Veronica Roth, Chronic Pain is Not a Gift

I do a lot of reviews here. I give you my straight opinion on books I have read. Ya’ll know I am always honest when it comes to what I think about that.

But I’ve never told you not to read a book that I HAVEN’T read. In general, I don’t think that is my place. Not on this website. I will often share things on twitter other people have said, and take place in discussions there. But this is a place for book reviews.

I know it is. But this can’t stand.

We’ve known for awhile that Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth was going to be problematic. The blurbs sounded bad. Then those who had ARCs started pulling things out and we all realized just how racist this book was.

If you haven’t been paying attention, Carve the Mark is a sort of Romeo and Juliet story, where one family is light and peaceful and the other is violent and dark-skinned. Yes, it is THAT kind of trope. The Shotet have kinky hair, while the Thuve have straight hair. The Shotet carve actual marks in their arms when they kill people, and are seen as barbaric. (For more information, see Justina Ireland’s excellent analysis of The Continent and Carve the Mark. She writes so much more eloquently on this subject than I can.)

All of that was reason enough to not read this book, or so you’d think. Still, we continued to see tons of promotion for it, and bloggers excited to read it. Instagram is filled with pictures of the cover–which, I agree, at first is stunning, but now just cuts every time I see it.

We didn’t think it could get worse, but last night an interview surfaced from VR on NPR. Here is a screenshot.

So not only is this book extremely racist, but it is ableist too! Horribly so. And STILL this book is being promoted. Money over People every damn day.

If you have never felt the pain of a chronic illness, I want you to listen closely to what I describe next. And then I want you to go to your Goodreads and take this horrid book off of your TBRs. Or put it on your DO NOT READ list. Stop putting this wretched book on your Instagram and your Twitter and Snapchat and Booktube. The POC and Spoonies don’t want to see it. We don’t want to read it. And the more marketing we give books like this, the more encouragement we give the publishing houses to continue to put out toxic work, instead of diverse, Own Voices stories that encourage and lift and properly represent.

So Veronica Roth, please, tell me how my chronic, debilitating migraines are a gift. Explain to me how I should be grateful for pain so bad it blinds me.

It’s pain so bad I cannot sleep or handle any light at all. All I want to do is scream but I can’t do that either because NOISE IS FORBIDDEN


And then, OH AND THEN, when you try to explain it to some one they say “Oh, yeah, I get headaches a lot too. Just take an advil.”

So no. Being a Spoonie isn’t a GIFT. I don’t consider myself blessed to have chronic migraines.

I am, however, blessed to have good medical insurance, and a great support system. Many spoonies aren’t that lucky, and it’s about to get much much worse.

So you can go to hell with your book.

Fellow Spoonies, our pain is not a gift. But, WE ARE A GIFT. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU IS A GIFT. I love every single one of you.


I want to update this, since VR did an interview after last night’s criticisms came out. She spoke a bit, clarifying that her MC isn’t always strong, that she does rely on certain medical care and support systems in the book. However, she also blamed the interviewer and did not take full responsibility for what she said. If she truly has a chronic illness, then I am sorry that it came out when she didn’t want it to–but it feels a little defensive.

Either way, the interview does not resolve the problematic nature of the book. It is still harmful to those who suffer chronic pain and illness. And she did not address the racism at all, and that is a very real issue that many people are overlooking today. No matter how you slice it, Carve the Mark is an incredibly harmful book that should never have made it through publishing, no matter who the author is. Authors can write both good books and bad books. This one is a BAD BOOK, and people need to understand why. We cannot just follow authors blindly–they are not gods, they are mortal. Unless we have discussions like this, unless we take them off their pedestal, issues like racism and ableism will never be resolved.


For further reading:  Check out the #NotAGift hashtag on twitter. There are amazing people sharing amazing stories there. Please listen to them. Share them. We are going back to a healthcare system where Spoonies are going to lose their medical coverage. This is #NotAGift.

