This week, you’re getting what seems to be a bit of a recurring theme on my blog. No, I’m not talking about my fangirling (though I should cut down on that, I agree). Today, I want to talk to you about the responsibility of YA authors.
In my last post about this (if I remember rightly), I said that no, authors don’t have a responsibility. They shouldn’t preach to us; they should use their love of words to show us things that they think we need to see. However, every now and again, there is a thin line between not being preachy and perpetuating cycles of misinformation and stigma that some authors just don’t know the right side of.
I am writing all of this specifically about a couple of books I read lately, part of the Shade of Vampire series. I’m not reviewing it here, so I’ll quickly skip over the general flaws, tendency to have giant plot twists that are somehow just not interesting at all, and the fact that the books barely deserve to be called novellas let alone novels because they’re less than two hundred pages each. What bothered me most about these books is the stereotypes and outright lies that were used.
I’ve read a lot of articles lately about the things that YA is telling us, and a lot of them are about the unhealthy relationships that the genre seems to thrive on. Personally, I’ve never noticed these problems myself. Other than wondering how people with a centuries-wide gap between their ages could possibly have anything to talk about, I’ve never really seen anything wrong.
That is, until I started reading these books.
I don’t imagine any of you are going to be dying to read them after I’ve put the books down so badly, so I’m not bothering to keep away from spoilers.
The girl in it falls in love with a guy.
The guy is her ‘master’ — she is kidnapped to become his slave and then decides that, even though he is a vampiric slave owner who kills her friends, she loves him. She’d do anything for him.
(quite a bit more of both shock and of horror)
I think that tells you all you need to know about the problems with YA relationships (spec fic specifically, because maybe contemporary is better at this, I don’t know). It’s probably the most obvious example that I’ve come across, but it’s not the only one:
- Vampire Academy is about a girl who is in love with her mentor
- The Vampire Diaries books include a teacher-student relationship
- Twilight (need I say more)
- Even my favourite book, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, can be said to have these problems — Mara has severe PTSD and other issues which I can’t give away for the sake of spoilers, and Noah (while not a millions of years old creature or teacher) does, in some ways, seem to almost blackmail her into a relationship
You might not see the problem with any of this. You might even deviously use my previous argument that, so what if this is what they’re telling us, that girls have to basically lean on guys and guys are more than welcome to take advantage of girls — it’s not their responsibility to tell us how healthy relationships work.
I have lots of words to say to you if that’s what you think, and most of them are rude.
This is a severe problem. If it was just one book, I would by all means say that the author is more than welcome to do whatever they liked with the relationship. But this isn’t one book, or even a sub-genre. It is a trend, and when you find yourself in a trend that can negatively affect the readers of the books in aforesaid trend, you need to get out of it, even if it possibly means being preachy. Even if it means that your book gets less publicity. Because anything you can do to fix this idea that girls should be obedient creatures who need a man to look after them will be helpful. Anything.
And it’s not just that that I have a problem with in this book. It’s the blatant disregard for facts, and the following of a trope that has existed since what feels like the beginning of time.
And that’s the trope around girls losing their virginity. Anyone who has ever been on a feminist website will know that most of what young people tend to think about sex is a lie. However, I have also read articles that say that this misinformation is not purposeful — it is never said, only implied, and these wonderful authors and media outlets and suchlike don’t realise what young people are getting from what they say.
As one of those young people, I can happily tell you that that’s a load of shit. If these people didn’t realise that they were actually perpetuating stereotypes, there wouldn’t always be blood on the bed. They wouldn’t use the phrase ‘pain and pleasure’, or get the more experienced, elder guy to tell his obedient little girlfriend that it’s going to hurt. They wouldn’t make the loss of virginity seem like the be-all and end-all. If they knew what that did to young people and actually cared, they wouldn’t mention it. They wouldn’t use those sickly tropes, and they might even walk my favourite preachy-showing-the-truth line by getting the girl to be confused when none of that happens — or, even better, have her boyfriend be confused and give the girl the chance to be the knowledgeable one by explaining that most of what you see on TV is either a lie or a very rare occurrence.
Now, I’m not saying that this is all the fault of the writers — hell, maybe they’re more deluded and swayed by the media than the people they are accidentally swaying and deluding — but maybe, just maybe, writers do have a responsibility. Not a responsibility to tell us what to do, or even be certain that they haven’t lied to us. Maybe they have a responsibility to research the genre they’re writing in, and not just to see if they’ll be able to sell what they’re writing, but to find out where their novel fits in that genre — what it’s doing and not doing that fits in with the general crowd, and whether that crowd has a healthy image or not.
Or maybe I just need to get back to writing my liberal little stories that will only ever sell for the price of the internet. After all, who am I to say what’s right and wrong?