Welcome to the first post of Vampires Vs. The Apocalypse, a blog where everything is made up and the points don’t matter!
Actually, that’s a lie. Everything is made up and the points do matter, because every book that will be reviewed on this blog will be subject to a rigorous grading process of being awarded a number of Kilo-Edwards at the end. If you want to know what those are, click the link here.
For my first review series, I’ve decided to focus on an absolute gem of dystopian YA literature, a modern classic that — what’s that, you say? The Hunger Games has been reviewed a million times? Of course it has.
That’s why I’m what I’m reviewing instead is a relic from the year of our Lord 2012, the starting book of a series that caught so much heat it’s a wonder it didn’t spontaneously combust:
What is Save the Pearls: Revealing Eden? It’s a YA dystopian novel by author Victoria Foyt that’s known for originally advertising itself on youtube with videos of a white girl in blackface.
You heard me right. Blackface. The hallmark of every successful advertising campaign!
If that wasn’t warning enough, I want to warn you now that this book has a lot of racially offensive subject matter and this review will delve into discussions of race, so if that’s not your bag you might want to turn back.
Now, normally, I plan to go at most things with some tender loving care – after all, even the worst books usually have some of the author’s love and care put into them, even if they’re terrible. However, Save the Pearls is so abjectly awful and grotesquely offensive that the gloves are off.
So without further ado, I’d like to present to you a masterpiece wherein black people are magically immune from radiation, white people are a minority that must be protected at any cost, and apparently albinos are their own species: the world of Save the White Girls—I mean, pearls.
Like many great self-published classics, Save the Pearls opens up with a pointless Emily Dickinson poem, because apparently the author couldn’t even manage to muster up enough pretentiousness to put in a pointless e.e. cummings poem.
Come slowly – Eden!
Lips unused to Thee –
Bashful – sip thy Jessamines –
As the fainting Bee –
Reaching late his flower,
Round her chamber hums –
Counts his nectars –
Enters – and is lost in Balms.
What purpose does this poem serve? None. None whatever. Because there’s romance in the story? Something something something Biblical references to Eden something?
Who knows! At the very least it does establish the name of our protagonist, who is named – you guessed it – Eden. Of course it’s Eden. Because teenage girls in these novels can never have normal names. They have to be Christabella Silvergreen or Lisabeth Amberweave or Katharina Foreverawkward.
Anyway, the beginning of the story establishes that Eden lives in a world ravaged by the Heat. In this universe, The Heat isn’t a buddy cop comedy starring America’s sweetheart, Sandra Bullock — no, it’s ambient radiation that kills most people and causes them skin cancer. It exists due to humans ravaging the environment of the planet.
Due to the Heat, the survivors have been driven underground. Due to black people apparently having magical powers that somehow allow them to not get skin cancer (never mind that late diagnosis of skin cancers in people of color is a major problem), they’re in charge of society.
Because apparently melanin is nature’s hazmat suit.
While it’s true that increased melanin can help protect the skin somewhat from the sun, it’s mind-blowing how little Foyt has thought her world building through. The levels of radiation she describes in the book would basically kill anyone indiscriminately and if anyone were to survive, it stands to reason that modern day issues of racism towards people of color would only be exacerbated by the breakdown of society.
Let’s get real here: if the currently rich and powerful clawed their way to the top of a new world order after the apocalypse, it’d be on the backs of the already disenfranchised. That’s what rich and powerful people do. They even have special boots and climbing gear for it.
(I’m pretty sure it’s diamond encrusted.)
But this is White Girl World, where every white girl comes part and parcel with her own persecution complex (stakes and cross sold separately).
Kira, you might say, isn’t this possibly a subversion of racism, so white, teen readers of the books can understand racism better?
To that I say:
1) Why do people have to experience racism themselves or have it be depicted as happening to people like themselves to have sympathy for the people who face it? One of my best friends is American Indian and sometimes gets confused for being black (I know, I know, it usually sucks when people whip the “I’m best friends with…” card out but I promise I’m using it for good).
She’s told me of times she’s gotten “we don’t hire your kind here,” and about an incident once in a McDonald’s where the woman working there called out “That black woman is stealing a white woman’s baby!” when she went to carry out her light-skinned mixed-race son. This was within the last ten years or so, not 1955, not 1975, not even in the 90s.
Why would I need to personally experience racism for her word to be enough? And shouldn’t YA books be encouraging kids and teens to have enough empathy to care about the plight of other people that are different from themselves without it being made personal?
2) Foyt spends the first chapter establishing black people in the book to be something heinous and evil at every goddamn turn. Examples:
It was only Peach, who wasn’t as cruel as the rest of them.
In that quiet, treasured space, she allowed herself one small but true thought: I hate them.
Message received loud and clear. Yowza. That doesn’t exactly communicate the black experience to readers. That just…well, expresses hate towards black people.
That bitch Ashina was now fifteen minutes late and Eden wanted to take her break
Like, a lot of it. Sweet Jesus.
Eden flinched. One of them was touching her. White-hot light exploded in her head. Before she knew it, she blurted out an incendiary racial slur.
“Get your hands off of me, you damn Coal!”
Seriously, what the shit.
