Kindergarten Lessons Are Hard to Learn

Have you guys heard of this Dessen controversy? It’s kind of crazy! And also, the degree of contention expressed over who was “right” and who was “totally out of line” is vastly out of proportion to something that, frankly, boils down to something you’ve probably been hearing since you were a little kid: Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right.

For those who have been blissfully unaware of what’s going on, some pretentious alum from Northern State University dissed Dessen’s book Saint Anything, dismissing it as a work for “teens,” not real people. (I’m paraphrasing, but that’s still pretty much what she said.) Because, you know, officially graduating from college and beginning to chip away at crippling student debt while working a soul-sucking job makes you more of a person than you were as a carefree high school student who still had the luxury of being excited and caring about shit.

And then, Dessen complained on Twitter, because the casually cruel words of some chick vainly posturing in an attempt to seem smart hurt her feelings. And Dessen’s girlfriends let her know that yes, she was a person who had put herself out there by allowing her precious, fragile book into the world, and the casually cruel chick definitely didn’t need to be such a dick about it if she didn’t like her writing.

I mean, calling her a “fucking bitch” in the public eye is a bit much, but I get it. Give me a few margaritas and I’ll be giving you a side hug and calling anyone who has deigned to look at you funny a fucking bitch, too. And no, I don’t really need margaritas to do that, at all, but I like tequila, and most people aren’t as honest as me.

What I love is that the girl who got called out for saying something shitty, is all like, “But I study online bullying! And while I think that trash is below the standard, because we all know I went to school with people far less intellectually superior than I am, #smartpeopleprobs, I recommended the winner, and vouched for other books that include diversity. So basically, you can’t call me a bad person, and you have to love me. And love means never having to say you’re sorry.” (I’m paraphrasing, but that’s still pretty much what she said.)

If you stand by what you said, cool. But you’re still dissing the author who spent time and energy creating this book that you deem “not good enough” (I’m paraphrasing, but that’s still pretty much what she said). And you’re also dissing the people who read that book, and to whom it spoke, and who thought the meaning and beauty that they derived was not isolated to just them. When you say: “She’s fine for teen girls… But definitely not up to the level of Common Read,” (that one actually is a direct quote) you are stating your opinion in a fairly mean way. And frankly, I think less of your intelligence, because you seem to be pushing so hard to flaunt that you’re not one of “those girls” who read Dessen. And to follow up with – “My quote was taken out of context; I also argued for three books [that] are beautifully written and push readers to stand against the racial inequality that the judicial system perpetuates, to consider the heritability and influence of tradition and trauma, and to contemplate what brings meaning to one’s life,” your argument doesn’t hold water. Because you didn’t explain how your quote was taken out of context. You just explained how you’re super awesome because you’re well-read and wanted to make sure everyone in your alma mater read a book that you liked, after denigrating a book that other people thought everyone should maybe read. So stop underestimating other people’s intelligence, and if you feel that strongly that Sarah Dessen is a shitty writer, then stick by it when her legion of followers decide to harass you on Twitter. Or maybe just, like, stop using Twitter or something. Don’t you have more books to read to make sure that college students everywhere aren’t reading shit you don’t deem good enough?

But Nelson isn’t the only one who messed up. Dessen’s reaction to reading Nelson’s words (however she found out about it; this is the age of the Internet, so not quite sure why the Washington Post finds this so weird) is completely understandable. And wanting to vent to her friends, and then get sympathy from her friends – also completely understandable.

Except that Dessen’s “friends” on social media consist of quite a large population of people. Like, if you wanted to audit the number of people following Dessen on Twitter are real people, you would be looking at quite a large sample size. So Sarah Dessen should have thought a little bit more about whether or not she really wanted to post. Having personally followed Dessen (#bias), I kind of feel like she’s honestly just a super sweet person who posts unfiltered content on her Twitter, Instagram, what-have-you. So this word vomit simply poured forth from her fingers, akin to everything else she posted. That is just a guess, however; I have met the author (twice) in person, but I don’t really know her. Maybe her feelings got hurt and she intentionally and maliciously posted a fairly innocuous post about how she had worked hard on her novel and the comment’s venomous slant had hit her hard knowing that fans would see it and instantly swarm to her defense. Maybe she wanted this person to really understand the power that words hold. Perhaps her post, which doesn’t even sound that bad to me, was carefully crafted to appeal to the unwise, sociopathic, and/or bitchy members of her fan base.

