Friday, July 6, 2012

Review: Apricot Brown is ‘Miss Undefinable’

Apricot Brown Digital Press Kit
Picked up an interesting book at this year’s Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival. Apricot Brown: Miss Undefinable is first in a series authored by Dana Drucker-Solano and illustrated by Sky Hand Zan. Apricot Brown is a cute, wacky superstar who encourages other mixed kids at Hope Fisher High School to resist the pressure to conform to social expectations. Together, the “Remix Generation” rejects the notion that kids have to choose and stick with one identity, instead advocating adopting from many and changing them at will. The reader is introduced to three of Apricot Brown’s alternate personalities – the Latina “Chica Bonita,” the Japanese “Bo’Bey Girl,” and the Jamaican “Rasta Fairy” – scheduled to appear in upcoming stories.

Apricot Brown targets today’s pre-adolescent girls with simple rhyming lyrics (or poetry, if you will) that sound to my culturally illiterate ears like hip-hop (incidentally, itself a hodge-podge of musical styles). The colorful art resembles that of computer animation in a glossy graphic novel. The book is highly attractive, but I remain unimpressed with the content (in contrast to my little brother who found the content slightly impressive but the book not attractive at all – and insisted on mentioning this).

The central message is one of self-improvement through esteem-boosting, feel-good messages (i.e., self-religion). It’s about recreating and adopting cultural identity, itself a social construct, while simultaneously denying society’s cultural definitions and classifications. In other words, it seems a bit confused. I’m all for redefining yourself, adopting from other cultures, and embracing a fluid identity. However, Apricot Brown seems to live in a pretend land where, as an outsider, she’s welcomed as a fully-fledged member into any culture. That might work for fiction, but as a book aiming to improve its readers, it seems to create – outright encourage – a false impression that kids can and should claim any cultural identity they want. What’s ironic is that Apricot Brown’s alter-egos adopt the hyper-stratified Hispanic culture, the hyper-homogeneous Japanese culture, and the supremacist and ethnocentric Rastafari culture.

Even more problematic is the sheep mentality of the kids in Apricot Brown. While the “Miss Unidentifiable” challenges those who impose cultural boundaries, those around her just follow suit. In other words, the book’s message could backfire, essentially telling readers that it’s cooler to be a part of the “Remix Generation” than to just be yourself.

Book two is in the works, so we haven’t seen the last of Apricot Brown. She’ll continue to find fun ways to encourage kids to think outside the box when it comes to identity. I just hope she quits with some of the self-love mumbo-jumbo. I’m not convinced that that’s the healthiest way for mixed kids to learn to accept themselves.