Something a little different today, because I read a book last night that I cannot countenance staying silent about. I try to stay positive here, because I recognise that the books I dislike are usually just “not for me” as opposed to “objectively bad”. However, The Young Adult Writer’s Journey is a book I picked up on NetGalley hoping to gain some tips for my own writing – unfortunately, it was so highly offensive that I feel the need to warn people. Please do share this post if something here resonates with you.
This book is:
Racist. Ableist. Homophobic. Patronising. Lazy.
This book is so filled with stereotyping and lazy, off-hand, unsubstantiated comments as to be actively damaging to anyone who tries to use it. Here are a selection of quotes from the book – not everything, as I got exhausted:
– “Ethnicity is huge in YA… Ethnicity adds flavor. Many races have cultures that affect their behavior. Do your research and find the odd, quirky characteristic your ethnic character can use for fun…” Oh, and this quote comes from the “Basic Teen Social Cliques” section, implying that non-white characters are a clique like jocks or nerds.
– “In this section, note any speech of language issues. If the character is ethnic, maybe from India, what kind of speech patterns does he/she use?”
– The section on naming characters implies a white default and says you should use ethnic names to add diversity. In fact, the whole book implies a white default.
– “Commitment is a huge thing. Sometimes, they think they’re committed, and then, boom, they’re not interested in that other person at all and maybe they’re gay. Believe it, it’s happening more and more.”
– “LGBT characters have become a popular trend.”
– “School is not for sissies, either.”
– The “Basic Teen Social Cliques” section, as above with “ethnic” characters, includes “Gay, Bisexual and Transgender kids” as one of the cliques.
– “As the stigma attached to being sexually diverse fades, being in this group can add drama and an odd popularity to members who are in this group or who claim to be.”
– “Some kids, usually girls, are unsure of their sexuality at this stage and may flit in and out of this group.” Oh, so lesbianism or female bisexuality is more of a phase than being a gay or bi male?
– “Books including trans and gay kids are becoming not only acceptable but sought after.”
– “Young people are fun, because they are energetic.”
– “Nerds may have emotional issues and or mental handicaps like OCD, eating disorders, extreme lack of self-confidence or learning, personality, or emotional disorders like ADD, ADHD, PTSD, hyperactivity, or they could come from broken and dysfunctional families.” AS MAY ALL TEENS. OR ADULTS. OR ANYONE.
– “Cheerleaders are often the pretty, athletic girls. They wear make up, trendy clothes, and frequently come from affluent families. They like to date jocks, can be sexually active…”
Lazy and unsubstantiated claims about sexual topics:
– “Date rape is very common and when three of four women will be raped, according to statistics, awareness of sexual predators isn’t an uncommon topic for books that teens will want to read.” No footnotes or any explanation of those ‘statistics’.
– “You’ll never see teens under 18 having sex in a YA movie unless it’s about abuse, drug addiction, and prostitution, or some other extraordinary circumstances.” Actually, there is a growing movement to show healthy, positive sexual interactions in YA books. And we’re talking about books, not movies.
– This scale… just… this scale.
“1. Eye to body (check that hot guy out)
2. Eye to eye (making eye contact, oooh)
3. Voice to voice (Sometimes for a teenage guy or girl just talking to the opposite sex can be difficult, so this is a major step)
4. Hand to hand or hand to arm (Big step that first actual skin contact. This could give a girl or guy pimples for a week)
5. Arm to shoulder (As in the movies, putting an arm around the girl is huge.)
6. Arm to waist (Not much of this goes on with teens)
7. Mouth to mouth (The pinnacle of firsts in almost everyone’s life, the first kiss)
8. Hand to head or face
9. Hand to body (Stop here in YA)
10. Mouth to the parts…
11. Hand to the other parts…
12. Actual sex (just no).”
There are so many problems with this I can’t even begin to describe it. It’s completely bizarre to arrange this as steps in a relationship; neglects asexual experience and non-binary gender experience; includes completely wrong observations such as teens not putting their arms around each other’s waists; and on the whole, makes me think these authors have never seen inside a high school or sixth-form common room.
– “Even Bella waited until she was 18…” Yes, because Twilight depicts such a healthy relationship.
Just plain useless:
– “Try to tell a lot of your story with dialogue, but not too much, as discussed earlier.”
– The entire middle section of the book is a rehash of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey, with added comments about where these parts fall in Harry Potter. Not entirely useless, perhaps, but lazy and unoriginal.
– Almost every reference is to Harry Potter and other FILMS. The whole book uses FILMS as an example. Not books. MOVIES. It implies on several occasions that the only measure of success for a book is to be made into a film.
– Character names and titles of existing properties are got wrong on multiple occasions. There is no book called ‘The Maze Runners’. Nor is there a character in Matilda called ‘Miss Trunchbold’.
– Matilda is not a YA book. The new Jumanji film is not a YA book. Lord of the Rings is not a YA book. Diary of a Wimpy Kid is not YA. I seriously doubt that these authors have read widely in the YA genre, as they lean heavily on Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Twilight, The Maze Runner, and Holes. The most recent of which was published in 2010. Over nine years ago. The genre has moved on.
This book disgusts me. I rarely slam books wholeheartedly, because I appreciate the effort that has gone into them even if they didn’t suit me. But here we have a book that perpetuates damaging stereotypes while pretending to offer advice, and offering no more advice than a cursory Google search of ‘how to write a book’. I can’t believe this is being published.