review for them that showed it wasn’t a decision made lightly.
I am always so very thankful to publishers and NetGalley for offering me copies of novels for review purposes because it is a great privilege to read these books for free. But reading and reviewing is a hobby. Maintaining my blog is a hobby. I receive no monetary reward for reading and reviewing, and therefore I think it is more than okay for a reader reviewer to turn around to a publisher and say thank you but this book just isn’t for me.
*An e-copy of Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses was kindly provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley for honest review*
Publishing 27th April 2021, Quirk Books
UPDATE June 2022
NetGalley U.K. have now given readers the opportunity to cancel an ARC request they have made. This means that what happened with me and Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses should not happen again thankfully.