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February 1, 2011 7:02 PM   Subscribe

On Friday, Bitch Magazine shared its list of 100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader. This afternoon, the magazine announced three books had been removed: "A couple of us at the office read and re-read Sisters Red, Tender Morsels and Living Dead Girl this weekend. We've decided to remove these books from the list -- Sisters Red because of the victim-blaming scene that was discussed earlier in this post, Tender Morsels because of the way that the book validates (by failing to critique or discuss) characters who use rape as an act of vengeance, and Living Dead Girl because of its triggering nature. We still feel that these books have merit and would not hesitate to recommend them in certain instances, but we don't feel comfortable keeping them on this particular list."

The books were replaced with Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley and Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden.

Since the announcement, authors Scott Westerfeld (Uglies), Ellen Klages (White Sands, Red Menace), Maureen Johnson (The Bermudez Triangle), Justine Larbalestier (Magic or Madness) and Diana Peterfreund (Rampant) have requested that their books be removed from the list as well. "I have been incredibly disheartened to see your process for removing books," said Johnson. "It mirrors EXACTLY the process by which book banners remove books from schools and libraries--namely, one person makes a comment, no one actually checks, book gets yanked."
posted by changeling (75 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Robert Duvall was excellent in Tender Morsels.
posted by CNNInternational at 7:06 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


"One person makes a comment, no one actually checks, book gets yanked."

"A couple of us at the office read and re-read"
posted by box at 7:07 PM on February 1, 2011 [8 favorites]


I just can't believe that the same commenter recommended Blue Sword (awesome) and Girl of the Limberlost (unreadable IMO). But that's how these things go.

Having said that, I don't get the author outrage. It's a recommended book list, not an awards list, and it has no official standing of any kind, except to readers of Bitch. If the author decides to amend their list it's not tantamount to censoring anyone.
posted by emjaybee at 7:08 PM on February 1, 2011 [9 favorites]


I would have included The Witch of Blackbird Pond. And I don't recall Judy Blume's Forever being very feminist, but whatever.

I also don't like the way they caved to criticism. Either you believe something, or you don't. If you don't believe a book has a problem, explain why. If you think it does, you don't put it on a list. Putting it on a list and then taking it off doesn't say much for their principles. Feels like they were just trying to round out the list to 100 even titles.

Also, direct link to the titles, no extra clicks or pdf required.
posted by misha at 7:11 PM on February 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


89. Cress Delahanty by Jessamyn West
I know, I know
posted by vidur at 7:12 PM on February 1, 2011


It appears that in the case of Tender Morsels, at least, the listmakers had not yet read it themselves: "This book came as a recommendation to us from a few feminists, and while we knew that some of the content was difficult, we weren't tuned into what you've just brought up. A couple of us at the office have decided to spend the rest of our weekend re-considering this choice by reading the book and discussing its place on the list." (link)
posted by changeling at 7:21 PM on February 1, 2011


And how is this like book banning in schools and libraries? When those books are yanked, this makes the books unavailable for their users.

This is just a list -- a long opinion -- put out by a source that has tried to find books that meet their criteria: 1) Really good YA books that are also 2) Consistent with Bitch magazine's positions on feminist and feminist-related issues. The books aren't being dumped, burned or slandered. In fact, they're given some measure of praise.

On preview: hey, it might be simply caving to criticism. Maybe they didn't even really "read and re-read" those books. But taking what they say at face value, what's happened here seems to be a mixture of being a little too careless and a little too cautious:
Hi Samantha,
Thanks for reading our list! We didn't put Sisters Red on the list without reading it, per se. Some staff members have read it, some haven't. For those of us who haven't, myself included, this discussion has been a good opportunity to read it anyway, so we can all be on the same page (BAD PUN ALERT).
Negative reviews won't affect the list, necessarily. The books we're reading and re-considering are very specifically the three or so that deal with rape. This is a triggering subject matter, and part of what we're weighing right now is whether the books are constructive enough to outweigh potential distress to readers who have survived sexual assault. Earlier in this thread, Ashley pointed out that we WILL be re-reading before removing any books, and will update readers either in the post itself or in the comments.
Thanks again for reading, and for the input on Sisters Red. I'm glad we've heard readers on both sides of the issue. Keep reading!!
--Katie Presley, New Media Intern
They made a list. They reconsidered some of the books on the list. Some other authors reconsidered the value of being on that list given that they think the editors made some lousy, speciously-reasoned decisions, and have asked to be removed.

People will disagree. It's all free speech. None of it is censorship.
posted by maudlin at 7:24 PM on February 1, 2011 [15 favorites]


Road, hell, paving materials, &c.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:24 PM on February 1, 2011


And I don't recall Judy Blume's Forever being very feminist, but whatever.

I don't mean to come off as snarky, but it's YA books for the Feminist Reader, not Feminist Books for the YA Reader.
posted by muddgirl at 7:28 PM on February 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


Is there an upswing lately in the amount of adult YA readers? And, if so, why, or what does that mean, or something?
posted by box at 7:33 PM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you want to read the offending passage in Sisters Red, go to the book's Amazon page, click "Click to LOOK INSIDE," and search for "aquamarine."

