I’m answering this publicly because I love this really thoughtful response about the “John Greenification” of YA which came up as part of Laurie Halse Anderson’s excellent AMA over at Reddit.
My thoughts on this mirror Laurie’s: I think that John Green is being called out not because he’s John Green (as I noted in the response she linked, I have no disrespect for Green nor his work in the least and I do think he’s a feminist and that he is trying to be the best member of the YA community that he can be). He’s being called out because he’s what privilege looks like in our society — it’s white, heterosexual, and male. Those are not the whole of him, but they are the parts that give him a tremendous advantage in the world. I do not for one second believe he takes advantage of them. I do, however, believe he has significant advantages because of them.
This, as Laurie points out, becomes evident when you look at how he’s portrayed in the media. He’s “saving” YA. He’s leading a “revolution” in realistic fiction and in realistic fiction being put onto the big screen. He’s held on this pedestal of what YA should strive to be. This isn’t just the mainstream media though. He is being used as a marketing tool in a ton of recently released or forthcoming YA titles, even when it makes no sense why there’s a comparison. Instead of being a useful thing — “readers who like John Green might like x-book, too” — it’s become a means of reducing YA fiction to one thing. It’s reduced YA fiction into “good” and “bad,” rather than a spectrum where books can fall anywhere along the line. Or where a book’s merit and value are with the reader his or her self.
John Green writes good books. He has a loyal fan base. This is GREAT stuff.
But it’s not the only stuff out there.
What Laurie proposes is exactly what I hope comes of this on-going conversation. We need to keep talking about other books. We need to keep speaking up on behalf of long-time authors who deserve the recognition they don’t see as much as they should. We need to keep talking about the books written by new authors.
We especially need to keep talking up books written by people of color, people who aren’t straight, people who don’t identify with those things which are so readily seen and promoted. It’s our job to do that.
And while I think John Green tries — he has done videos highlighting tons of under appreciated titles — the thing about being in a place of privilege is that you can’t always step back far enough to see where and how your voice is being used. I think this is especially true for someone like Green who is likable, good hearted, and DOESN’T intend to do any harm or cause any problems. A lot of what he sees as success he earned by hard work.
The problem is that so many other people have worked as hard — if not harder — and their work never gets that same attention or praise.
Laurie’s Speak was the 75th highest selling children’s backlist title last year, according to Publishers Weekly. Sarah Dessen’s The Moon and More sold over 100,000 copies as a front list hardcover book. If you look at those numbers and the numbers of other titles that appeared on the NYT YA list, there are discrepancies I can’t figure out because the NYT’s system is a broken one. But it’s one I refer to again and again because it’s the quickest indicator of quality to the general reading public (and even the general non-reading public). And I think it’s such a great thing to look at because it shows you precisely what the problem with such a system is — it’s a reflection of our own social systems. It’s primarily white men who dominate in the arena of “main stream” fiction. It’s primarily white men who are seen as “the best” and who continue to make sales and be recognized quickly and easily. It’s primarily white men who, because of this system, continue to benefit from more money, more marketing, and more opportunities that simply are not afforded to others.
It’s not their fault; it’s our fault.
We can help change these things though. And we do that by pointing these things out, by not finding it necessarily to apologize for pointing these things out, and by using our voices to keep talking about the things we love that deserve more attention. We keep conversations going and flowing. We don’t — and we can’t — shut them down.
I was just talking with a few friends on Twitter the other day based on an exchange started by another user who commented on how she feels like it’s practically impossible to broach this subject without first including several paragraphs of disclaimers about how we KNOW this isn’t John Green’s fault, we KNOW he isn’t doing it on purpose, of COURSE his books are good, of COURSE he’s a valuable part of the community and YA puzzle, etc.
I have actually gone into mild panic mode when bringing up his name in almost any context that doesn’t involve pure, unadulterated, glowing praise. My heart is beating fast as I’m writing THIS, and I’m not even saying anything remotely negative.