Or maybe she posted something without really thinking through the potential consequences, and then when she realized how the other person was being unfairly attacked, took her post down and issued a public apology. I don’t know. I’m not a mind reader.

I do know that both parties did something wrong, and both should apologize (one already has). But given that these women are no longer under the sway of a kindergarten teacher, if they haven’t already done so, it’s doubtful they will do so, now.

What are your thoughts on this current event? Do you take a side? Not care? Are you a mind reader, and do you actually know the intentions behind what either of the involved persons did?

20 thoughts on “Kindergarten Lessons Are Hard to Learn

  1. This is a really misinformed take.

    Nelson’s original quote was made to a small South Dakota newspaper THREE YEARS AGO. She didn’t @ Dessen, she didn’t post it online herself. Keep in mind that means the paper also editorialized her comment and she was not given the space to flesh out her position either.

    Dessen is the one who apparently dug up and shared the clip, and she is also the one who seems to have INTENTIONALLY cut-off the context that further explained Nelson wanted something with more topical merit to be chosen for the Common Read (specifically Just Mercy, a non-fiction book about racial bias in the criminal justice system).

    In other words, Dessen not only sicked her large fan-base on an off-hand comment from a random college student to an obscure small town paper, she purposefully took the quote out of context to make herself look like more of a victim than she actually was. You can disagree with Nelson, but this is not a “both parties did bad” situation. Dessen was totally out of line. This was some emotionally-manipulative mean-girl trick to validate herself by bullying someone with significantly less power and influence than she has. Not cool.


    1. Hm… not sure if Dessen is the one who cut it off, or if the local newspaper would have. The link from the Washington Post claiming Nelson said these things was printed very recently – November 12, 2019. Was it a re-print?

      Can you link to the original article? If this is a very old article, then that is certainly information that should be taken in mind.


      1. I was incorrect on the statement, looks like the article was printed recently, but the year Ms. Nelson chose the book was 2017.

        Dessen still cut out a lot of context.


      2. I don’t think the year the book was picked has any bearing on the matter, though, if Nelson made her comments as recently as a week or so ago. I guess I’m not understanding what you mean, when you say that the context was taken out. Can you elaborate?


      3. That her end purpose wasn’t to wholly prevent people from ever reading Dessen or that she was crapping on YA as a whole, but rather that she found Dessen’s work inappropriate for a college-level Common Read, and that in joining the committee she further went on to support a book (Just Mercy) which is a non-fiction book about racial bias in the criminal justice system. So it wasn’t just about stifling “books important to teenage girls” or their stories but also about championing a minority perspective that would also provide a lot of fuel for discussion across multiple groups of students (the purpose of a Common Read).
        Dessen conveniently cuts out the point where she goes on to say what books she did support, which is what makes Nelson look worse.

        Then you have these authors going off about her for having “internalized misogyny” or some other nonsense because she thought there were more important subjects (like criminal justice) to discuss at the college-level than a teen romance. This woman is not far off from the target YA demographic. And she didn’t even really say that YA was bad as much as she said she didn’t think Sarah Dessen’s books in particular were a good choice for this program. They’re fine for teenage girls, but there are better choices for this program.

        So you realize, this forced a lot of authors who stood up for Dessen into decrying the supposed sexism here by shitting all over an actual woman (some of them even called her a bitch??? And Dessen approved. Yay feminism/s) by inadvertently insinuating that a formulaic teen romance written at a lower grade level is somehow of equal importance and appropriateness in college discussions as non-fiction about racism and criminal justice reform. Like, if Nelson’s statements imply she’s snobbish or sexist in this context, don’t theirs sort of suggest an elitist and racist viewpoint? (For the record, I don’t think either is true. The whole argument is ludicrous. Nelson’s opinion is neither snobbish nor sexist in context).