One of the list editors said:
I was quick to say that I was going to pull Sisters Red from the list after reading the review at Booksmugglers, as I was super alarmed to read the victim-blaming passage on page 108. But after talking it over with a few rad ladies that I work with, we decided to read/re-read it (and I failed to mention that we were doing so on the blog). After talking it over today, we have decided to remove Sisters Red from the list. While I liked a lot of things about this book, the scene that is critiqued in the Booksmugglers review still do not sit well with me. No, the scene isn’t triggering in that it portrays rape. However, we do feel that it is dangerous in that it perpetuate the idea that women who dress a certain way are asking to be raped, which is a belief that so many girls and women internalize. The book might not be about rape, but this particular passage is, and we don’t want to promote a book that will cause a girl to further internalize this belief. While we do think that this book has merit and should be picked up by readers who are prepared for this passage, we’re choosing to replace it on this particular list.
Reading it out of context, the passage seems to be in the voice of a male narrator who's fantasizing about raping women on the grounds that they're asking for it being so attractive ("everything about them luring Fenris ... I should let Fenris have one of you"), but he immediately corrects himself: "No. I didn't mean that."
posted by John Cohen at 7:36 PM on February 1, 2011


Is there an upswing lately in the amount of adult YA readers? And, if so, why, or what does that mean, or something?

This isn't authoritative by any means, but it seems that a lot of stuff that would've been classed as quirky fiction, fantasy, or sci fi is being marketed as YA now-a-days just to get more people to read it. So I think the readers are mostly the same but the packaging has changed.
posted by codacorolla at 7:37 PM on February 1, 2011 [9 favorites]


Since the announcement, authors Scott Westerfeld (Uglies), Ellen Klages (White Sands, Red Menace), Maureen Johnson (The Bermudez Triangle), Justine Larbalestier (Magic or Madness) and Diana Peterfreund (Rampant) have requested that their books be removed from the list as well. "I have been incredibly disheartened to see your process for removing books," said Johnson. "It mirrors EXACTLY the process by which book banners remove books from schools and libraries--namely, one person makes a comment, no one actually checks, book gets yanked."

Huh? So, in this analogy, the list is the library, and the removed titles are banned books. So the solution to banning books is to ban your own books? Facepalm city.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:41 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't mean to come off as snarky, but it's YA books for the Feminist Reader, not Feminist Books for the YA Reader.

True, good point. I read Forever as a teen, and what I remember most about the book was that the guy was a bit of a jerk and he ended up dumping the girl, so I have mixed feelings about it. Still, it's been a long time, as I said, since I've read the book.

Also, though I think they should either post a list and stand by it or not post it, I don't feel this is "censorship" in any way. No one is banning or burning books here, no government is forbidding anyone to read them.
posted by misha at 7:42 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Tender Morsels is a really amazingly good book. And I think it's an amazingly feminist book. I think it's legitimate to weigh that against the harm that could be done by triggering readers, but I still think they made a bad call. (Not a call they didn't have the right to make; just a bad one.)


Is there an upswing lately in the amount of adult YA readers? And, if so, why, or what does that mean, or something?


Yes.

1) There are a lot more really excellent YA books coming out than there were in the 80s or 90s. They're not as preachy, they have more room for interesting writing and characterization, and some of them are downright experimental.

2) YA books have colonized some niches that weren't necessarily being well-served by adult books. If you want to write a literary books for YAs, you have to keep the plot moving and get to the point quickly, so it won't be as boring or confusing or pretentious as the worst of adult literary fiction. If you want to write a science fiction or fantasy book, you can't get too hung up on the technology or seven thousand place names, so The Hunger Games is accessible even to people who wouldn't be caught dead with a doorstop epic fantasy for adults.

3) The same echo-boom/generation-Y cohort of readers who made Harry Potter an epic Thing have recently made Twilight and Hunger Games epic Things. When something attracts that amount of pop-cultural momentum, some people are going to show up just to see what it's all about.
posted by Jeanne at 7:44 PM on February 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


As a data point on Forever, the girl dumps the guy, not the other way around.
posted by Laura Macbeth at 7:44 PM on February 1, 2011


Is there an upswing lately in the amount of adult YA readers? And, if so, why, or what does that mean, or something?

Definitely. Here's a March 2010 article on "Adults Reading YA" from the LA Times. And here's an August 2010 essay on the same topic from the NYT, "The Kids' Books Are All Right". I'm sure there have been others.
posted by changeling at 7:45 PM on February 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


My initial reaction was outrage that Howl's Moving Castle and The Blue Sword* weren't on the list in the first damn place...but I got over it.

Forever was one of the first, if not the first, mainstream YA books to show (and to discuss fairly explicitly, for the market) a teenaged sexual relationship that a young woman was enthusiastic about and that didn't result in dire consequences for her or her boyfriend. I suspect it might've earned its place on the list largely for that.

*Though for my money, The Hero and the Crown is the stronger candidate of McKinley's "reluctant heroines with awesome swords and horses" books for a list with a feminist bent.
posted by EvaDestruction at 7:48 PM on February 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


I also want to note that a number of the books on the list aren't young adult, but middle grade (ages 8-12), like Island of the Blue Dolphins and The Midwife's Apprentice.
posted by changeling at 7:50 PM on February 1, 2011


Is there an upswing lately in the amount of adult YA readers? And, if so, why, or what does that mean, or something?
Maybe it's just residue from the Harry Potter phenomenon (which lead to the Twilight phenomenon) which was mainly about grownups reading kids books.

But I have to wonder, could the upswing of "children" books (and, btw when I was a kid "young adult" was like 12, not really an 'adult' in any other context except for homicide trials) be the result of a re-popularization of the pop-culture form? I doubt Harry Potter is any less challenging to read then Dan Brown or Steven King novels. When the novel first came out it was a mass, pop-culture thing, not unlike television. As Radio and TV took root the novel became seen more and more as a 'sophisticated' thing.

So perhaps unsophisticated, or rather unpretentious writing represents a re-popularization of the novel form.

Anyway, I think there's some tension in trying to be both edgy and radical and also censorious -- it's not 100 great books for Christian girls or whatever. A better solution would be warnings, it sort of implies that the people for who they are recommending books can't handle dissent.
posted by delmoi at 7:52 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm biased - I really like two of the replacement books, and I've never read any of the removed ones.

