Wednesday, June 1, 2011

In which I Talk about Stupid Amazon Reviews and Possibly Piss Some People Off

I'll confess it. I am the person that reads the reviews on Amazon. I can’t help but read a couple of five-star reviews and one-star reviews before buying a book. Part of it’s because I’m nosy, but part of it is also because I love a good train wreck, and there’s nothing funnier than a typo filled rant about the quality of a book.

But recently I’ve been noticing a trend that I find a more than a little irritating, and it follows the line of thought that this review of Bleeding Violet did:

Bleeding Violet feels like a bondage smut book toned down for teens, and it doesn't work. Movies have ratings and books have genres to prevent children from reading or seeing what may not be good for them, and I think Bleeding Violet should definitely not be in the YA fiction genre. It has too much unnecessary sex, drugs, swearing, violence, self-violence, stealing, lying, and hatred. There is a place for these issues, but it's not in the teen sci-fi/fantasy section, and they need to be treated appropriately.

Here’s another one for the Duff:

I was really excited to read The Duff after hearing so many good things, but I was sorely disappointed after reading. I thought the book would be about a girl coming to grips with her self esteem issues, and negative outlook on life. Instead it's about angry sex, and emotional abuse. Honestly, there is so much sex, and gratuitously described, that I felt like it belonged on the romance shelf. Definitely not in YA (and the sex scenes aren't even that great). I am not a fan of censoring things for kids, but this has so many incredibly bad messages there's no way I'd let my niece read it.

So let’s look at the reviews. They both have the same overall message: this is not appropriate for YA. Okay? But why? The first review states that Bleeding Violet has “too much unnecessary sex, drugs, swearing, violence, self-violence, stealing, lying, and hatred.” The second review states that in the DUFF “there is so much sex, and gratuitously described, that I felt like it belonged on the romance shelf. Definitely not in YA.”

So my question is: where do they belong?

The first reviewer seems to be hinting that those kinds of topics only belong in what most people call “issue books”. That’s great and all, but sex and lying and drugs don’t just happen to kids dealing with a friend dying or being raped. They kind of happen to everyone (the sex and lying and drugs, not the raping. Although the statistic on that is pretty depressing). In my high school (many moons ago), people were having sex and a few girls even got pregnant. There were drugs and drunk driving and all of the general stupidity that you see in the “real” world. You know, because high school IS a microcosm of the rest of the world.

You kids quit reading those books!
Look, YA means Young Adult. These aren’t books for children. I know that gets confusing because publishers like to lump YA in with middle grade and chapter books and picture books. But YA books are books for adults trying out their independence for the first time. Teenagers make mistakes, just like adults do. They make different mistakes because they're new at the whole making-their-own-decisions thing. But that doesn't make them children.

By reading about the consequences of other people’s mistakes teens can relate to a character that is more like them, that may or may not be going through the things they do. YA should be relatable, it should have flawed characters, and it should have violence and sex and lying and hateful people. Because all of those things exist, whether you like them or not.

And who decides what is appropriate and what isn’t for someone? I’ll tell you who: the person reading it.

If YAs are adults, then we should treat them as such. We should trust them to pick something up, say to themselves “Ugh, this is so not for me,” and put it down. If they don’t do that, then maybe they aren’t ready for YA, the same way they aren’t ready for the regular adult market. Hell, there are some sections of the adult market I don’t think I’ll ever be ready for. And that’s okay.

And if someone’s not ready for YA, well, there are a lot of really awesome middle grade books out there. Just because someone reads at a twelfth grade level doesn’t mean they are emotionally ready to experience twelfth grade. And that’s okay. But let’s not try to redefine what YA is or isn’t because we don’t like a book. Because, really, that’s just being selfish.


E. Kristin Anderson said...

This post is really freaking awesome. You are awesome. And it says all the things I want to say to those people who want to pour a bucket of Clorox all over the YA market. There's room out there for lots of different kinds of books.

The woman who brings up ratings irks me, too. YA is not a rating (or a genre, but that's a rant for another day). It's not really even a reading level. It's a point of view. There should be no expectation that a YA book will or won't include certain topics. I wish we could find a way to educate consumers to understand this, but I'm not sure how to go about it without being an angry mob. Sigh.

Shelli Cornelison said...

THANK YOU! They're fiction. They're for young adults. Young adult means teen for publishing purposes. And those books belong right where they are. If a kid isn't ready for the content of a particular book, then a responsible adult should make that call -- for THAT KID ONLY. Kids who are old enough to choose their own books are most likely ready for anything marketed as young adult.

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