I read Gretchen McNeil’s Ten for the Hub Reading Challenge, but also because it said it was a slasher film in a book, and that sounded completely excellent. And in that sense, it totally delivered as a delicious slasher film that completely takes all the tropes and characters present in those and does nothing to update them, and that’s great, because nobody wants you to update them. They’re great because they’re utterly predictable.
But there is a point where things get meta, and where they get meta, they get weirdly racial and problematic, and even though I have no business assuming that McNeil did this in response to a current event that happened barely a year ago (except also, to be fair, it happened longer ago than that), but I’m going to, because I think it allows me to think about an interesting concept in writing.
So everyone knows that the book The Hunger Games has Katniss as maybe something that’s not totally white, or at least not totally WASP, but that everyone read her as white and it’s not really a problem, because that’s what the author is. But what some people didn’t notice in the book is that there were some people of color in it. Because, if you are the kind of person who thinks about literature and problematic things in literature, you probably know how everyone reads everyone as white, no matter the reader’s color, unless it is explicitly stated repeatedly that the character is not. And sometimes not even then. This isn’t really up for discussion as far as its validity, because everyone knows that it is more or less fact, because it’s the way we in the U.S. were socialized to read. Continue reading
Today my (white and blonde) friend and I went to a library to do some observations. We’re in library school, preparing to be youth services librarians, you know, so we were sitting in the teen section of said library and critiquing it. We were being pretty quiet and respectful, or at least she was – I kept saying things like “This blows” and “This is the most badly designed space ever.” We were in a back corner of the library, far away from most other humans there except for two teenagers who looked pretty annoyed that we were there and talking shit (sorry, it’s a beautiful building for a house, but the space was deeply uncomfortable and way too quiet). We both believe that teen spaces in libraries are for teenagers and that adults only have business in those areas if they are quickly browsing and then leaving or if they are the librarian. Obviously we are not technically either of those things, but clearly we had a legitimate, non-creepy reason for being there, and if a librarian had come up to us to ask why we were there, we could have explained that we are graduate students studying library science and that also we are pretty young, as far as adults go.
Anyway. We’ve been sitting for awhile, and all of a sudden I hear, “Hi, beautiful.” HORRIBLE, I know, but I looked up the way you do when you hear your name. GROSS. A telling reaction, I think you’ll see. Anyway. It’s this man who is maybe in his 50s and dressed kind of strangely and layered (but in a way distinct from the average homeless library patron – he was clearly the quirky kind of person, not the down on his luck kind of guy), and he comes over and says, “So, you must be either Hispanic or Ethiopian.”
Hello to you, too. STRANGER. WITH WHOM I HAVE IN NO WAY ENGAGED OR MADE EYE CONTACT AND THEREFORE DO NOT HAVE ANY SORT OF RELATIONSHIP WITH. Continue reading
So you might have heard about all that criticizing of “sick lit,” which is the new buzzword for adults who think they know about YA from having looked at synopses (you can always tell how invalidated these people’s arguments are when the comments are closed and the person has no experience as a librarian, writer, teacher, or scholar of the stuff, as you can see here). “Sick lit” has replaced Meghan Cox Gurdon’s ridiculous “Darkness Too Visible” article on the Wall Street Journal as the way to demonize YA for teaching teens that bad things happen in the world. They are written by people who know so little about children’s literature as to say things like “so-called ‘young adult’ (YA) fiction” (seriously, Russell Smith? A publishing category around for decades is just so-called? Anyway) and who think that a book published in the last five years was the first to “break the taboo about writing about suicide” (Tanith Carey). Basically, these people spent five minutes looking at YA and determined themselves experts, which I suppose is the same as men holding panels on reproductive rights and barring women from saying “vagina,” or politicians who have never been in classrooms telling teachers how to teach. This is about people with hegemonic power trying to keep it at all costs.
Of course, the real thing that these “concerned” adults are decrying is the idea that novels for teenagers might be something other than didactic and for an audience other than upper-middle-class white people with problems that cannot be easily solved with a little Kumbaya or finding true love that accepts you for who you are. There are scholarly articles about this, too, because people cannot get enough of criticizing these sick lit novels. And they have a point, to an extent – it is ridiculous when your novel hinges entirely on a kid with cancer and lacks, you know, a real plot, characterization, and compelling other things going on. But when these conversations move from Lurlene McDaniel to people with slightly more literary prowess, it gets ridiculous, because they are criticizing the wrong part of sick lit: the presentation of teenagers as people with serious difficulties in life instead of the problem novel-iness of it all. Continue reading