Tender morsels sounds like it could be fascinating, though it sounds like both it and Little dead girl are really adult novels in subject matter. When I think YA fiction, I think of books like Tamora Pierce's Alanna series, or the Dragonsinger books by McCaffrey. That's not to say that under-18's shouldn't read adult books -- I certainly did. But I also know that I was hitting YA books at age 9, not grade 19/age 14 -- and I couldn't have handled these sorts of books at that age. When I was 14 and exclusively browsing the adult section of the local library, then I could, sort of.
posted by jb at 7:53 PM on February 1, 2011


4) The average American adult can only read at an 8th grade level.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:54 PM on February 1, 2011


Actually, they have Alanna on the list -- along with A wrinkle in time.

there is no way that I could have handled rape or incest at the age I read those books -- I was 8 or 9 years old for both. As it was, my mom was (unnecessarily) concerned about the entirely off-scene sex between consenting partners in the Alanna series.
posted by jb at 7:57 PM on February 1, 2011


One lesson from this: the best time to read a book is before you decide to recommend it.
posted by jscalzi at 7:57 PM on February 1, 2011 [21 favorites]


Reading it out of context, the passage seems to be in the voice of a male narrator who's fantasizing about raping women on the grounds that they're asking for it being so attractive ("everything about them luring Fenris ... I should let Fenris have one of you"), but he immediately corrects himself: "No. I didn't mean that."

I guess it's better to pretend the concept doesn't exist than to rebuke it as being wrong.
posted by kafziel at 7:57 PM on February 1, 2011


I think that has to do with a change in the definition of YA, jb. When I was a kid, "Young Adult" books were intended for twelve and thirteen-year-olds. Nowadays, YA is really aimed at kids in high school, which is an audience that wasn't particularly well served until very recently.
posted by craichead at 8:01 PM on February 1, 2011


I guess it's better to pretend the concept doesn't exist than to rebuke it as being wrong.

It seems pretty consistent with their choice to remove a book due to possible triggering rather than simply putting up the warning. Apparently if anything could trigger someone, it's not appropriate any more? Are books with fights or bullying also out?
posted by explosion at 8:03 PM on February 1, 2011


No "Star Girl?" Pifftttttt.
posted by cccorlew at 8:03 PM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Reading it out of context, the passage seems to be in the voice of a male narrator who's fantasizing about raping women on the grounds that they're asking for it being so attractive ("everything about them luring Fenris ... I should let Fenris have one of you"), but he immediately corrects himself: "No. I didn't mean that."

To provide a bit more context, I'm pretty sure that the narrator at that point is not male -- she's one of the sisters.
posted by divide_by_cucumber at 8:04 PM on February 1, 2011


And I don't recall Judy Blume's Forever being very feminist, but whatever.

One girl back in 7th grade circulated Forever, Sophie's Choice, and the Carpetbaggers to everyone in class - our pubescent version of Samizdat, I guess. For that reason alone, Forever belongs on the list.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:05 PM on February 1, 2011


I'm glad Tomorrow, When the War Began is on the list now. I don't know how well that book (and the Tomorrow series) is known in the US, but it's a bit of a classic of YA literature in Australia.
posted by crossoverman at 8:06 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Huh, so How I Live Now isn't on that list? I haven't read a lot of the books on the list, and maybe they're all better, but I doubt it.
posted by craichead at 8:12 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


s there an upswing lately in the amount of adult YA readers?

Well, yeah, in the last 15 years there's been a huge upswing - Generation Y makes up 25% or so of the US population. Those are the people that provided the market for the huge expansion of children's and YA literature over the last couple decades.

It's an interesting list, but leaves me feeling a bit sad. I wish there were many, many more familiar and well-loved titles and that, across the board, there were many more books people would want to list that really reflected the concerns of girls and young women, that those imagined books were a lot better books, and a lot less relatively unambitious entertaining yarns or social sagas, like a lot of the books on this list that I have read. Is this really the best juvenile lit can do?
posted by Miko at 8:18 PM on February 1, 2011


Tender Morsels is an astonishingly good book. I am pretty shocked that it's listed as YA, though. Had I read it when I was a young adult, I'm not sure I would have slept for a month.

I only hope that this controversy gets it more attention, which it unquestionably deserves.
posted by davidjmcgee at 8:18 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Give 'em a couple weeks and they will have reasons to remove the rest. Then an inter-blog flame war will erupt. Lather, rinse, repeat.
posted by Ardiril at 8:28 PM on February 1, 2011


I cannot BELIEVE The Blue Sword was not on the initial list. That book rocked my world when I was a wee girl learning how kickass I could grow up to be.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 8:30 PM on February 1, 2011


So I haven't read any of the stuff in this post but I can see one big problem already! And that is that some people seem to expect non-bitchiness from a magazine named Bitch.
posted by Ratio at 8:33 PM on February 1, 2011


OMG LOL DRAMA IN YOUNG ADULT FICTION1
posted by spitbull at 8:35 PM on February 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


To provide a bit more context, I'm pretty sure that the narrator at that point is not male -- she's one of the sisters.

OK, I stand corrected, and I withdraw my sexist assumption.
posted by John Cohen at 8:54 PM on February 1, 2011


I've read one of these three -- Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott. It was a fantastic book, extremely well-written, terribly vivid, and perhaps the single most triggering piece of literature I've ever read. Having said that, I wouldn't un-read it.

At the time, I was thinking very hard about whether or not to review the book, and I decided not to, because I couldn't distance myself from the topic enough to write about it for a wide audience. But I think its inclusion on a list of YA lit for feminists was an absolutely right instinct.

