Why the YA dystopia craze finally burned out

From Polygon:

The 2010s saw the rapid rise and equally rapid fall of the YA dystopian genre, with The Hunger Games and its followers dominating headlines and popular culture. It’s been argued that the dystopia boom was inspired by cynicism and anxiety in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, but for those of us who became teenagers in the YA dystopia-obsession era, the films in particular served a different function: They cultivated a distrust for the government, expressing and amplifying how millennials around the world were tired of tyrannical leaders. The Hunger Games in particular helped popularize what had already become a thriving literary subgenre, with books from Lois Lowry’s 1993 novel The Giver to Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series shaping the dystopian boom. And then the wave of Hunger Games copycats oversaturated the market and killed the fad — or so the popular story goes. But there were other reasons the YA dystopia boom ended, and they were built into its premises and execution all along.

The intensity of the fad certainly contributed to its end. In 2014 alone, four would-be blockbuster YA dystopian films hit theaters: The Hunger Games Mockingjay — Part 1, The Maze Runner, Divergent, and The Giver. But saturation isn’t enough to kill a genre, as the last decade’s rolling wave of new superhero films proves. The YA dystopian genre died because it didn’t evolve. Book after book and film after film laid out the same tropes, with the same types of characters all suffering the same generic oppression and experiencing the same teen love triangles. The Hunger Games struck a chord because of its lurid themes and the way it intensified its era’s anxieties about capitalism, imperialism, wealth and power inequality, and technology, but its followers largely added more gimmicks and different kinds of violence, and called it a day.

. . . .

The Hunger Games emerged from similar adults-vs.-youth stories like Battle Royale, but added new layers about media propaganda and the authoritarian structure. Author Suzanne Collins was inspired by Greek mythology, reality-TV programming, and child soldiers, and she used those ideas to give her books more texture. Her protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, is relatable and down to earth: She doesn’t want to become a revolutionary or a hero, she just wants to keep her little sister Primrose safe. Her deteriorating mental health feels realistic, and it was mostly unprecedented in a genre full of bold teen heroes who came through the most horrifying adventures completely unscathed.

Following the Hunger Games series, subsequent YA dystopia films weren’t as richly realized, and the creators didn’t seem to care about the traumatic experiences their young protagonists went through. It’s unrealistic to have a film about teenagers overthrowing tyrants but little to no focus on their emotions. Katniss wasn’t endlessly stoic — Collins allows her to be vulnerable, and to learn that feelings are a sign of strength rather than a weakness. Many of the smash-the-state dystopia stories that followed avoided that kind of focus on feelings — or just followed the Katniss pattern of anxiety and anguish, without finding new territory to explore.

. . . .

While actual teenagers were struggling with their own idealism and a wish for a better world, fiction was telling them that systematic oppression is simple and easily solved with a standard good-vs.-evil fight, and that nothing that comes after that fight is interesting or relevant. The stories of how these dystopic societies were rebuilt would be more novel and enticing, but there was never room in YA dystopias for that kind of thought or consideration.

Which left nowhere for these stories to go after the injustices were overturned and the fascist villains were defeated. They all built momentum and excitement around action, but few of these stories ever considered what young-adult readers want to know: After one cruel leader is gone, what comes next? Injustice rarely ends with the death or departure of one unjust ruler, but YA dystopian stories rarely consider the next world order, and how it could operate differently, without stigmatizing its people. Revolution, post-apocalyptic survival, and restructuring society are fascinating topics, but apart from the Hunger Games’ brief coda about Katniss’ future PTSD, most YA dystopia stories just don’t explore these areas.

. . . .

And just as YA dystopian stories weren’t particularly interested in the future, they also were rarely that interested in their pasts, or even their present. They almost never explored their societies in any depth, beyond declaring them to be evil, violent, and controlling. We don’t really know much about the destructive regimes in the Maze Runner or Divergent series — we just know they’re bad. The run of dystopian movies in particular only offered the quickest, shallowest explanation of why a government would force its children into mazes, or make them kill each other. The Capitol’s desire to terrorize its citizens in The Hunger Games, or The Maze Runner’s focus on population control and disaster response — these are political excuses for mass murder, but not nuanced ones.