Speaking of “Coal,” that brings us to a major conceit of the book. Apparently, different races on the racial hierarchy get different slurs. Because I guess the world didn’t already have enough racial slurs racked up as is and needed even more of them.
Black people are Coals. White people are, naturally, the eponymous Pearls. Asians are Ambers. Latino people are Tiger’s Eyes. (I guess because they traded passion for glory and rose up to the challenge of their rivals?) Albinos are Cottons, which apparently have gone extinct because the author is under the impression they’re a species or race and not the result of recessive genetics that can crop up randomly.
When the book faced its initial outrage upon its release, one major point that was made was that “Coal” implied something dirty, while “Pearl” implied something delicate and beautiful. Foyt responded to the criticism on her website:
Why are whites called Pearls, while blacks are called Coals? Imagine a gritty, post-apocalyptic world where all that matters is survival. What good will a pearl do you when luxury items have no use? Coal has energy, fire, and real value. It is durable and strong, not easily crushed like a pearl. Pearl is a pejorative term here.
Her claim that “Coal” isn’t meant to be a slur is slightly contradicted by the fact that…
Before she knew it, she blurted out an incendiary racial slur.
“Get your hands off of me, you damn Coal!”
…it’s used as a slur. Whoops.
I’d say the author has a little egg on her face if it weren’t the fact that it’s a whole damn Denny’s Grand Slam breakfast. With grits.
The first chapter of Save the Pearls establishes all these setting details in a way that’s as hamfisted as humanly possible, with every detail about the setting being told rather than shown.
Eden is a worker at the science lab where her brilliant scientist father works, and holds a “mate-rate” of 15%. That means she is horribly undateable or something. Unlike the real world, this actually matters because she’ll be thrown outside to die in the Heat if she doesn’t shack up with someone by the time she’s 18. To try to improve her chances – and because “Pearls” are apparently ostracized if they don’t do it – she wears “Midnight Luster” a makeup that makes her skin and hair darker.
(I bet you were wondering “so where does the blackface come in”? Or not. You probably weren’t. Well, here it is, anyway, in all its ludicrous glory!)
With less than a year to go, she spends time during her work hours retreating into her own mind to look at images and video of white people (instead of doing something way more productive like looking at pictures of Hugh Jackman) with her “Life-Band,” a device that allows all residents if this subterranean world to access a massive computer system with their brains.
Like all other survivors of the apocalypse, she’s given daily doses of an addictive, mood-altering drug called “oxy” that pacifies the population, because this little dystopian, ten-car literary pileup wouldn’t be complete without a Soma/Prozium/Zydrate ripoff.
The first chapter is honestly nothing more than a massive infodump, tinged around the edges with Eden’s hatred of the people around her. During it, her coworker (the hated Ashina, who the narration calls a “bitch” enough times for the word to nearly lose meaning) accuses her of not delivering a lab report.
After Ashina grabs Eden’s lab coat and Eden rips herself away and screams that “incendiary slur” from earlier, the people around Eden calmly and rationally explain to her that shouting slurs at your coworkers isn’t appropriate workplace behavio—ha, I almost tricked you into thinking this wasn’t a terrible book.
No, their response to Eden is to scream the following:
Well, “white death” is, historically-speaking, probably not even the worst thing white people have been called.
Earth-Damned Pearl, on the other hand, sounds like a great name for glam rock band.
When I was reading this I thought: surely, the book can’t sink any lower than this. The only way it could get more tone deaf was if they all formed a mob to lynch her and –
The angry mob lurched towards Eden, just like in her nightmares. The Coals were going to kill her. They would drag her outside and leave her to cook in the sun.
As of the end of chapter one, Save the Pearls: Revealing Eden is already possibly one of the most racially offensive YA books I’ve read in a good while, and I’ve only just gotten started. In every possible way, the book ignores the historical and cultural impact racism has had on race relations and on how it would realistically impact a dystopian future.
It also constantly casts black people as villains. The narrative is soaked in the hatred the author projects onto black people and the hate Eden feels in return.
The implication of all this is one of the most heinous ones I’ve ever seen in YA fiction, because it screams the following in blinking letters a mile high:
If black people are no longer a mistreated minority, they will hurt and oppress us white people instead.
Thing is, that makes no goddamn sense whatsoever. In a position of power, a group that’s had to fight against racism and fight for social justice would most likely be more compassionate and less likely to oppress others after suffering for so long themselves. Even as the rulers of the goddamn world, black people in this story are still an insidious other, whose very existence persecutes the protagonist and other people of her race.
Also, albinos aren’t a species. Just sayin’.
This book is the literal worst. Please never buy it. I got my copy for free due to some back-alley, book swap, dirty dealings with a friend.
Due to the first chapter wasting minutes of my life I will never get back and being a drain on my entire existence, Chapter One gets a rank of zero Kilo-Edwards. None. Nada. This book isn’t good or so bad it’s good. It’s just bad. Horribly – and above all else, embarrassingly – bad.
So, naturally, I plan to still read and review every chapter because I’m just that much of a masochist. See you next week! On the same bat-time and the same bat-channel!
(I say “bat” because I want to take one to my own head for putting myself through this.)