The thing is, once you publish a list you stand by it. You have at least one person on staff who has read the book and loves it fiercely, and that person can defend it. You don't back down because something might be controversial.

These YA authors are dealing with bannination type shit every day -- real actual bannination crap, because they're writing books for teenagers that aren't cookie cutter stories in which kids learn that Drugs Are Bad. Diana Peterfreund's work is as feminist as it gets: thoughtful and intelligent about sex and sexuality, womanhood and power, indeed revolving around those very issues. I think she responded the way she did because of those feminist ideals she includes in her work. She addresses real, substantial issues in a way that's clever and interesting and straight-up literary. Ditto for Maureen Johnson, Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier. As a community, these authors don't need to be endorsed and then dismissed by a media organization claiming to be feminist and forward-thinking, but whose de-listing actions are cowardly at best.
posted by brina at 9:22 PM on February 1, 2011 [11 favorites]


I think this incident says more about the the magazine than it says about the books.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:23 PM on February 1, 2011


First thought after seeing the list: "Damn, that's a pretty fucking great list of books for smart kids. Wish they'd bothered with a sentence or two for each book, though." The lazy approach is kind of what got them in trouble; had they taken the time to discuss the books in even minor ways, they could have mentioned a couple of caveats and avoided this either/or nonsense.

Thanks, changeling, this is a well-done post. Some of the comments over there are really interesting. While I think the "remove my book too!" demands are overly dramatic, Scott Westerfield's point about Uglies being potentially triggering for a cutter points out how bizarre and inconsistent the justification for the removals is, and the comments like this are a sharp counter to the "oh it might be triggering you better not recommend it" crowd.
posted by mediareport at 9:45 PM on February 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


Thanks for this post -- I'm six months pregnant with a girl, and I already have a pile of books I've been saving for her since before I ever wanted kids. Conflict aside, this list and thread is a goldmine. (My baby registry has about fifty books on it. No one has taken the bait yet.)
posted by Toothless Willy at 9:48 PM on February 1, 2011


Is there an upswing lately in the amount of adult YA readers? And, if so, why, or what does that mean, or something?

A large portion of the YA market is made up of adults, in large part because it's incredibly wide-ranging. What's amazing about YA fiction is that it's all mixed together.

Science fiction, contemporary fiction, paranormal, historicals, fantasy, horror- they're shelved together. Which means you get readers who are showing up for storytelling, and characters, and who aren't wedded to a single genre.

YA is also a category that's incredibly comfortable mixing genres, as well. So if you're looking for fiction that isn't strictly bound by the confines of its genre, YA is probably a good choice for you.

Another feature for YA fiction is that, because it's marketed toward younger readers, the books tend to be a lot tighter. Yes, you will still get 800 page doorstops in the YA category, but very rarely do you spend 400 of those pages in Biblical-esque begattery and pensive navel gazing.

Yes, you have to be interested in the first flush of everything to enjoy YA fiction. It's about first kisses, first deaths, first loves, first realizations, first moments. Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet about 14 year olds for a reason (and not just because he was cribbing from somebody else's play.) If Romeo and Juliet were 35 instead of 14, they'd be pathetic, not tragic.

But the books aren't childish, or simplistically written (I dare you to walk away from Meg Rosoff's HOW I LIVE NOW and think, wow, that was an easy reader with no particular voice!) or the last refuge of dummy readers. Like any category of books, there are transcendent ones, and hideous ones, and everything in between.

There is an upswing in adult YA readers, and what it means is that YA is awesome.

And to clarify the age confusion: YA books are marketed to readers 14+. Middle grade, MG, is the designation for books 9-14.
posted by headspace at 9:50 PM on February 1, 2011 [10 favorites]


I would have included The Witch of Blackbird Pond.

Yes. Absolutely yes.

And there's not enough Carson McCullers on this list.
posted by thivaia at 9:58 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Looking over this list, and the magazine's reaction, my first thought is that this is sloppy journalism: throwing together a list of books that you clearly have not even read, providing them without context, pulling them based on concerns rather than, say, prefacing work that might be triggering with a trigger warning (which you'd think would be the norm for a magazine like Bitch, in cases where it's necessary).

I would have really, really liked some more context for all of their choices, because some puzzle me. Is all a book need to appeal to feminist readers a "kick-ass teen"? Though it was a favorite book as a teenager, the Megan McCafferty pick (and its subsequent sequels) are largely just about a bookish girl pining after a bad boy. Is Uglies particularly feminist (honestly, I wasn't a fan, in a large part because of the really negative sniping between the supposed best friends in the book over the bland love interest, but also because it seems at times to be endorsing the body-harming behavior that the characters engage in)? How-so? Why pick Cushman's second book, but not her first, Catherine, Called Birdy, which is more clearly feminist, all about a fourteen-year-old trying to assert some independence over her life in the middle ages? Why only the one Voigt title--and, if one, why isn't it Homecoming, about a thirteen year old girl nobly leading her younger siblings on a cross-country trip after their mother abandons them?

So, yeah, context would have been nice. As it is, it seems like they just polled people in their office without bothering discussing these books or what makes them feminist--or not.

As for the authors' reactions, it's a little hyperbolic. This lame list, and the retractions are . . . well, lame. But cheap quickie journalism and book bannings are two different things. And asking that their books be retracted is, like Sys Rq says, really silly. Not much of a solution.

Have to say, though, that I absolutely agree with a few of the choices: Rampant and its sequel Ascendant take really, really compelling looks at the impact of sexuality on the lives of young, super-powered women. And Forever has a healthy discussion of birth control that still beats a lot of the sex discussions in some modern YA fare.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:03 PM on February 1, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'm with mediareport - I know it's become a bit of a thing in the US over the last couple of years, and is spreading further afield, but personally I feel a bit uncomfortable with all the hoo-ha around "triggering" that has sprung up.