Link to the rest at Polygon

College Admissions Fiction and the Asian American Teen Imaginary

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:

“GUYS ARE LIKE school admissions,” Claire Wang’s mom tells Claire in Parachutes, a new YA novel by Kelly Yang. “Get in first. Then worry if you like them back.” The analogy is cheeky yet revealing: colleges and boyfriends function on a model of scarcity, and thus attainment is far more important than agency. Parachutes traces this logic with a critical eye, as conflicts arise not only out of relational drama, a staple driver of YA fiction, but also out of the stresses surrounding elite college admissions.

Parachutes follows the relationship between Claire, who moves from Shanghai to Los Angeles, and Dani De La Cruz, a Filipina girl who is Claire’s host sister and a scholarship student at her prep school. The book is named after “parachute kids” like Claire, who are flown in from China in order to get a better education. Ironically, Claire is not very interested in playing the college admissions game, but Dani is resolute about getting into Yale, which she believes will lift her and her mother out of the working class.

Another recent YA release, Ed Lin’s David Tung Can’t Have a Girlfriend Until He Gets Into an Ivy League College, is “college admissions fiction” at its most blatant, beginning on the first page:

I was ranked eighth out of a class of 240. If I could end the year in sixth or seventh place, that would be a major win. […] My school is a public institution based in a landlocked town in northern New Jersey known for receiving 20-25 Ivy League college admissions offers every year. […] We’re the only school on the East Coast where about 80% of the students are Asian American, nearly all Chinese, and many with immigrant parents.

Unsurprisingly, the primary tension in the novel involves David’s attempts to square his nascent romantic relationships with the all-encompassing demand to build a perfect admissions portfolio. And, like Dani in Parachutes, David is a working-class outsider enveloped in a cluster of affluence.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

Categories YA

You can’t get away with anything pretentious with YA

From The Bookseller:

1. Can you sum up The Gifted, the Talented and Me in one sentence?

It’s a funny novel about a proudly ordinary teenager who gets sent (against his wishes) to a school for gifted and talented children, and has to find a way to somehow fit in.
 
2. What inspired the book?

Like a lot of teenagers, my son is more interested in his phone than in books. He loves comedy, and when I found myself looking for something funny for him to read, I realised that in amongst all the tearjerkers and dystopias, there was very little to choose from. So I decided that I’d just have to write one for him myself.

. . . .

5. What’s the best thing about writing for young adults?

You can’t get away with anything pretentious with a young audience. If you’re writing YA you have to keep your feet on the ground and stay focussed on telling an interesting story.
 
6. What was your favourite book as a teenager?

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend, which was in some ways the inspiration for this novel.

7. What is your top writing tip?

Just get something – anything – down, and worry about getting it right later. Don’t let your anxieties about whether or not it’s any good (which afflict every writer) stop the flow of words.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Categories YA

Rewriting The Rules of Young Adult Fiction

From Elle:

In a photo studio high above midtown Manhattan, five of the most accomplished new voices in young adult fiction have gathered. While getting glammed up, Tomi Adeyemi, Akwaeke Emezi, Elizabeth Acevedo, Angie Thomas, and Nic Stone chat about everything from preferred moisturizers to career updates, the latter of which there are several. Only yesterday, Emezi’s Pet was named a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature—a prize Acevedo nabbed the previous year with The Poet X. Stone was gearing up to release three new books (JackpotClean Getaway, and Shuri). Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone, which reportedly landed her a seven-figure deal, was being adapted by Fox 2000/Lucasfilm. And Thomas’s The Hate U Give was holding strong at or near the top of the New York Times Young Adult Hardcover Best Sellers list (141 weeks and counting).

The room is buzzing with laughter and mutual admiration, but also solemnity. After all, less than a decade ago, such a scene might have been hard to imagine. An annual study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin found that of the 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, only 94 were about black people. The late Walter Dean Myers, who’d written over 100 books about young people of color, took the publishing industry to task in a Times op-ed: “Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity. What is the message when some children are not represented in those books?… There is work to be done.” In the years since, to the benefit of all young readers, that work is being done: In 2018, those numbers nearly quadrupled. And the authors in this room—and countless more outside of it—are just getting started. “[Growing up], I was always searching for brown girls and black girls in literature that felt like they were written with love,” Acevedo says. Here, she and four of her peers share their influences, their creative process, and the very real impact of representation.

