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One highly opinionated feminist YA nerd's twisted, snarky and informative journey through the genre's perils, pitfalls and sparkles.

#YAMafia - my response.

I wasn’t going to respond to the #YAMafia thing (although I do wish I’d come up with a much more creative phrase) because everyone else already had an opinion on it and there were a lot of great blog posts on it already without me throwing my towel into the ring (check out Justine Larbalestier’s post, where my GoodReads friend Phoebe North was quoted). After the Bitch Media discussion that quickly turned into a fiasco, I wanted to avoid trouble. So I said I’d keep out unless I was mentioned directly. I was and, well... it was interesting.

So I’m responding.

First of all, R.J. Anderson is right. I didn’t refute the person on my blog who said “find the bitch... and kill her dead.” I honestly missed that comment. I got a little swamped under by the sheer volume of comments the original project was getting and it completely passed by me, but that’s no excuse. I should have refuted that comment and I didn’t, and I can only apologise sincerely for not doing so. I didn’t do my job properly.

I know it’s become increasingly difficult to believe for some but when I started doing the Sparkle Project in July 2010, it wasn’t part of some bully blogger snark fest or a mindless rambling session. I genuinely wanted to write something that talked about issues I worry about in a genre I love. Despite everything, I do love reading and YA. I’m an obsessive reader, I study literature at university and I love to write. Doing the reviews gave me a chance to discuss stuff I found problematic, like slut-shaming, anti-feminist attitudes directed at a teenage audience, rape culture, etc, as well as the familiar tropes of the paranormal genre, and how overused they’d become (I’ve been studying genre lately for class and it’s pretty fascinating to see how well defined a genre can become in such a short amount of time.) Yes, I did it snarkily because I wanted it to be entertaining. I understand that snark and sarcasm is subjective but I never intended to cause personal offence to any of the authors whose work I reviewed. It takes a lot of effort for me to be funny and if I failed in that aspect, and did inadvertently end up insulting people, I apologise repeatedly for that as well.

On the topic of interaction, and the hashtag that started it all, I wish I’d explained myself better. My original concerns about this topic of clique behaviour came from my “Shiver” review where Maggie Stiefvater replied directly to me. This was a hugely uncomfortable thing for me (I think reviews are primarily for readers and consumers, I really don’t feel comfortable with authors responding to any type of reviews, it’s easier and less intimidating for readers to have that safe place for discussion, etc.) and I tried to explain myself to the best of my abilities. It did feel like Stiefvater was telling me to stop doing reviews or I’d never become a published YA writer in the future, and that I should also watch out with my following review of Carrie Ryan’s “The Forest of Hands and Teeth” because Ryan was a friend of hers. I did write the most positive review of the Project for Ryan’s book because I genuinely enjoyed it, although I still had problems with it. You can check the post out here and see how it reads to you but for me at the time, and still today, it felt like a veiled threat and that made me hugely uncomfortable.

The Mafia thing wasn’t just about that; it was about watching authors tell reviewers and future authors to “be nice” or else they’d risk bad karma and people like Becca Fitzpatrick would take any opportunity to mock you about it and having her author friends congratulate her for supposedly taking the high road (the original entry has since been Flocked on LJ but is available to read on GoodReads.) It was about watching author friends give each other cover quotes when to me it felt like “doing your friends a favour” instead of judging the work based on its merits (hell, I can’t even review the book of an author who I’m friends with on LJ and twitter, it just feels too close for me.) It was about seeing authors brag about their good connections and how they helped them get publishing deals, as was the case with Aprilynne Pike and her friend Stephenie Meyer, who passed her book onto her agent Jodi Reamer. It was about hearing from other bloggers who has also been on the receiving end of bad author behaviour (said people do not want to be named so I hope you respect that, even if you don’t believe me). It was about watching bloggers be accused of something akin to censorship for discussing what they saw as extremely problematic, then twisting their words around to fit their argument better (The Book Smugglers’ review of “Sisters Red” being the prime example here, especially in the wake of the Bitch media mess). It was about watching author after author fawn over a mediocre writer with a documented history of fandom plagiarism solely because she sold well.

It was about never seeing authors or people in the YA industry discuss some of the anti-feminist attitudes prevailing in an increasingly popular trend, where a character is simply a sexy bad boy for holding a girl down on a bed against her will and saying he wants to kill her. I understand being professional, I really do, but I didn’t think then, and I still don’t, that professionalism included putting your fingers in your ears and ignoring the obvious. It’s become somewhat acceptable for writers and such to mock the “Twilight” books and talk about the anti-feminist attitudes (among the plethora of wrong those books contain) but that only happened when the books got worldwide attention because of the movie. The book had moved beyond the boundaries of teen literature and morphed into a genuine phenomenon, for better or worse. Someone once asked me why I wasted my time talking about these issues in YA but never other media, because all media is on some level responsible for these prevailing anti-female attitudes. That’s completely true, and I condemn all those attitudes in media, be it movies, books, music, politics, TV, etc. I chose YA specifically because it was seldom talked about and because it reaches an increasingly large audience of young, impressionable people. I read a lot of YA and it was something I was familiar with (I don’t own a TV so couldn’t talk too much about that, I’m terrible at analysing music and my film criticism skills need major improvement from my days of teen blogging Disney movies). I didn’t think something should get a free pass for problematic content just because it wasn’t well known, or because it was considered lesser on some level (I’ll continue to defend YA to the pain against anyone who says YA is a lesser form of literature because that’s complete BS.)