In a lot of ways I feel there's a real potential there to: a) take agency away from victims of all sorts of trauma, and b) a presumption that I could ever understand what and how someone feels about something terrible that's happened to them.

In regards to the former (agency), i feel much more comfortable letting people decide what they want to engage with or not. I feel like a lot of trigger warnings are a bit redundant - texts are generally pretty clear on what they hold. I also find it sometimes problematic in relegating the experience, dare I say the ownership of individual trauma to a group or group identity with its own norms, mores etc. There is absolutely nothing wrong with group participation or identity as a means of catharsis, but I feel like that should be a choice the individual makes, not the group on their behalf.

Regarding the latter (understanding of trauma), I personally find it a bit presumptive ("victim x will react to portrayal of y in z kind of a way, they need protection or shielding etc"). I would never assume I could understand what any victim of trauma had gone through - even traumas very similar to ones I may have experienced. Different people react to different things in different ways, and I certainly don't feel comfortable speaking or acting on behalf of a group that - whether I place myself within it or not - is in actuality a very artificial and shadowy construct, with no clear definition, beginning or end.

I'm open to being persuaded, and I'm certainly not trying to marginalise anyone's experiences or reactions to certain texts. I'm just not sure if this 'triggering' - I don't know, meme? action? caveat? - is necessarily the best way of dealing with those reactions. I would be really interested to know the history of its development.
posted by smoke at 10:08 PM on February 1, 2011 [11 favorites]


i feel much more comfortable letting people decide what they want to engage with or not.

Well, sure! But isn't that what trigger warnings do? Saying, "may be triggering - rape content" isn't the same as saying "rape victims - stay out!" And the difference is particularly stark in this context - BITCH opted to remove items from the list entirely in consideration of those who may be triggered by content, when the very concept of a "trigger warning" allows one to share content without further hurting those who have suffered from similar things!
posted by moxiedoll at 10:16 PM on February 1, 2011


If YA is for 14+, then why do they have Alanna, Trickster's Choice, A wrinkle in time, Howl's Moving Castle, and Dealing with Dragons on the list? All of these are middle-school, if not junior school books, in theme and character as well as language/style. They are all terrific (my favourites) but it seems that this list is all over the place.
posted by jb at 10:18 PM on February 1, 2011


relatively unambitious entertaining yarns or social sagas

Huh. I respect you a lot, Miko, and will defer since I've only read a small portion of the books on the list, but the ones that leaped out at me did seem pretty ambitious - e.g., Out of the Dust, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Jaqueline Woodson's The House You Pass on the Way, Speak. Maybe I only know the best ones.

(Just recommended Wrinkle in Time and Phantom Tollbooth to a smart young girl today but this conversation now has me hoping there's nothing stupidly sexist in the latter book. I think my memory's accurate that it's sexism-free and she's gonna love it.)
posted by mediareport at 10:20 PM on February 1, 2011


Except for Trickster's Choice and Howl, they were all written before the YA and MG categories solidified. However, Harry Potter is technically middle grade. People often group MG books they like with YA novels, but they aren't actually YA.

And whether a book is MG or YA often depends entirely on how booksellers and librarians decide to categorize it. Random House categorized my first novel as YA. Libraries shelve it in MG.

Houses will round up if there's content that could be considered controversial; libraries tend to round down because they know who's actually reading what.
posted by headspace at 10:22 PM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, I will say for this list that now I really want to read "Living Dead Girl", though it may well destroy my brain. And I heard of it because of this thread. So, ya know, it's done some good...
posted by Because at 10:25 PM on February 1, 2011


Because- it was a harrowing read, and one of those books you often have to put down. That said, I'm glad to have read it. It was horrifying and extraordinary. And now I'm going to go to bed and quit being a YA cheerleader all over the thread.
posted by headspace at 10:26 PM on February 1, 2011


personally I feel a bit uncomfortable with all the hoo-ha around "triggering" that has sprung up

Um, just to clarify, I'm not uncomfortable with "triggering" warnings and don't think they're "hoo-ha." What I said, expanding a bit, was that comments from folks who feel relief when they see themselves and their own traumatic history mirrored in fiction are a sharp counter to the folks who sometimes seem to suggest there's only one way a person can react to difficult content. I think we mostly agree on that, but the way you framed your comment - which I read as "this triggering stuff has gone too far" - isn't something I'd agree with.
posted by mediareport at 10:30 PM on February 1, 2011


Smoke: I tend to think of "trigger warnings" as something you do when you can, in situations where you KNOW that people might be upset by what you're talking about. I have pet snakes and I am utterly besotted with them, and love to post pictures of them on my livejournal. However, I found out some months in that a friend of mine was an extreme ophidiophobe, and he was too unnerved by my photos to keep reading my LJ. I apologized and felt like a jerk, because I, of course, do not understand ophidiophobia on a gut level-- I think snakes are adorable. And ever since, I've put my snake pictures under a labeled cut, so people can look or not as they see fit. And said ophidiophobe friend looks and comments too, sometimes. If he is prepared, he can see the pictures as cute, but if they just jump out at him from nowhere, it's traumatic.

That's how I've seen trigger-warnings used, and I do think there's a place for it. Warning before you get blindsided by something that severely upsets you can make the difference between an interesting and eye-opening experience and a case of sick shivers that takes hours to go away.
posted by Because at 10:32 PM on February 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


And I don't recall Judy Blume's Forever being very feminist, but whatever.