. . . .

Expertly weaving together West African mythology with current social justice themes, Tomi Adeyemi’s blockbuster debut novel, Children of Blood and Bone, follows a teen on a quest to restore magic to her homeland after a ruthless king kills her mother. The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon named it the show’s inaugural summer book-club pick, Rick Famuyiwa (Dope) was tapped to direct the film version, and early profiles wondered, “Is Tomi Adeyemi the new J. K. Rowling?”

Meanwhile, the second title in her Legacy of Orïsha trilogy, Children of Virtue and Vengeance, continues to build upon the hype. Summing up the sustained frenzy surrounding her work, the 26-year-old San Diego–based author says, “It’s very surreal.”

In spite of the intensity of the whirlwind—or perhaps because of it—Adeyemi wants to be perfectly frank. “A lot of authenticity comes from laziness, where I don’t have the energy to pretend,” she explains. Naturally, a slew of young writers are now looking to Adeyemi for tips on the creative process, and here, she makes a point of being equally candid about the most crucial step: revision. “The number one thing I tell people is, ‘Yo, my books are bad for a long-ass time.’ But my theory is, no matter what you do, you have a lot of shit to wade through, so you might as well be doing something you love.”

But before she even began wading through the many drafts, a literal downpour helped inspire the world of Orïsha. While visiting Salvador, Brazil, on a research trip, Adeyemi ducked into a gift shop to stay dry. There she saw a postcard with an illustration of a West African deity, and the entire world of Blood and Bone emerged “almost fully formed” in her head, she says. “When I try to make representation quantifiable, it’s like, ‘Let me show you the income I’m generating from seeing myself in a gift shop by chance.’”

. . . .

While working as an eighth grade english teacher in Prince George’s County, Maryland, Elizabeth Acevedo fielded a question from a student that made her think differently about the poetry she’d been writing for most of her life: “Where are the books that sound and look like us?”

“Here was an opportunity to give this child a book, something she could carry in her book bag,” says Acevedo, 31. ”Something she could refer back to even if I wasn’t in the room.” Acevedo quickly got to work—not just plugging away at the novel in verse that would become The Poet X, but scouring the internet to learn about the nuts and bolts of the publishing world. “I started going to conferences and just paying attention—following other authors, and being like, ‘Okay, let me demystify this for myself.’ ”

Needless to say, her research paid off. The Poet X considers, with unflinching focus, what it means to step into womanhood as a young person of color, and the feelings of shame and confusion that often come along with it. It has been a fixture on the New York Times Young Adult Best Sellers list and has won numerous awards. But even more meaningful are the many emails Acevedo receives from readers with messages like, “You wrote me down.”

. . . .

While Acevedo is undoubtedly a publishing success story—her third novel, Clap When You Land, arrives May 5—she’s looking forward to a day when work like hers is the rule and not the exception. “We need more writers of color who are given space beyond their first book,” she says. “We need more editors, copy editors, graphic designers. It has to be across the industry, from the marketer to the publicist. If it’s just writers, the creativity is there, but the machines behind them that get these books into the spaces they need to be in—mindfully—will be lacking.”

Link to the rest at Elle

Categories YA

Give Kids Good Books And They’ll Love Reading Forever

From The Huffington Post:

Is it weird that I’m almost 30 and my favorite books are kid’s books?

The first book I read this year was Renee Watson’s 2018 children’s novel “Piecing Me Together.” I picked it up thanks to its beautiful cover and relatively short chapters. But those brief sections of text held a complex story about a young Black girl trying to navigate identity, privilege and history in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, that my adult self found wholly relatable.

Sales of children’s books and young adult, or YA, fiction have boomed in recent years, especially for books that tackle mature subject matter, from gender and sexuality in Alex Gino’s “George,” to the movement for Black lives as featured in Angie Thomas’ “The Hate U Give.” In Jenny Han’s 2014 book “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before,” kids can learn lessons about love and friendship in the 21st century; in R.J. Palacio’s 2012 book “Wonder,” they can develop language around chronic illness and acceptance; through Tiffany Jackson’s “Monday’s Not Coming,” they can get a better grasp on headline-making stories, such as that of the missing Black and brown girls in Washington, D.C.

