Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Looking into the Dark

Thinking of a blog post is never easy. In fact, until last week I had absolutely no idea what I would write about. You all may not know this about me but I'm intensely shy. I suffer from severe stage fright. It's ridiculous, I know. Still, it's a part of who I am and I worried that whatever I had to say would fail to meet the expectations of this wonderful group that I'm lucky to be a part of.

Fortunately something happened last week (and not the my-laptop-broke something) that provided inspiration.

I've been blogging on my own blog A New Kind of Ordinary for almost a year now. At some point during this time, my blog became a book blog. It was a natural transition given my profound and undying love for the written word. I've posted reviews on my blog regularly along with other content and never really thought my opinion was affecting anyone. I wrote mostly for me because I love to talk books.

Various PositionsHowever, last week I received not 1 but 4 pieces of hate mail. Now, I've deduced that these emails are related since, well, they all showed up in my inbox on the same day and they all made reference to a positive review of Various Positions that I had posted to Amazon that morning.

I'm a writer. I can take constructive criticism. I've conditioned myself to handle negative reviews. As a reader, I've realized that not everyone will hold the same opinion that I do about any particular book. Yet, these emails were hard to stomach. Mostly because they weren't constructive and they had little to do with my actual review. These ladies had no problem with how my review was written. They made it quite clear that the problem they had was with my promoting and praising a book that they deemed inappropriate for a young adult audience.

I've seen it before all over reviews on Amazon and Goodreads where people declare a book is not YA simply because it doesn't meet their standard for a young adult book. Various Positions has received a lot of comments like this. But really, who are we to judge? Can we really determine what is YA based upon our own personal experiences? If so, then Various Positions, in my opinion, is most definitely intended for a YA audience. Albeit a more mature YA audience but a YA audience nonetheless.

BreatheI always indicate in my reviews when books include themes that may be considered offensive or inappropriate, i.e. swearing, sex, drinking, violence, abuse. These women however didn't think this was enough. They kindly (*cough* *laugh*) demanded that I remove my review. They couldn't understand how any decent person, especially a 30 year old woman who no doubt had children of her own, could laud a YA novel filled with what they called perverse themes. They went so far as to accuse me of promoting underage sex. They claimed that people like me and sites like mine were the problem. That I lured in a young adult audience and presented them with pornographic material. They even insulted my as-yet-unreleased debut novel, Breathe, which addresses dark themes all its own.

Reading these emails, which I did multiple times, I concluded that these women must have not read the book in question. If they had, they would have seen my review for what it was: a positive assessment of a beautifully written work of art.

Since they hadn't, their argument was limited to name calling and bullying, expecting to shame me with their outrage.

After running the gamut of emotions, I finally figured out that I didn't care. My blog is family friendly. Yes, I write and review some books that are dark, edgy, or intended for a mature YA audience, but I always warn readers and allow them to make the decision to read or not to read on their own.

As a reader and a writer, I'm okay with sex and violence in YA literature. I'm okay with drinking and swearing and abuse. And no amount of bullying will change my position. Because somewhere out there someone is experiencing some or all of these things.

I don't condone these things but I won't denounce them either. It's life and some teenagers are going to drink and have sex whether or not they read certain books.

Yes, Various Positions tackles some edgy themes. The main character, Georgia, talks a lot about sex and fantasizes about her ballet instructor, and loses her virginity when she's drunk at a party to some boy she barely knows. But here's the thing, no one has the same young adult experience. Not everyone's teenage years are filled with rainbows and sunshine. Some of us have to deal with dark things too early.

Some of us lose our V-card in the back of a truck with some guy we're not even sure we like when we've had too much to drink. And while we can't remember saying no, we sure as hell didn't say yes. And we blame ourselves. We think that maybe if we'd been smarter, we wouldn't have been alone and drunk with a boy in the first place. If we hadn't worn that shirt or if we hadn't shared that first kiss. We feel alone and confused and we don't realize that we aren't the only ones experiencing these emotions.

Pieces of UsI will never reject dark themes. I will never relent to bullying. I will never change the stories I write regardless of the number of hate-filled emails I receive. I can't because you can't tell me that there's not a confused teenager that can't be helped by the issues addressed in books like Various Positions or books by Laurie Halse Anderson, Kelley York, Cheryl Rainfield, Ilsa J. Bick, or Margie Gelbwasser. You can't tell me that there won't be someone helped by my books.

I write for those kids.

The ones that remind me so much of me at that age. And I pray that what I, and other authors who look into the dark, have to say offers them a comfort the world oftentimes cannot.




  1. Here, here! There are all kinds of YA experiences and there should be books for all kinds of YA's.
    I've been called a YA porn pusher (which is ridiculous)because there is some sex in one of my books. I've also been slammed for including gay teens as main characters.
    Fine, if you think that's inappropriate, don't let your kids read my books. I put a content warning right there in the product description.
    Otherwise, my books are for girls that are like I was and for all the gay boys like I knew growing up.

  2. I truly loved this post, Melanie. And it goes to show how bullying doesn't stop when you're out of school. Name calling...really? Shame on them.

  3. This post was beautifully written and, in my opinion, spot on. As a high school teacher, it is often the darker, more real books that my students are drawn to. Too many of them carry dark secrets. Books that don't shy away from tough subjects are necessary, sometimes part of the healing process for kids.

  4. I often wonder how people can develop such strong opinions without being fully informed.

    Nice post--lots to ponder here!

  5. You guys are awesome! thanks so much for the support!

  6. You're entitled to voice your own thoughts in your own reviews. And the more I see of censorship, the more I'm convinced it is far more harmful than any material it purports to protect people from.

  7. That's one of the many reasons I adore you, Jennifer! You and your books are all sorts of awesome!

  8. People can be really mean and don't think they think before they do. As a teacher over the years have had parents who have blurt out the first thing that they think. I'm sorry for those mean emails you've gotten.

  9. Wonderful post. I whole heartedly agree. To some people YA is clean, innocent meant for middle schoolers. And a lot of YA is like that. And a lot of 6-8th graders read YA. But some YA is meant for the older more mature audience - true young adult.

    Totally depends on the child, their maturity level, and their reading level. We'd be surprised at what kids can handle. I've always firmly believed that sheltering a child does not always mean a life with no sadness or heartache. And that includes sheltering them from darker literature.