I read something (an interview maybe?) with Judy Blume a loooong time ago where she talked about her reasons for writing Forever, and as I vaguely recall it, what she said was that she wanted to write a book about a teenage girl who makes a conscious, thoughtful decision to have sex, and isn't punished for it in any way - pregnancy, STDs, shaming, depression, etc. - as she felt that most of the other books written for teen girls at the time basically had a message of "if you have sex you will be miserable and bad things will happen to you, the end." And then, when Katherine and her boyfriend break up, it isn't the end of the world. I think it's simultaneously a very realistic perspective on teenagers' relationships and a positive model for young women who are thinking about the kind of relationships they want to have.

Personally, I would have liked to see Monica Furlong's Wise Child on the list.
posted by naoko at 10:54 PM on February 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


The fact that they skipped the entire Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett and included some really eye-rolling recent YA (Hunger Games? Really?) already makes that list invalid.
posted by darlingmagpie at 11:12 PM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think the point of this is that Bitch Magazine is regarded as an ally of sorts to authors pushing the boundaries of what and what isn't acceptable in YA fiction, especially if those authors consider themselves feminist.

So the author reaction in light of the changing of the list wasn't about censorship, but rather the backtracking and the justifications made because of one complaint, and what that says about Bitch Magazine's way of responding to such matters.

It also raises the question of what should be considered "feminist literature" or literature appropriate for feminist readers, or literature that might espouse feminist ideas, and what might constitute the opposite.

The person who complained about Tender Morsels, claimed the book could not possibly be appropriate as a "feminist" text because there is scene in the book where former rapists are themselves raped, as an act of (unconscious) revenge, and this act of revenge-rape was not fully critiqued by the book itself. I quibble that this act is condoned by the book's narrative, but anyway.

This leads one into awfully murky territory about whether this is actually the only correct reading, rather than just one way of reading that particular scene, and whether all books that are recommended by feminists to other feminist readers need to conform to some sort of one true feminist path with perfect morals and perfect adherence to a set of ideological principles.

And if you go down that path, where do you end? Katniss in Huger Games is a killer. That's not very feminist. In Tomorrow Where the World Began the "enemy" are shadowy Asian people, which plays into White Australia's fears of Asian invasion. That's not very feminist. And so on and so forth.

Personally, I think Tender Morsels is a very confronting and powerful book and one of the best things I read in 2009, the year it was released. Do I think it's appropriate for nine-year olds? No, but then I read a lot of things when I was nine that were completely inappropriate for me and I turned out fine. Well, fine-ish.

Do I think it's a feminist book? As a powerful critique of a patriarchal society and a fine portrait of the damage that sexual abuse can do to women, children and men, it certainly fits my own personal template for a "feminist" text.
posted by jasperella at 11:16 PM on February 1, 2011 [8 favorites]


As a caveat, I should say I generally like Bitch magazine and find it well-written and thoughtful. However, I think this is not an example of good decision-making on their part. Not censorship, mind you, just not evidence of good decision-making or critical thinking. And I think that's a perfectly fair criticism for the other YA authors on that list to level at them.

jasperella: The person who complained about Tender Morsels, claimed the book could not possibly be appropriate as a "feminist" text because there is scene in the book where former rapists are themselves raped, as an act of (unconscious) revenge, and this act of revenge-rape was not fully critiqued by the book itself. I quibble that this act is condoned by the book's narrative, but anyway.

This is what leapt out at me. This phrase from the Bitch editors about why Tender Morsels was removed from the list sets off my alarm bells: "[it was removed] because of the way that the book validates (by failing to critique or discuss) characters who use rape as an act of vengeance."

It really, really bothers me that perceived failure to explicitly critique or discuss a particular act in the book is conflated with validating that act. One can see from the comments of jasperella, and others who have read the book, that it isn't clear at all that the book's narrative is in favour of revenge-rape. But that's the point of literature: the central message can't and shouldn't always be spelled out, and sometimes people are going to miss the point entirely. That doesn't mean the book isn't a feminist book.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:56 AM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, so many people read "Tender Morsels"! I never knew! I read it, too, and really loved it — but it certainly contributed to my confusion about YA. Basically, I have stayed away from YA books generally, just because I had the impression that these works would naturally include more simplified language and concepts. I didn't know that "Tender Morsels" was supposed to be YA until after reading it, and now I'm sort of confuzzled. All I can say is that it certainly isn't your grandma's Young Adult literature.
posted by taz at 1:47 AM on February 2, 2011


For those asking about whether some of the more difficult books should be classified as YA, this speech by super-intelligent YA novelist MT Anderson might be interesting (link is to the transcript). He doesn't really get into why something should be classified as YA rather than adult, but he talks about why we shouldn't shy away from writing (and publishing) intellectually challenging books for young readers.

It sometimes strikes me that there is only one taboo left in young adult literature. By and large, no one complains any more when we write about drugs or sex. We can write about masturbation; terminal illness; the horrors of war; illegal organ transplants; matricide; the chilly delights of necrophilia; scenes of locker-room bukkake – none of this raises an eyebrow. No, the one thing which still causes people pause – the final hurdle – the last frontier – the one element which still gets a few adult readers up in arms about whether a book is appropriate for kids – is intelligence. Some adults still balk at the assumption that our readers, the teenagers of this country, are smart, and curious, and get a kick out of knowing things.

disclaimer: I have met Mr. Anderson and my company publishes some of his books
posted by cider at 4:37 AM on February 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


At last! Someone finds a way to get a deletion callout onto the Blue! Well played!

More seriously, two points:

Why people read YA -- I got back into reading YA while recovering from surgery. My vision was poor, I was easily fatigued, and I had a bit of trouble with wandering attention. So books that were serious, thoughtful, interesting, fairly fast-paced and relatively short were very very welcome to me. I don't read as many since I have recovered, but I rely on YA-loving friends to direct me to good choices.