. . . .

Some of the most popular books currently on bookstands are intended for younger readers. There are so many graphic novels, chapter books, picture books and poetry collections written just for kids, all of which teach them important lessons on life that grown-ups will get a kick out of too. While at 28 years old, I’m devouring these titles, sadly the intended audience is barely nibbling on the rich literature available to them.

. . . .

A love of reading and storytelling sets kids up for socioeconomic success as they grow through life. But if the numbers are to be believed, as kids advance in age, they tend to fall out of love with reading. And who can blame them, really, when what they’re told to read becomes increasingly dense and outdated as they make their way through school? Common Core standards have long been criticized for taking the fun out of English class, as students are given nonfiction and articles to read since that’s the type of content they’ll encounter in college. Just before this school year began, Florida’s Department of Education unveiled their student reading list for Kindergarten through 12th grade. With few exceptions, most of the books on the list were published between 1800 and 1950 and featured mostly white characters penned by mostly white male authors.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post

For the record, PG does not agree with the premise that correlating the race and gender of an author with those of a reader is the key to permitting a child or teenager with a book.

PG will note that JK Rowling certainly knew/knows how to connect with boys with her books. Nicholas Sparks seems to know how to connect with female readers.

See also Fox in the Hen House? Romance Authors You Didn’t Know Are Men and Meet the Male Writers Who Hide Their Gender to Attract Female Readers.

See also The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand, featuring testosterone-poisoned Howard Roark, and Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, who, if PG remembers correctly, was 18 years old when she started writing the book, which many would have considered completely unsuitable for a young woman in her time.

A Different Look at YA Novels

From Publishers Weekly:

I don’t celebrate my Indian culture. I never have. I don’t know how to, because I was raised around ​it, not ​in it. Growing up, it was as if I was front and center in a dark theater watching my Indian relatives and family friends on the big screen like a Bollywood film. I didn’t ​feel Indian. Instead, I felt worthless.

Behind closed doors, my family’s way of life, our secret culture, was that of isolation, conflict, and abuse—a culture of dysfunction. My family’s culture of dysfunction was the lens through which I saw everything Indian. There wasn’t a single day of my youth that I experienced my Indian-ness independent of the culture of dysfunction, therefore the two became inextricably linked for me and transformed into a strange blend of otherness and pain.

I’m not alone. Many of the diverse teens I treat live in unique versions of cultures of dysfunction—innumerable combinations of abuse, neglect, parental drug use, parental mental illness, and/or other severe adverse childhood experiences. These teens become trapped in negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, a result of the medically proven brain changes that can result from trauma of all types. In addition, alienation from and repulsion by their birth culture(s) can become ingrained because they’re raised in cultures of dysfunction.

As a child and adolescent psychiatrist, I can tell you it’s difficult, sometimes impossible, for these teens to move past their traumatic struggles when their brains are hardwired by it. They can become stuck in a survivor mode of poor decision making as a culture of dysfunction becomes the blueprint for future relationships, leaving them prone to an endless cycle of repeating and recreating with others what they’ve endured at home.

. . . .

This brings me to YA fiction. Some of my diverse teen patients enduring cultures of dysfunction find solace and temporary escape in YA fantasy, dystopia, or paranormal books. There are some, however, who seek to find themselves in diverse, realistic YA. But they usually can’t because, currently, most of it celebrates different cultures. Most of it includes at least one functional parent or family member who protects against the occurrence of a culture of dysfunction and thus makes it possible for the birth culture(s) to be appreciated, a tremendous advantage when it comes to rising above adversity.

When I was a teen, I couldn’t find any Indian or Indian-American YA novels. Thankfully there are some now, but the thing is, I can’t relate to any of them besides the ones I’ve written. More importantly, enough teens living in the complex dynamics of a culture of dysfunction have told me that they can’t see themselves in diverse YA fiction, including realistic bestsellers, that happen to be by or about people of their same background.

. . . .