        I mean if the student had been pushing for some schlock like Ready Player One that year (which was a book chosen in the years before she joined the committee) I could see the argument. But that’s not what happened. She supported a work that is legitimately more meaningful (for a College Common Read) than anything that Sarah Dessen writes. Cutting all of that out makes the student look worse. It’s manipulative and shows how much Dessen over-reacted to this one student’s opinion about her books.

        Considering even Dessen herself has it listed on her own web site that she writes for teens, stating that her work is “fine for teen girls” is hardly an inflammatory statement, and it’s a particularly light criticism when you consider the full context.

        Dessen was wrong here. As I said, you are welcome to disagree with Nelson, but she wasn’t wrong or mean or cruel for simply having an opinion about a book. That’s ridiculous.


      4. I disagree; I think you are giving Nelson undue credit, and am not sure why. She literally said: “I became involved simply so I could stop them from ever choosing Sarah Dessen.”

        That is a direct quote.

        She probably didn’t actually explicitly join to prevent Sarah Dessen from getting picked – but she literally said that was her sole purpose. To say that, after being dismissive of “teen girls” (because her phrasing is dismissive, and I don’t see any two ways of reading that) is unnecessary and cruel.

        It is not ridiculous; it is factual. If Nelson did not intend to convey her message in a hurtful way, then she used a very poor choice of phrasing. And personally, I think she just wasn’t thinking about the fact that she was discussing someone who is another living person, and so wasn’t thinking about the fact that her phrasing was mean. But it doesn’t change the fact that it was, that the person about whom she was speaking saw her words and was hurt by them.

        There are two options when you say something kind of bitchy and get called out – Stand by your words (“Yep. I said it. It sucks that your feelings got hurt, but I stand by it.”) or apologize (“Whoops. Honestly, I wasn’t thinking about what I was saying, and I unintentionally hurt your feelings. Sorry; my bad.”)

        Nelson, from my understanding, did neither of those things. Her response was: “I couldn’t have been dismissive of teen girls (and as the mother of two sons, personally, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to make all freshmen read a book that deals with a girl who has some crazy stuff happen to her, who feels uneasy in her own home because her parent’s misguided intentions result in her being physically unsafe, and who is able to see light at the end of the tunnel because she meets some people who are true friends to her) because I supported these books that are racially diverse.” First of all, that’s not true. You can be dismissive of one hot-topic issue even if you are a staunch supporter of another one. Secondly, it shows a leap in logic, because it deflects and never addresses the issue.

        As someone who reads a lot, I am extremely opinionated, and I tend to state my opinions in a way that argues for my opinion in a manner that is supposed to generally come off as fairly funny. But I stand by my words. If I say your book sucks because your characters are flat and your plot is stagnant, I’m not really trying to hurt your feelings. But if your feelings get hurt, I’m also not going to back down. That is how I saw the book.

        If Nelson thinks Saint Anything is just a teen romance, then she is entitled to that opinion. Personally, I think she is wrong. But I am not going to jump to her defense when she has neither apologized nor shrugged it off. Instead, she has played the victim. She’s not. She said a bitchy thing. She got called out. The fact that she is supportive of books that show racial diversity (which I agree is an awesome and needed thing) does not mean that she was not dismissive of a book featuring a teen girl that is marketed for a YA reading audience. She was.

        I don’t think Nelson is wrong for having an opinion. I think she has behaved poorly because she has not responded in the way that an educated, rational person should, while continuing to posture as an intellectual superior that she clearly isn’t. So yeah, I’m calling her out on her shit.

        And I stand by it.


      5. Umm… Nelson doesn’t really have a platform though? So I don’t understand why you think she’s “playing the victim”? If anyone was “playing the victim” here it was Dessen herself. Nelson just responded to a question from a journalist. She didn’t blast anything on Twitter. In fact the harassment she received led her to delete her Twitter and FB accounts.

        Nelson’s response was only given via e-mail to a few outlets and is most thoroughly quoted in this vulture article.

        1. She does stand by her decision and further explains it.

        2. She responds with a lot more class than Dessen’s friends whose responses I remind you were “Fuck that fucking bitch” which Dessen in turn liked, and responded to with “I love you”. Real classy.