Triggering -- I don't have to deal with emotional triggers, but strobe effects make me ill and disoriented. I really really appreciate it when people are warning: lots of strobe effects because it helps me chose things I will enjoy over things I know will be a problem. I assume (possibly wrongly) that it works similarly for people dealing with traumatic issues. Are skipping a few words that don't apply to you so bad?
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:08 AM on February 2, 2011


I'm torn on the issue of trigger warnings. On the one hand, they're a useful and close-to-effortless way of making sure people aren't blindsided by things that will cause them a huge amount of distress; but on the other, their use has grown so rapidly over the last five years or so that the conventions around them are developing in some weird ways.

Which is reasonable, I suppose, because it's always going to be a fuzzy line when it comes to what warrants a trigger warning and what doesn't. So trigger warnings for, say, detailed descriptions of rape make sense, because while not everybody who's experienced any kind of trauma will find that triggering, enough people might that it's reasonable to warn. But then, nobody wants anyone else to be triggered, either, so the vague consensus of 'warn for descriptions of abuse and/or violence' starts to include more and more and more things: trigger warnings for animal cruelty, for fat-shaming, for body-policing, for racist and sexist and ableist language. And then people start getting bad-tempered that 'trigger' is being used for broader things than its original definition and that's disrespectful to actual trauma victims, or that clearly here X thing warrants a trigger warning while Y thing doesn't, and what does that say about the blogger's priorities, hmmm?, and the whole argument about using trigger warnings in the first place starts up all over again.

Still, though, there's a much stronger argument for using trigger warnings than there is for statements like 'Living Dead Girl [was removed] because of its triggering nature'. That seems like a movement from the original idea of trigger warnings to an idea that there's a set, objective standard of what is and isn't triggering. It's like the blog warnings that say things like 'triggery stuff below the fold'; triggers for what? How is anyone supposed to know what will and won't trigger them, unless you warn them of what the subject in question actually is? The whole idea of trigger warnings was to give the reader a heads-up, not to divide the world into 'triggering' and 'non-triggering'.
posted by Catseye at 5:28 AM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is there an upswing lately in the amount of adult YA readers? And, if so, why, or what does that mean, or something?

I read a lot of YA as an adult, and often get teased by friends who are "more serious" readers. I've had this discussion with my husband, in that a lot of the things we create for children are "aspirational" - you see kids in commercials playing with toys meant for younger kids, but it's marketing so that the appropriate age group "aspires" to that toy. The same goes for literature - high school students reading about college adventures, middle school reading about high school. So why have I recessed backwards into "YA" as an adult?

Because right now there is a huge chunk of YA literature being written that is incredibly smart, with powerful and strong characters. And there's a part of me that is still "aspirational." I'd rather spend my limited leisure time reading about a young woman who comes into her own, conquers battles, stands up for herself, and saves the day, than an adult who is facing whatever dilemma that is trendy in popular "chick lit" (or women's fiction) that week. I have enough drama in my daily life - why would I spend my time reading about divorce or death or adultery or something else painful and all too realistic and likely as an adult? I think that even now, I aspire to be more like the young feminist characters written about in these novels.

And if nothing else, I've already requested the three removed books from the library this morning. And am starting a list of the others mentioned here that I haven't already read. So I don't agree with what Bitch has done, but I think it will have the opposite effect, and those of us who crave intelligent writing are going to seek out what they're removing.
posted by librarianamy at 6:00 AM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


"It mirrors EXACTLY the process by which book banners remove books from schools and libraries"

You know, it really doesn't. It's a list or recommendations, nothing more. To suggest that taking books off such a list is comparable to physically banning a book or removing it from public access is ridiculous.
posted by Decani at 6:09 AM on February 2, 2011


When my friend's mom was dying of breast cancer, it seemed like every movie we went to was billed as a romantic comedy and ended up featuring cancer and/or a dying mother. We came up with an idea for a service that would pre-screen pop culture stuff for you and send you an email alert if there was stealth cancer. And then we decided we could extend it, so you could ask for email alerts about other stealth stuff-you-don't-want-to-see.

So yeah, I'm all about the trigger warnings. The more trigger warnings people have access to, the better. But I do think it's kind of weird to take a book off a list because it's triggering, rather than just to note that the book has disturbing and potentially-triggering content.
posted by craichead at 6:16 AM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Having woken up to see this post, and without having read the thread, can I just say haha?

I have bought Bitch magazine for many, many years (for my wife, who obviously enjoys it) and the fact that they are now "removing" their own selections is really just the logical end-point of being so single-minded in finding fault; the voracious serpent eating its own tail, as it were. As a "feminist response to pop culture", I would say their entire raison d'etre is flawed: I am put in mind of a boorish and sexist man, followed forever after by a woman bemoaning his sexism. It's not just reactionary, but predictable and banal. Critiquing patriarchy makes sense so far as raising awareness, certainly; are the readers of Bitch really unaware that there are serious problems with Sex And The City, et aliae?

I was going to suggest Bitch ought to seek elevating some positives instead of simply denigrating negatives as they've always done - but it seems like this is a great example of their trying to do just that, and we can all see how well that's gone for them.
posted by stinkycheese at 6:41 AM on February 2, 2011


So yeah, I'm all about the trigger warnings. The more trigger warnings people have access to, the better. But I do think it's kind of weird to take a book off a list because it's triggering, rather than just to note that the book has disturbing and potentially-triggering content.