YA fiction needs to expand its boundaries beyond safe, popular stories that only affirm and praise different cultures. It needs to push past the expectation that all diverse teens can conquer adversity in a tolerable way. It needs to depict the ugliness of when a culture of dysfunction hijacks birth culture.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly


A Point of View on ‘Point of View’

From Publishers Weekly:

When I’m prepping for a sales call we pull all the ARCs for that list and set them up in piles like mini skyscrapers. I start at the roof and have a look through each floor of the continually shrinking building until we are back down to the foundation which, in an inspired architectural stroke, was crafted to resemble a wooden stool.

I was going through the Random House fall piles last week when a book in the pile brought me up short, Point of View by Patrick Bard. The tagline was “Addicted to Porn. Powerless to Stop. Until…”  My first thought was, “Wow, that was bold.” My second thought was twofold. Could I put this out in the store without incident? (We’ll return to that shortly.) Would school libraries bring it in? My third thought was “Is it good?” Which is the nub of the matter.

A local high school librarian I queried addressed  that point succinctly. “In the end it will be all about whether or not it is done well. I probably wouldn’t buy it for our library, mostly because I don’t think kids would choose it. They would assume if we had that book at school it must be a morality tale and not realistic, plus there’s the embarrassment factor of even having it around teachers and peers. I’m always hesitant of the “first of its kind” book on any trending issue because it seems like publishers usually have to make a few mistakes before they get it right. On that topic you would have to walk a very fine line between realistic (but not sensational) and helpful (but not scolding).”

Other librarians I spoke with had the same reaction. This was a topic that would require threading the needle. It had to be done well. I read Point of View and found that the book is exactly the book my school partners thought it had to be. It is well written, not preachy, realistic without being gratuitous, grounded and not sensational, well researched, compact and compelling. The author, Patrick Bard, is a well established, award-winning French author who has never been translated into English before.

. . . .

The story follows Lucas, a young teen, who is searching for a superhero video clip online, hits a porn link, and falls down the rabbit hole. When his virus-ridden laptop is given over for repair, Lucas is exposed. The story explores the perspectives of Lucas’s parents as well, in a tough, unsentimental manner. With all his devices taken away, his physical health in the toilet, and while being driven to a clinic, Lucas literally jumps out of a speeding car. He enters the clinic recovering from injuries of many kinds.

Bard researched his story extensively, talking to teenagers and teachers, clinicians, anthropologists, and psychologists. In his author’s note Bard states, “Lucas is the hero of Point of View. On the outside, he seems like an average teenage geek. At least that’s what his parents believe him to be. But once his outline addiction to porn is revealed, his virtual world crumbles, and so does he. He’s got a long, hard journey to being a whole person again. As I wrote this book, I did not want to make judgments. I have not judged Lucas. I have not judged his parents. I have not judged any of the characters. I merely want readers to have empathy for Lucas and be aware that help and recovery are possible.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

In Y.A., Where Is the Line Between Criticism and Cancel Culture?

From The New Yorker:

Late last month, the author Kosoko Jackson withdrew the publication of his début young-adult novel, “A Place for Wolves,” which had been slated for a March 26th release. The book, which follows two American boys as they fall in love against the backdrop of the Kosovo War, had garnered advance praise(“a tension-filled war setting, beautiful young love, family strength and all heart,” one blurb enthused). It also had the imprimatur of the #ownvoices hashtag, in which the main characters of a book share a marginalized identity with the writer—Jackson is black and queer. But a disparaging Goodreads review, which took issue with Jackson’s treatment of the war and his portrayal of Muslims, had a snowball effect, particularly on Twitter. Eventually, Jackson tweeted a letter of apology to “the Book Community,” stating, “I failed to fully understand the people and the conflict that I set around my characters. I have done a disservice to the history and to the people who suffered.”

The Jackson fracas came just weeks after another début Y.A. author, Amélie Wen Zhao, pulled her novel before it was published, also due to excoriating criticisms of it on Twitter and Goodreads. The book, a fantasy tale called “Blood Heir,” depicts an empire that enslaves magical minorities, known as Affinites, and where “oppression is blind to skin color,” as the promotional material phrased it. Critics felt that Zhao’s slavery narrative had erased a specifically African-American experience, and they objected to a scene in which an apparently black slave girl dies in an apparently white character’s arms, in an act of self-sacrifice. Zhao, who emigrated from China when she was eighteen, said that her book drew on “the epidemic of indentured labor and human trafficking prevalent in many industries across Asia, including in my own home country.”