        It’s pretty clear to me who responded to the way an educated, rational person should and it was definitely NOT Sarah Dessen or the other authors who responded.


      6. Thank you for linking to the article with more of Nelson’s information; always helpful to see whether or not I had missed a source. [Also, my apologies for the delayed response; I’ve been slammed with work, which is why it has taken so long.] I interpret the article slightly differently. When she says she was “taken out of context,” to me, that indicates that she is saying she was misunderstood. But I don’t think she was. Her phrasing about Dessen’s work was pretty harsh, as well as kind of shitty towards teenage girls. And I don’t think she’s responding with class; to me, it reads as though she’s defending herself.

        However, agreed, the excessive use of cursing, while something I personally frequently partake in (I could defend it, and talk about how some claim that smarter people curse, but the truth is mostly that I’m from Detroit, bitch), felt like overkill.


      7. I mean like, serious question, as a book-blogger doesn’t this kind of behavior from authors freak you out? Like I’m sure there are books and authors you don’t like that much.

        What if an author you criticized even mildly Google-searched their name, found your blog, blasted it to there 200k+ Twitter followers and then you ended getting harassed by a deluge of messages simply for voicing your opinion?

        Like Dessen can be hurt by this sure, but she should have vented privately. What she did was vindictive and thoughtless, and honestly that kind of culture hurts readers more than anything Nelson said or did.


      8. Yeah, I get what you mean. To be perfectly frank, if a famous author criticized me, I would probably secretly be pleased to see so many new readers checking out my blog!

        Although, agreed, severe harassment for criticism, (I mean, I thought it was kind of harsh; I would be hurt if someone dismissed something I made as “for kids,” whether it’s a book, a stripping #, a portrait, whatever) is not cool. And that’s why I said that Dessen is also in the wrong. I can understand why Dessen felt hurt by it, but she has a large following on pretty much all her social media, and she should not post such items online. I know it’s cliche, but Spiderman has it right – with great power comes great responsibility. And I definitely agree with you that it was thoughtless.

        If she needs to vent about such things, it should be with her husband, or her friends in person. Personally, I find the fact that Dessen apologized to be meaningful, and I am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt because of that. But I won’t really know unless I see that she does not actually post similar things in the future.

        Liked by 1 person

      9. I get it, and don’t necessarily disagree that Dessen would be put off by that statement (although she should be prepared for it in her position). But it would be totally healthy for her to vent about that OFFLINE.

        Social media creates dynamics that can spin way out of control really quickly. I do think she has been around long enough to understand that. I’m sure she’s fully aware what a dog-pile feels like, but at least she has her own fans to lift her up. When someone doesn’t (like Nelson) they get crushed.

        But on the other hand, this is also how bullying dynamics in groups of girls works in school–if someone who is more popular goes off on “X” was mean to me and then complains to all her friends about it and all of those friends in turn just dump on the other girl without giving her a chance to explain her side of it, you end up with a bullying situation.

        I mean, Dessen was looking for validation because the article hurt her, but what she did was a classic, juvenile mean-girl tactic. It really was. You would think someone who writes about the effects of bullying like she does would be aware of that.

        I do agree that Dessen apologized and people should probably let it go. Dog-piling with “YOU NEED TO APOLOGIZE MORE FOREVER” which is a thing I have seen on several author threads is also not cool or healthy for anyone.


      10. I agree that Dessen should have vented her complaints offline. And that her popular author friends should have responded offline and/or at least via private message.

        However, I disagree that Dessen used a “mean girl tactic,” which I think comes down to a viewpoint on intention. First of all, Dessen’s phrasing was hardly cruelly worded. Second, and this is admittedly a personal bias, I have met Dessen via attending a couple of her author readings, and I honestly think she’s a sweetheart. Maybe she’s pulled the wool over my eyes. Maybe she’s secretly a mean girl who very intentionally decided to sic her legion of fans on another adult woman. But I don’t think so.

        Like I said in my post, though, there’s really no way of knowing Dessen’s intentions. Or Nelson’s. All we can do is see the words that each person used, see the effect that said words had on the other person, and see the response.