We can't be sure what triggers everything, though. I had a violent, angry father growing up, and so I don't always like to see or read similar stories if in the wrong mood - but something like The Thick Of It makes me feel unbelievably tense, watching Malcolm Tucker shout and shout. Of course it's humorous, and a different situation, but the same feeling surprised me by reappearing.

Other things which others find 'triggering' don't really do it with me.
posted by mippy at 6:57 AM on February 2, 2011


I don't see why you would remove Living Dead Girl, as opposed to simply putting a trigger warning on its listing. That honestly does not make any sense at all to me.

As for YA's popularity amongst adults: I think a big part of it is the fact that YA books tend to feature actual plots where things happen to characters, and they tend to be written in simple, unadorned, moving-the-plot-forward prose. Too many books for adults that are not otherwise "genre books" often have overly elliptical plots and self-impressed, faux-poetic prose.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:17 AM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the greatest stigma we face as young adult authors is from those who haven't even glanced at the YA genre since they were teens in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Because it's changed. For the much, much better, as the proliferation of books like Tender Morsels and Living Dead Girl (and Feed, and The Knife of Never Letting Go, and Jellicoe Road, and The Book Thief, and The Sky Is Everywhere, and Marcelo in the Real World, and Wintergirls, and Finnikin of the Rock, and How I Live Now, and and and) proves. These are great damn books no matter your age.

Generally, what makes a book YA is a protagonist aged 14-18 (though sometimes 13-19), some sort of coming of age element, whatever you take that to mean, and enough forward momentum to keep a teen interested. As far as subject matter, pretty much anything goes, although typically sex scenes focus on the emotional more than the physical. And that's about it.
posted by changeling at 9:29 AM on February 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


i get the triggering thing, but it seems really out of place in a discussion of feminist anything. unless feminism is now about protecting women who are too fragile to handle words on a page. not to mention that it seems a great insult to women of the past, who went through shit that would break a modern woman in two.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 10:16 AM on February 2, 2011


apparently young adults eat beans too.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:41 PM on February 2, 2011


And to clarify the age confusion: YA books are marketed to readers 14+. Middle grade, MG, is the designation for books 9-14.

Well, not quite. (Note: I am a children's/YA book editor, and this comes up a lot.)

Middle-grade is technically 8-12. YA can be divided into two groups: 12+ and 14+. (The "classic" YA age is 12.) There is also that odd "bridge" category that we call 10 up -- high middle-grade/low YA. The 14+ category has exploded recently, and there is a lot of blurring between YA and adult (as we know).

As for the Bitch list: It would have probably been a better idea for them to solicit opinions from YA librarians, reviewers, etc., and review the Amelia Bloomer Project lists, as well as annotating the overall list when done. In other words, due diligence.
posted by sdn at 5:39 PM on February 2, 2011


"triggers for what? How is anyone supposed to know what will and won't trigger them, unless you warn them of what the subject in question actually is? The whole idea of trigger warnings was to give the reader a heads-up, not to divide the world into 'triggering' and 'non-triggering'."

Thank you! I've only come into contact with the shorthand "trigger" in the last few months, and have actually been wondering if it was just me trying to google and come up what some bloggers are talking about. Most places I've read that use the word seem to take it as understood that the trigger in question is rape - but without that information given in context it's hard for the casual reader to pick up on that. My women's studies classes in the 80s predate use of the term, but I guess it's in the 101 classes now? Or is this new net jargon?

In the past we've already dealt with this "triggering content" problem - by reading book or film reviews and asking friends who've read and seen the thing - and then avoiding the media we can assume will trigger. I've known some friends with phobias for things like frogs, snakes, blood, surgery scenes, etc. to have others cull through film reviews for them and give them a heads up. (Blood might not sound too disturbing but I've known someone to faint watching certain bloody films, which was kind of traumatic for her.) I wonder if some of those friends do a lot of research in google for this stuff now or if viewing the results is too freaky. The good thing is that the net has most information - so I guess in theory you'd just add "trigger" to your search query along with the name of book/film/whatever. Assuming that the word's use is really widespread, that is.

And like others I've been kinda *facepalm* after I read that not everyone behind the article recommending the books had read them all - especially since they want to give those triggers/heads up warnings. I'm mostly disappointed that the books are just tossed out without any indication of why they made the list. I've gotten better ideas of books to read from these comments, where people are sharing information about content that's interesting - the crucial "why read" info I'm looking for. The only problem I have with the term YA is figuring out which section of the bookstore they're putting the books in - sometimes it's a bit of a hunt to figure out where they're hidden - and you can't always find them in the genre sections.
posted by batgrlHG at 8:51 PM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


John Cohen: "If you want to read the offending passage in Sisters Red, go to the book's Amazon page, click "Click to LOOK INSIDE," and search for "aquamarine." ... Reading it out of context, the passage seems to be in the voice of a male narrator who's fantasizing about raping women on the grounds that they're asking for it being so attractive ("everything about them luring Fenris ... I should let Fenris have one of you"), but he immediately corrects himself: "No. I didn't mean that.""

I've read the book and found if okay, nothing above average, however the narrator is female. She is one of the sisters, the "tough older one" who spends her life hunting werewolves (Fenris is the word often used for werewolf) and this is a passage where she is angry at the direction her life took, in that she couldn't be one of those innocent "dragonflies".

It reads as victim-blaming, in a way, because the narrator is angry at the people she has to protect without them knowing, but to read it as a validation of that idea is to take the passage completely out of context.

Also Tender Morsels is one of those books that I really can't make up my mind on. On one hand I love it, but it is not an easy read. I've really enjoyed all of Lanagan's work. Her short stories, especially "Singing My Sister Down", are great. I'd also have to recommend Touching Earth Lightly although once again it does deal with some pretty intense things.
posted by Fence at 10:05 AM on February 3, 2011


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