The thing is, the vast majority of people I know who talk about this, like LHA and catagator point out above, are not criticizing John Green the person, but the institution that is holding him up at the expense of others. Almost every person who has written on this subject is talking about THE CULTURE, not the man.
Unfortunately, his name is firmly tied to the current culture, and we CAN’T talk about it without also talking about him. And yes, that sucks, but we have to internalize the distinction between criticizing HIM and criticizing THE CULTURE AROUND HIM.
Everyone KNOWS this is not John Green’s fault, that he didn’t ask for this, and that he tries to be a good person and has done a lot of good work. He’s a figurehead. And we should be able to discuss this without feeling like everything will come crashing down and we’ll have to spend the next several days of our life explaining that it’s not about the person, it’s about the culture, not the person, the culture.
Anyway, Laurie and cat explained the concept of institutionalized patriarchy and the media influence above already, so I won’t repeat. I’ll just say again what I said on Twitter… I wish I could have this conversation one time without feeling like my heart’s going to explode from anxiety every time I type “John Green.”
Anyway, forgive my nervous hand-wringing, there are good suggestions for helping change the culture above. Talk back to the media.
I realize I haven’t been giving recs on here and so on. Sorry, it’s been a busy few months. But here’s a list of all the stuff I’ve read this year so far:
1) Spookygirl: Paranormal Investigater by Jill Baguchinsky
2) Demonosity by Amanda Ashby
3) The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black (personal fav)
4) Wicked Lovely series companion: Desert Tales by Melissa Marr
5) Red by Alison Cherry
6) Many Worlds Trilogy Book 1: Tandem by Anna Jazarb
7) Crewel World Book 2: Altered by Gennifer Albin
8) Breath Book 2: Resist by Sarah Crossan
9) Suite Scarlett Book 1 by Maureen Johnson
10) Georgina Kincaid series Book 2: Succubus on Top by Richelle Mead (adult series)
11) Elemental Assassin series Book 4: Tangled Threads by Jennifer Estep (adult series) (personal fav)
12) Circle Reforged series Book 3: Battle Magic by Tamora Pierce (personal fav)
13) Witch Finder Trilogy Book 1: Witch Finder by Ruth Warburton
14) The Bone Season Book 1: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon (adult series)
15) These Broken Stars Book 1: These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
16) Birthright Trilogy Book 3: In the Age of Love and Chocolate by Gabrielle Zevin
17) The Naturals Book 1: The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (personal fav)
18) Palace of Spies Book 1: Palace of Spies by Sarah Zettel
19) Defy series Book 1: Defy by Sara Larson
20) The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
21) Splintered Trilogy Book 2: Unhinged by A. G. Howard (personal fav)
22) Altered series Book 2: Erased by Jennifer Rush
23) Raven Cycle series Book 2: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
24) AKA series Book 2: Going Rogue by Robin Benway
25) Dragon King Chronicles Book 2: Warrior by Ellen Oh
26) Everneath Trilogy Book 3: Evertrue by Brodi Ashton
27) Avalon Book 1: Avalon by Mindee Arnett (personal fav)
28) Tempest Trilogy Book 3: Timestorm by Julie Cross
29) Cruel Beauty series Book 1: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
30) Minders by Michelle Jaffe
31) Madman’s Daughter Trilogy Book 2: Her Dark Curiosity by Megan Shepard (personal fav)
32) Heather Wells Book 5: The Bride Wore Size 12 by Meg Cabot (adult, but I think older teens can read it without issues, it’s pretty clean) (personal fav)
33) Doll Bones by Holly Black
34) Finishing School Book 2: Curtsies and Conspiracies by Gail Carriger (personal fav)
35) Pledge Trilogy Book 3: The Offering by Kimberly Derting
36) Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan (look whose finally read all the John Green!)
37) Starters series Book 2: Enders by Lissa Price
Currently reading: Witching Savannah series Book 1: The Line by J. D. Horn (adult series) and Pivot Point series Book 2: Split Second by Kasie West
I shall try to be better about this from now on so you don’t have to go through another one of these lists.