Like Jackson, Zhao tweeted an apology to “the Book Community,” writing, “It was never my intention to bring harm to any reader of this valued community, particularly those for whom I seek to write and empower. As such, I have decided to ask my publisher not to publish ‘Blood Heir’ at this time.”

. . . .

Even casual observers of Y.A. controversies might have seen the Jackson and Zhao incidents, coming so close together, as an acceleration of an already established trend. In 2017, Keira Drake pushed back the release date of her début, “The Continent,” when a groundswell of Twitter critics accused the book of racism. That same year, Laurie Forest’s Y.A. fantasy début, “The Black Witch,” likewise became the object of intense scrutiny, weeks ahead of its publication, after detractors slammed it as a white-savior tale. The writer Kat Rosenfield’s New York magazine piece “The Toxic Drama of YA Twitter,” which centered on the “Black Witch” outcry, revealed that many of Forest’s fiercest critics had not read her novel, and others conflated the perspectives of racist characters with that of the author herself. (The review that set off the cancel campaign against “The Black Witch,” by the blogger and bookseller Shauna Sinyard, “consisted largely of pull quotes featuring the book’s racist characters saying or doing racist things,” Rosenfield wrote.)

. . . .

The Y.A. world is often credibly depicted as a censorious, woker-than-thou hothouse, and never more vividly than in Rosenfield’s piece; the article has become a Rosetta stone for anyone seeking purchase on Y.A.’s callout-and-cancel culture. The community gadfly and bête noire Jesse Singal’s recap of the Zhao controversy in Tablet carried the headline “How a Twitter Mob Derailed an Immigrant Female Author’s Budding Career.” “From the outside, this is starting to look like a conversation focused less on literature than obedience,” Graham wrote in Slate. The Times commissioned two first-person essays, one by Drake, on the “shameful stain” of these eruptions and the “tyrannical coddling of overly sensitive readers.”

“What happened to Jackson is frightening,” the author Jennifer Senior wrote, also in the Times. “Purity tests are the tools of fanatics, and the quest for purity ultimately becomes indistinguishable from the quest for power.” “A Place for Wolves,” Senior continued, “should have failed or succeeded in the marketplace of ideas. But it was never given the chance. The mob got to it first.”

. . . .

A major contributor to blowups like those around Zhao and Jackson, according to many observers I spoke with, is the homogeneity of the publishing world, which remains, on the editorial side, eighty-two per cent white and less than two per cent black, according to a 2015 survey by Lee & Low Books. People of color face economic and racial barriers to breaking into the industry: entry-level positions in editing or literary agenting, which are mostly situated in New York City, offer barely sustainable wages that favor those with existing support systems and family wealth. The result is that the people who are most qualified to weigh in on a text’s treatment of marginalized identities are often the least likely to do so.

. . . .

The marketing manager is concerned, she said, that a skittish industry will turn its back on literature by or about minorities, deeming such projects too dangerous to sign. “I could see a world where the people in power start to become afraid that acquiring diversely means they are more at risk,” she wrote. The editor sounded a similar note. “I worry that my colleagues are just shying away completely from publishing anything that might attract controversy or negative attention,” she said. “We don’t want to censor authors, to only publish from a place of fear and reaction.”

. . . .

[T]he loudest kid-lit agitators . . . view their critiques as constructive, not destructive. When Zhao apologized and withdrew her book, Y.A. stakeholders largely greeted her words with support and encouragement, seeing them as the result of being “called in”—reminded of one’s values as a community member—rather than “called out.” “This is a beautiful apology,” the author Ellen Oh, who had used Twitter to challenge “Blood Heir” ’s “colorblindedness” and “lack of awareness,” tweeted. Oh and another author, L. L. McKinney, are often cited as the ringleaders of the online pushback against “Blood Heir,” but, as the reviewer Gin Jenny pointed out, neither of them “were calling for the book to be pulled. . . . They both flagged problems; that’s all they did.” In a post, the blogger recapped the Zhao drama: “From my perspective, this was a successful interaction!” she wrote. “Some people identified problems in a book that had not yet been published. Not wanting to publish the book with those heretofore unnoticed problems, the author has opted to delay publication. But the coverage of the incident has been very ‘gasp! Censorship!’ ” (After the controversy went viral, Oh, facing a flood of harassment, deleted her Twitter account—her perceived excesses, and those of McKinney, met a swift and brutal backlash, which itself reveals something about the underlying power dynamics of these tempests.)

