I hate writing posts like this, I really do. Whenever some new big controversy strikes in the YA world—which, let’s face it, is pretty much every other week by this point—I tend to get fairly active on Twitter, sharing my thoughts on whatever section of YA is being attacked and joining in with all the massive YA-love-ins that we usually get as an end result. I don’t often write blog posts like this, though.
Tonight there’s been another YA controversy. Of course there has. What makes it worse than usual, for me, is that this controversy has been sparked by a new “YA writer” (if he really can be called that) who has decided that he is somehow too good to be a YA writer. The way I see it; when a writer like this makes the decision to publicly make comments like he has, it makes other people think that it’s okay to say the things that they say, like they’re somehow justified in what they say.
This man—I’m not going to mention names here, nor link to the article—describes his book as something which he doesn’t believe YA to be: morally complex. Okay. THE DARKEST MINDS, nothing morally complex there. VENGEANCE ROAD, absolutely no morally ambiguity in that one either. Don’t even get me started on THE HUNGER GAMES. All of these books, some people would have you believe, are just little teenage books about silly children saving the world from evil adults. These books can’t possibly contain any real literary merit, they’re obviously just trash (an actual word used more often than can be considered acceptable). And what else? Of course, it’s obvious is it not? They’re written by women.
I’ve just read a really good article on The Guardian by Jennifer Weiner (who also expresses things in a much better way than I think I ever could tonight), where she discusses her newly coined phrase, ‘Goldfinching’; “It’s the process by which a popular and previously well-regarded novel and, more importantly, it’s readers, are taken to the woodshed, usually by a critic who won’t hesitate to congratulate himself on his courage, as if dismissing popular things that women like requires some special kind of bravery.” How often do we see, especially in the YA-world, the most popular books being degraded, torn apart, and sneered upon by people who think that they’re better than we are because we enjoy reading them when they don’t? Thinking about that always reminds me of a phrase I once heard, though I can’t remember exactly where I heard it; there’s a saying that John Green is the saviour of YA, while Stephenie Meyer is the punchline. Okay, here’s the truth: I love John Green’s books, while I wasn’t a huge fan of Twilight (I read the entire Twilight Saga quite recently, because I wanted to have my own opinions of it rather than going with the thoughts of others). Do I think that because I didn’t like Twilight that Meyer is some kind of joke, or that Twilight is just for teenage girls to enjoy? Absolutely not. It’s that which ties back to tonight’s controversy. In response to this debut author being given a six-figure deal, he’s being heralded as a saviour, and with that, many of the authors who I admire and aspire to be like are being dragged through the mud again.
The morality of the book is more complicated than a lot of YA so I wanted to try doing it on my own,” [Name Omitted] said. “In a lot of YA, the conflict takes place inside a walled garden, set up by outside adult forces. If you think of those stories as a metaphor for high school, they start to make a lot more sense, but that was one thing I wanted to depart from.
That is one of two specific parts of the article which is stirring the majority of the controversy (don’t worry, we’ll get to the next part in a minute). Are those words that the author is saying anything other than obvious slander for the genre that he claims to be writing? It’s why I’m not calling him a YA writer; he obviously thinks that he’s too good for the gene. You know what? Let him think that, because honestly, we don’t want him. He can stay away from YALLFest 2016, I don’t imagine he would fit in particularly well.
The second part of the controversy comes from the description of his heroine; ‘a Jewish, slightly overweight 17-year-old, who is transformed into a “lean warrior with hair dyed fire-engine red,” during her mission to rescue her father, a kidnapped diplomat.’ Okay. Okay. OKAY. So, there’s a problem with his heroine being overweight, apparently, because she has to go through a transformation to become a skinny flame-haired hero before she can save her father. I’ve written, deleted, and re-written so many sentences here on why that’s a problematic description, but I’m just going to let it sit there, and you can decide for yourself.
I don’t know, I’m just getting really sick of the way that YA is looked at. I know that it’s not going to change any time soon, I know that. This will all blow over, and in a few weeks there’ll be someone else writing another article from their perspective as the Edgy Courageous Journalist who Proves that YA is Wrong. All I know just now is that, from where I stand, there is nothing wrong with YA. Moral complexity is not a problem facing the genre. It’s not a genre exclusively for teenage girls—I say this as a person who is neither a teenager, nor a girl. After writing this post, I’m going to try to ignore the debut author, just like I managed to ignore the Slate article, and Jonathan Franzen’s opinions. In the end, none of these things are worth getting ourselves worked up over.