        And like you said, it’s probably something we should all just let go, and not think about ad nauseam and have a foaming-at-the-mouth opinion about. But I am very opinionated (I get the feeling maybe you are too?), and when I initially read about this controversy (via the Washington Post article), it really caused me to examine the situation. Because both sides are very vehement – again, maybe more than the situation warrants. And also, because I had an instinct about who the “innocent” party was, but both sides brought up some legitimate points, so I had to really think about the facts of the situation and vet this instinct to make sure I was not being unfair. I feel like judging people on the actual words said/posted, as well as the actual actions afterward, is fair, and that is how I came up with my view of the situation.

        I am sure that you did the same, of course, and as we can both see, we have very different viewpoints resulting from it! Which is a very interesting, fascinating thing to me. I have been enjoying our discussion, and hope that you have as well!

        Liked by 1 person

      11. I have been actually! See I was worried I was lambasting you a little here… but it’s something I want to talk about, and I sort of feel like this kind of back and forth is more constructive than me joining any kind of Twitter dogpile. I appreciate all of your responses, despite our disagreements. I do have opinions…but I definitely don’t want to contribute to the social media drag that puts people through the wringer (in this case Nelson on the front end and now Dessen on the backlash). It’s one of the reasons I signed up for WordPress and de-activated Twitter.

        This whole situations is one of those things that I am frustrated and confused by, because I have to wonder myself, is there some latent misogyny that predisposes me to want to dismiss Sarah Dessen’s work? That is probably something I need to interrogate.

        But then on the other hand, I would probably take the same position as Nelson, because for all YA has to offer, it IS written at a lower reading level. And I think college students need to be challenged to read books that use more complex language than we see in YA.

        And Dessen in particular, kind as she may be, generally writes for and about a very privileged group of people–most of her books are about upper-middle class white people…in Saint Anything the conflict is predicated on the son of a wealthy family crippling someone in an accident while intoxicated, and how that impacts his family, especially his sister. And I don’t mean to say that’s a totally unimportant, but like, it’s a limited perspective.

        And if you look up the demographics of that college, it’s like 60/40 female/male, overwhelmingly white, and middle income. Dessen’s work is relatable to this group of people, but it’s not really going to challenge them or expand their understanding of the world, the way I think college should.

        Also with regards to Dessen, I think it was a gut reaction. That can still be bullying albeit unintentionally and let me unpack that. What I mean to say is, somebody said something bad about her work, and she was just looking for validation. That’s still a little manipulative–she didn’t give the full context because she wanted to garner sympathy for herself without anyone pushing back on context (I’m sure her friends would still be in her corner, but on Twitter, well, there are people like me who would push back on this situation a little, because I don’t think this is as big a deal as she’s made it out to be). I don’t know, it just feels a little manipulative.

        Not like maliciously, we all do this a little I think, especially when we are looking for friendly validation.

        Like have you ever had a friend complain to you about someone, and it’s clear they just want you to agree with them? But then if you ask a few more questions, it becomes clear that they are being a little harsh on that other person? Like they didn’t really give you the full story from the beginning. That’s kind of what this feels like.

        I guess when my friends do that, I try to give them a gentle push back. People need to have that kind of grounding. But Dessen went to her fans…and fans are not the same thing as friends, you know?
        Like, I think you’re right, I am speculating here, but I feel like she posted this and did it this way because she expected the validation with none of the ego checks a good friend would give you in person. That part was intentional, even if the resulting abuse on the student wasn’t.

        But you’ve also given me something else to consider here–you’ve actually met Sarah Dessen in person, and had a positive interaction with her. I think, in Dessen’s defense, I do want to acknowledge that this Twitter kerfuffle is not the whole of who she is as a person, and neither of us really know all that much about Nelson yet both of us clearly feel free to pass judgment on her.

        Personally, I have experienced minor dogpiling (nothing like what Nelson got here, with people going after her alma mater, etc.) but having gotten a taste of it, I tend to find myself sympathizing with the victims of it, and am perhaps overly critical of the people with large followings who instigate that kind of thing when they should know better.