. . . .

At a recent pen America panel on “callouts, correctness, and culture wars,” the former New York Review of Books editor Ian Buruma seemed to suggest that marginalized people’s desire for authentic representation had a propagandistic edge. Sensitivity readers, he said, forced authors to create ennobled images—to describe an idealized world, not a real one. But the task of a sensitivity reader, properly understood, is to evaluate whether a given portrayal rings true or false, the Y.A. editor said. Depicting a character accurately and resonantly is literary work, a matter of craft. Too often, she continued, publishers insist on a false dichotomy between social justice and aesthetics, construing “sensitivity readers as troubleshooting, as something additional, rather than something that is intrinsic to characterization.”

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

From The Holocaust Encyclopedia:

During the spring of 1933, Nazi student organizations, professors, and librarians made up long lists of books they thought should not be read by Germans. Then, on the night of May 10, 1933, Nazis raided libraries and bookstores across Germany. They marched by torchlight in nighttime parades, sang chants, and threw books into huge bonfires. On that night more than 25,000 books were burned. Some were works of Jewish writers, including Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud. Most of the books were by non-Jewish writers, including such famous Americans as Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, and Sinclair Lewis, whose ideas the Nazis viewed as different from their own and therefore not to be read.

. . . .

May 10, 1933 
Joseph Goebbels speaks at book burning in Berlin 

Forty thousand people gather to hear German propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels speak in Berlin’s Opera Square. Goebbels condemns works written by Jews, liberals, leftists, pacifists, foreigners, and others as “un-German.” Nazi students begin burning books. Libraries across Germany are purged of “censored” books. Goebbels proclaims the “cleansing of the German spirit.”

Link to the rest at The Holocaust Encyclopedia

From The Jewish Book Council:

Readers may be familiar with the photograph of the Nazi-orchestrated book burning in front of a German university in May, 1933. What is not widely known is that Hitler’s government established a rigid system of book censorship and an index of undesirable books that existed until the end of the war. Inherent in Nazi ideology was the claim to total domination of the world of ideas.

In his new book, Harmful and Undesirable: Book Censorship in Nazi Germany, Guenter Lewy informs us that 5,485 book titles were banned by the end of the war. The entire censorship process was implemented by a number of competing bureaucracies, but mainly the Reich Chamber of Literature (RSK). The banned books included those of alleged moral corruption, works of Marxism and pacifism, books and articles perceived as damaging the martial spirit and morale of the German people and those propagating Catholic or other confessional ideas, and works that fell into the catch designation of “failure to live up to what was to be expected in the new Germany.”

. . . .

Until 1938, the struggle against Jewish books was focused on those written by assimilated German Jews. The list of banned Jewish authors included such writers as Vicky Baum, Emil Ludwig, Lion Feuchtwanger, Franz Kafka, Arthur Schnitzler, Kurt Tucholsky, Franz Werfel, and Arnold and Stefan Zweig. In addition, the Ministry of Propaganda warned the book trade that no mention was to be made anywhere of the works of Heinrich Heine. One Nazi journal pronounced that “Heine is not a poet, he is a Jew.” Once World War II started in 1939, the works of Jewish authors worldwide were either banned or placed on an index of undesirable books.

Link to the rest at The Jewish Book Council

What Austin Teens Wish Publishers Knew

From Publishers Weekly:

Last week I blogged about what some of our local teens are reading, but I also like to check in with our teens toward the beginning of the year to see what they’re looking for, what they’re sick of, and what they wish they could tell publishers. So what’s on their minds? Well, as a group they definitely don’t love covers with real people on them these days, are tired of tropes and predictable plot lines, and (most of them) are enjoying the YA horror trend, as long as it doesn’t get too gory or steamy.

. . . .