When the author stops writing the book, had edited and proofread it, gone through all the small details, passed it onto the editor, gone through more changes, gone through the entire publishing process and their work put onto shelves, that book is, to an extent, no longer theirs. At least, their own interpretation of the work is no longer the only one, and the book is open to criticism, interpretation and opinions from everyone who reads it. So authors need to be careful and understand why bloggers and reviewers often get as passionate as they do, especially when issues of feminism, sex and women in relationships come up, because we’ve got every other element of entertainment telling us certain things about how a young woman’s supposed to act and it gets frustrating to read a book telling you how bowing down to the man in your life is okay. Having said that, bloggers also need to be careful. We have the added gift of being able to edit what we say (although I seldom ever do) but we still need to be careful. With great snark comes great responsibility, and the same goes for all reviews. We should back up our snark as much as possible and present a strong argument as to why we dislike or like a book. Bloggers aren’t ‘haters’, they don’t read books because they hate them, I certainly don’t. I love reading, most of my life has been centred around books in some way and they’ve influenced me greatly. They continue to influence me. I always thought if nothing else came out of my blogging then I’d like people to start having the right conversations about this genre, which has been happening (not all my influence obviously, I’m not a particularly important blogger) and for that I’m glad. This thing got big, bigger than I expected it to. I still get wide eyed with shock when I realise just how many people have read my reviews and commented on them. This was never about pissing people off or creating enemies, it was about talking about something I was seeing and reading and wanted to see talked about further. Obviously on some level I have failed in my reviews (I’ve never been called crazy or an embarrassment to book blogging before, that’s a new one.) I’m getting better at blogging – I’m a much better reviewer now than when I started – but I’m also in a more vulnerable position, which I can’t complain about because I love to review and I’ve met so many great people through it, as well as learning a lot about my own stories. I’m not sure how to properly end this thing. Once again, I profusely apologise for not refuting the nasty comments on my blog; in that aspect I definitely failed, which I will strive to fix in my later reviews. Even if I’m the crazy embarrassment, I’m glad we’re at least having these types of conversation and I hope we continue to do so.

I’m cross-posting this to my LJ because the blogger commenting system is apparently dodgy on my blog.

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thebloodfiend said...

Well said. Personally, I think you were 100% right, but this is a brilliant refute.

Anonymous said...

I don't always agree with you (I think you were wrong about the Bitch magazine thing), but I think you write very intelligent and interesting reviews, and I would hate to see you intimidated by what amounts to a bunch of fangirls who get pissed off when someone harshes their squee.

Anonymous said...

I usually agree with you (I think you were absolutely right about the Bitch magazine thing), and I also think your reviews are both interesting and insightful, and thus, ultimately, needed. You as well as some other reviewers out there, helped make explicit a troubling, yet silent practice out here in the YA world to the extent that even the authors themselves are talking about it. That's big. And important.

Thank you.

Jackie said...

I'm new to your blog because of this who fiasco. I now follow you, and I have added you to my google reader. I think what you have to say has value even if it makes some people feel uneasy (for lack of better words).

Jessinia said...

You know what I like about your reviews? They're honest. I know that when you like or dislike something, it's because the book was good/bad (whichever one is appropriate for the review). I love reading book review blogs, but I find myself frustrated because the blogger might say "This is an AMAZING book!" and turns out, they're buddies with the author. I'm all for book bloggers and authors having a friendly relationship, but it should never get in the way of an honest review. So anyway, thank you for your work.

Chrysoula said...

I've been looking a long time for reviewers who come across as honestly discussing books rather than trying to network. A big criteria is whether or not they're willing to be negative. I keep thinking of the word 'critical', not just in the casual 'negative' usage but as we critically discuss literature. That's what I feel like I've found here. I hope all this negative feedback and mockery and gross simplification of your concerns hasn't made you reconsider what you're doing here because I think if you can stick with it there's a real chance to build a community of readers and storytellers who care about YA and paranormal fiction as more than just emotional pornography.

And I do believe all the giggling 'No YA Mafia here!' folks are right about one thing: they can't stop good books from being published and (mostly) wouldn't want to. And studying what works on audiences, and why, and how we can do it in a constructive rather than empty way will help us all. So... yeah. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

You also get mentioned in the comments on a post by Janni Lee Simner:

April (BooksandWine) said...

I agree with what you say about how reviews aren't for the author, but for the consumer. Books are expensive, and I sure as shit don't want to waste my money on a subpar book where the hero is borderline abusive. That's not my thing at all, so I actually appreciate blogs that come out and say this.

I see it as, in real life if I am doing a shitty job, I am going to get called on it. Why is it any different for books?

I don't know, it just sounds like this YAMafia thing is blown out of proportion. It sounds like The Sparkle Project is being blown out of proportion. It's like, oh, hey it's kind of a slow week in bloglandia, let's create some drama by focusing on a phrase created by some blogger. (Not that you are just some blogger, but you get my point.)

martha said...
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