        I.e., there may be a little confirmation bias at play on both our parts, based on our personal experiences.


      12. I definitely haven’t felt lambasted. It has been good to have a discussion with you, and I am glad that you have been able to interact in this way here on the WordPress platform, though sorry to hear you had to deactive Twitter. Do you remember when Twitter was primarily composed of the publishing industry and other literate folks? It has changed a lot over the past decade, and not always for the better.

        You bring up a lot of good points, and I think that the difficult but necessary step that every person should take is recognizing his or her biases, and how those biases cause him or her to have a tendency to think, favorably or otherwise, towards the people and situations of which they hear. My guess is that you probably are at least a little misogynistic, because most media influences in society encourage misogynistic tendencies. It is difficult to escape, and without actively thinking about the underlying message of the media you are consuming, you have likely been marinating your brain sponge in the juices of misogyny. And who is going to think critically about the TV they watch and the commercials they are subjected to after a hard day at work? I definitely have at least a few areas that I tend to think about in a misogynistic matter – for example, I like to wear make-up. Which is totally fine. But I also feel like I don’t look very pretty, and like I should do my best to look pretty, when I am not wearing make-up. The reality is, I like to watch movies and television with pretty women, and I like the magazine ads with pretty women, but a woman is not really less of a woman if she does not have or chooses not to spend the money on make-up and skincare, etc. But if I am not paying attention, I find myself feeling like “less of a woman.” And the products being sold to me are often sold to me by ads and product placement written by men who probably aren’t jerks, but who have been raised with a confidence and worldview that places them in a position of superiority by virtue of their genitalia.

        But while one of the cool things about people is that we all come from a different background, and have had different experiences, the flipside of that is that all of us will have inherent biases as the result of our background and experiences.

        Recognizing those biases, however, helps us keep them in mind, and means we are more likely to at least recognize if we are being unfair. I am definitely biased, in many various ways. And it makes sense that you, having experienced some unfair treatment, are more likely to instinctively side with Nelson (I think that statement is in line with what you are saying, although please correct me if I am incorrect). And I am someone who tends to be a bit more sensitive to how something is said, which I think can sometimes unintentionally express the wrong intention, but more often, reveals more than the speaker might wish.

        Also – fairly tangential, but are YA books really always written with less complex language? I would be kind of surprised by that, given that newspapers are written at a fourth-grade level, and YA is the “hip” genre to be writing in, since teens with more disposable income who are prone to dramatic levels of fandom AND many adults are now reading them. You may be right, but would love to read up on it if you have some evidence/sources handy.


      13. I’ll admit it’s mostly based on my own reading experience. It’s not like I don’t read YA myself, and yes I do feel simplicity is a part of it. Simpler sentence structure, certainly simpler vocabulary and thematically they tend to be straightforward and use of metaphors tends to be more on the nose.

        Further than that, I have read books by authors who write in both YA and adult, and they do change elements of their prose as well as how they structure the plot (i.e. they generally try to hit the same beats as a screenplay).

        I mean, YA is a marketing category, it’s hip because it’s what sells. And it sells in part, because it is easy to consume quickly. This further supports it’s marketibility. So for example, blogging (as you might have notice) tends to rely on being able to produce content with some regularity. So if you blog or (vlog on YouTube) about books it helps if you read YA. In fact, it’s relatively difficult to find bloggers and YouTubers who don’t read almost exclusively YA, not that they don’t exist but they don’t produce enough content to compete against the algorithm.

        The same is true of authors–those that succeed tend to be those that can produce a lot of content on a regular basis (this tends to necessitate simplistic writinh). There are certainly trends in all genres but it’s hard not to notice how the trends in YA seem to move faster–in fact they move at the speed of Hollywood (which itself is scrambling for content and is more reliant on franchises than ever before). People engage with YA the same way people engage with other forms of entertainment media, because increasingly that’s what YA is. As you point out, people do not necessarily engage with TV and commercials on a critical basis. And I think it’s fair to point out a large percentage of YA consumers are not teens, just as a large part of the consumer base of Star Wars and Superhero movies are not teens. The point is largely an appeal to an adolescent form of escapism. Within that, there are occasionally thought-provoking standouts, but the bulk of it is meant for easy consumption.

