#MorallyComplicatedYA

(Late to the party, as usual.)

So, like a week and a half ago—seriously late to that party—this debut author, