Tuesday, August 18, 2015

YA Books & The John Green Problem

Fiction for young adults is seemingly booming. YA lit sections in chain bookstores seem to keep increasing in size, the number of eager readers grow yearly, and YA writer John Green's novel The Fault In Our Stars was adapted into a box-office success in a movie adaption of the same name. As the Daily Dot pointed out earlier this year though, he's endemic of a larger genre-wide problem:
On Twitter, Green has 2 million followers. Compared to the rest of the leaders in Young Adult fiction, that number is staggering. To approach even half the Twitter influence of John Green all by himself, you need an entire army of YA women. AndersonBlume,DessenVeronica Roth, Cassandra ClareRichelle MeadMargaret StohlKami Garcia,Rainbow RowellMaureen JohnsonMalinda LoHolly BlackLJ SmithEllen Hopkins,Shannon HaleLauren MyracleLibba BrayMelissa Marr, and Leigh Bardugo: As a group these women only have about 1.2 million followers on Twitter. That’s the voice of one man outweighing several decades of women who have had major successes, critical acclaim, and cultural influence. 
The problem of the cultural influence his books have created is not Green’s fault, but it’s created a frustrating situation for female writers and readers. Book blogger Rhiannon K. Thomas issued a sweeping takedown of the way the NYT bestseller list is stacked against female authors, many of whom write series, which are automatically moved to the “Children’s Series” list, out of the YA category altogether. She also pointed out that when men like Green aren’t writing YA, the media perception of it suddenly changes. Instead of being high literature, it suddenly becomes a shallow, frivolous genre that only silly teenagers and unfulfilled housewives participate in—just like the romance genre sans Sparks.
While John green himself has also done loads of things that are actually harmful to the audience he's writing for-- like reducing the death of Anne Frank to a mere prop, or taking a teenage girl's post discussing how the author's online presence makes her feel uncomfortable to mean he was accused of being a pedophile-- I think it's part of a larger systematic inequality. 

Whether you look at books, comic books, film or television, women are under-represented and outmatched. This is especially troubling because it leads to the FALSE idea that not only are there no women writers, creators or taste-makers, but that half the planet can just be ignored or dismissed and wouldn't want to see themselves represented anyhow.

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