        To that end, there is a frustrating element of the whole “dismissal of teenage girls” argument. To me, a lot of YA, especially the more commercial stuff feels like an outgrowth of the entertainment industry–and I would argue that far from not taking teenage girls seriously there is rather a tendency to infantilize grown women. The vast majority of the women we see on screen are conventionally attractive–and that usually means young or being able to look younger.

        So sometimes this whole YA thing just feels like an extension of the same old marketing pressures which seem to insist on a woman’s value being encased in her youthfulness and adherence to the norms of traditional femininity. To then call any critique or even simple dislike of the media that reinforces all of these old norms and narratives that have been force fed to us for centuries as being “internalized misogyny” honestly just feels like a new angle of attack to get women to conform. This is not wielded against critique of any of the new or legitimately more interesting YA–I haven’t seen this as a response to critiques of The Hate U Give for example. No, “good for teenage girls” is often applied to works that are frankly pretty traditional in their execution. Here “teenage girls” really refers to the marketing base, not actual teenage girls themselves. It’s less about what actual teenage girls like and more about what the industry thinks they should like. (i.e. “for teenage girls” operates as a kind of brand by which people who like it are able to find what they enjoy through the lens of that curation–this does not mean that it in any way accurately reflects the general interests of real teenage girls).

        So to complain about taking the stuff that is marketed to teenage girls seriously is a bit like insisting that the infantilized, narrow version of feminity which already permeates our culture be given prestige rather than allowing the full range of what feminity can be to be brought to attention. From that perspective I can understand the posts about the Dessen incident being “peak white feminism”–because it does feel a lot like asking for a seat at the table from people who are already in the goddamn room.


      14. I agree that it’s mainly a marketing ploy, but don’t know that it’s fair to assume YA is written at a lower level. Even if you have observed what appears to be somewhat pandering in some novels, I have also seen some books that I personally consider to have been written with great depth of understanding and a not-inconsiderable vocabulary. For example, I think most of us think Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby is pretty good – I’ve seen that shelved in YA sections. Ditto with Jane Austen. Ditto with Charlotte Bronte. The full book, not those stupid board books where people need to be ridiculous and teach their babies the basic plot elements to some of our great novels. Not abridged. So given that it is primarily a marketing ploy, and that it is currently one of the big markets in which work can be published, I think the writing contained within that category can vary widely in terms of perspective, vocabulary, literary devices, etc.

        Also not sure I’m following your last argument – are you saying to take the stuff that is marketed to teenage girls is not being taken seriously? You are entitled to your opinion; like I said, I’m an opinionated person myself. I personally don’t think less of people for reading YA and for thinking some of it’s well written, and for thinking a book that makes the actually frightening perspective of a girl who feels threatened and is in a dangerous situation she does not entirely know how to handle is worth recommending to a group of people. Teenage girls are sexually threatened every day, even when their parents do everything they can think of to prevent it. And that’s scary. And a book that gets the message across that this is a problem for girls, and that girls don’t need to ignore their instincts, is a good one, as well as a message that applies to women. Not the worst idea for guys to read a story that shows how creepy the persistence of unwanted attention can be either, particularly given the plethora of television, books, movies, etc., that convey the message that if you just hang around a female long enough, she’s bound to fall in love with you.


      15. Ah, I think we are operating under different definitions of YA. What I am thinking about are those published under the developing genre that carries that label, which really didn’t exist before the late 1950s, and didn’t really mature until the 1980s. The classic books you cited are YA in the sense that they have young protagonists. But they were not written FOR teens–which is part of why they are written with more complex language.

        When I am talking about YA I mean books written for teens. Dessen’s work falls under this kind of writing. It’s true she covers some hard topics which are useful for middle and high schoolers, but there are books written for adults that cover the same subjects, and which I would consider more appropriate for college students.


  2. Holy bejeezus I wrote a lot on that last one. No fault if you don’t read through it O.O Sometimes I Yikes myself.
    TLDR; I appreciate the discussion you’ve been kind enough to go back and forth with me on so far.

    Liked by 1 person

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