CONSENSUS: Series, within reason:

  • “Shorter series. I often like duologies as long as the second book can hold its own up against the first. For series, more than six is definitely a NO.” –Aurora
  • “Trilogies work. They offer enough room for authors to resolve plot holes in their work, and it’s not so long that the writing gets stale.” –Gustavo
  • “I prefer trilogies, but there can be exceptions like Harry Potter. Duologies are fine, but they often feel like one big book.” –Ivy

. . . .

What 10 trends or tropes are you SO tired of?

  • Love triangles
  • Terminally ill main characters
  • Instant love or best friends
  • Emotionless guys
  • The mean girl / enemy at school
  • Popularity tropes (it honestly doesn’t exist in the same way anymore)
  • “Bad Boy” characters
  • Teens not stressing about college or never doing homework and still getting good grades. Also teens with no extracurricular commitments.
  • Not talking to adults about serious issues
  • Titles that are like: The __ __ of __ __

. . . .

What do you personally want to see less of this year?

  • “Dystopian novels because they are always too cliché, too similar to others, or scientifically impossible.” –Aurora
  • “The guy always falling for the girl. Guys in books get rejections all the time, but sometimes girls get their hearts broken too, rather than getting a perfect romantic resolution.”–Sofia
  • “Fewer chances for people who have been called out for doing sketchy stuff to get published.”–Xander
  • “Fewer retellings, more original stories.” –Ivy
  • “In high fantasies where the guy or girl is abusive, but they reveal those actions were because they liked the other person.” – Sumayyah

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

8 Ya Authors on the Enduring Impact of Speak

From Book Riot:

 This month marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of Laurie Halse Anderson’s phenomenal, groundbreaking YA book Speak.

Speak was the first YA book I ever read while I myself was a young adult. The book hit shelves when I was 14, and I vividly remember heading deep into the corner of my local library and finding it on the shelf. I flipped through, immediately captivated by Melinda’s voice on the page. Her story hooked me and stayed with me throughout my teen years and my twenties, and I revisited the book again a few years ago. It not only still resonated, but I brought new things and gleaned fresh insights into the book, too. Melinda? She’s really quite funny. Despite the tragedy she’s experienced as the victim of a sexual assault, her humor further pulls at the reader’s heart and reminds them that even those who’ve suffered something unimaginable are still three-dimensional, complex individuals.

. . . .

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Speak, seven authors from all parts of the YA world have shared how the book has impacted them in both their personal lives and their writing lives (if those things are even extricable).

. . . .

JENNIFER MATHIEU, AUTHOR OF MOXIE

It’s been my true privilege to have experienced Laurie Halse Anderson’s SPEAK as a reader, a writer of young adult novels, and a high school English teacher. Many years ago when I was an aspiring novelist, Laurie’s SPEAK reassured me that teenagers crave honesty, complexity, nuance, and rough edges in their stories—they don’t need morality tales nor will they read them. Melinda’s journey as a survivor of sexual assault, crafted by Laurie with such authenticity and voice, served as a touchstone for me as I attempted to create my own stories about realistic teens in the world. What an honor to get to sit on a panel with Laurie at the Brooklyn Book Festival years later and have the opportunity to let her know how much her writing has meant to me. As a teacher, I have also seen how SPEAK has empowered and validated my own students; when I taught the novel last year to my tenth graders in Houston, I had three separate students share with me how Melinda’s story of survival and healing had helped them cope with their own assaults. Were it not for Laurie’s novel, I would not have been able to put one of those students in touch with our wonderful school social worker—until reading SPEAK she had not talked to anyone about what had happened to her. My love for Laurie, for Melinda, and for this new classic of young adult literature knows no bounds. May this much-needed story live on for 20, 40, 60 more years—and beyond.

. . . .

TANITA S. DAVIS, MARE’S WAR

1999: I’d just published my first (long out of print) book with a protagonist who, looking back, was Mary Sue perfect, and therefore, nothing bad happened to her. I thought YA lit was supposed to be like what I’d read growing up—cautionary tales and polite fictions which promised girls that if they behaved, All Would Be Well. When I read SPEAK it rattled my preconceptions…because it was True, a kind of true that cut to the bone. I was, frankly, a little scared that YA lit could BE like that—maybe was SUPPOSED to be like that. SPEAK challenges me as a writer to be that honest, to speak my truth, and to stand by it unflinchingly.

Link to the rest at Book Riot