10 thoughts on “Veronica Roth, Chronic Pain is Not a Gift

  1. Stop the self pitying. I deal with neuropathic pain every damn day sometimes rendering me useless when it comes to walking. The gifts in the book are just called gifts. Every single one has a bad side to it so obviously there aren’t all legit gifts. I find Cyra a great role model because she is strong and doesn’t self pity and gripe unlike you. She makes something of herself. And it isn’t problematic. You’re being problematic by creating issues over a FICTIONAL FANTASY NOVEL.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I am very glad you found the representation you were looking for in Carve the Mark. However, after speaking and listening to countless other Spoonies and POC, I have determined that this book is not something I will be reading and it is my recommendation that others stay away from it. I cannot force anyone to do so, of course. But since people come here for my opinion, I will give it. As for being self-pitying, my level of chronic pain is not something I have ever shared before on this blog before now, and is something I only occasionally tweet about. Mostly I keep it to myself so that I don’t seem “self-pitying.” But I think it is important for people to understand what chronic pain really feels like before they invest in a book like this. It sure doesn’t feel like a gift to me. Does it seem that way to you? I think there are many ways to show a character’s strength without naming it that way, and it seems extremely ableist to me. You’re absolutely correct that this is a fictional fantasy novel–but those of us who read fiction look for ourselves in those books, and when someone takes a piece of us and twists it like this, it seems ugly and cruel. That is what is problematic about Carve the Mark. The ableist and racist nature of this book is why so many people are upset.

    2. I haven’t read the novel, but I have been following the controversy. You bring up an interesting point about Cyra, but I’m not sure it convinces me the book is not problematic. Her success demonstrates that she is a strong character, but not that the representation is portrayed properly. I think they’re two different issues. In fact, I think your point is part of the problem. If I understand the original argument correctly, her pain being something that propels her to success rather than something she has to overcome on her way to success is part of why people can’t identify with the character. Please correct me if I’ve misunderstood.

      I think I see what Veronica Roth may have been trying to do, but from what I hear, it ended up alienating a portion of her audience and providing a problematic impression of what chronic pain is like. If it doesn’t bother you, that’s absolutely fine, but the fact is it does bother some people. And I don’t think this is because they’re weak or full of self pity.

      It’s because taking someone’s struggle and turning it into a superpower doesn’t actually provide representation, nor does it empower.

      It’s not saying, “Here’s what you can achieve even if you have chronic pain.” It’s saying, “Here’s what you could achieve if your chronic pain was actually magic.”

      It’s not saying, “Here’s a character with chronic pain who overcomes it.” It’s saying, “Here’s a story that changes what chronic pain is but is still pretending to provide representation for those who suffer from it.”

      Additionally, as far as the “creating issues over a fictional fantasy novel,” fiction is one of the fundamental ways humans explore and discuss the problems we face in our lives. That’s why it exists, and that’s why people relate to it. “It’s just fiction” is not an argument that’s going to work anywhere.

  2. I’m working on an author review about her and this book is pretty much the reason that I won’t support her anymore. She hasn’t yet responded to the issues surround her poor portrayal of chronic illness but she responded to racism allegations by basically trying to excuse and didn’t do so very well in my opinion. This whole thing is incredibly disappointing. I still don’t understand how she thought taking her friends’ chronic pain and fantasizing it was a good idea.

  3. Hi! I just wanted to tune in from Germany and tell you about how I perceived this book as someone who has not grown up in a country where white/black is a real problem. I have very strong migraines every day, and until now there hasn’t been a doctor who could actually help me. I rely on painkillers when I need to go out – if I go out. For me, Cyra is a real inspiration. I feel with her, taking painkillers before she goes out to meet people. I admire her power to go out and fight and live, even though she is in constant pain. No, she says her pain is a curse and not a gift. But later, it turns out the gift is not the pain, but the power to endure. I do not think that there is discrimination against Cyra on the basis of her disabilities – I mean, there is no disability, rather an ability. If this is not what ableism means, then I’m sorry but I read the wikipedia article and felt I could at least trust the definitions. Also – I did not think that it was Thuvhe/ Shotet. Thuvhe, as was shown, has its own ugly face. It is only the Shotet upper class that is “bad”. In Thuvhe, if you read carefully, you see that the chancellor is a manipulative woman who is discriminating against Shotet, just like Shotet is telling stories about Thuvhesits who have taken their children. There is an even amount of “bad” on each side of the planet. Thuvesits don’t want to share the nation-planet’s power in the government and tries to oppress Shotet, who just wants to be acknowledged. I feel – and please do correct me on a basis that is not subjective – that mostly, people who have read the book without prejudices can actually objectively judge. Also, I think it is wrong to tell people to stop loving this book, to stop recommending it to others. It is very unfair to speak badly about things you haven’t read yourself and do not actually know about. Thank you, and have a nice day.

  4. I know I’m a bit late to this controversy, but I’ve been reading reviews of this and THE CONTINENT, partly out of morbid curiosity. And I object to the racism in both books as much as you do, but please. Don’t order your readers to take this off their TBR list. Don’t tell them not to read it. I understand that you have strong feelings about this, but the solution to hateful (or thoughtless, or insensitive) speech is not restrictions on speech, but more speech. People should be talking about this, and it is not your place as a reviewer to tell them what to do or how to think. It IS your place to share your thoughts–which you have done–but not to order your readers around.

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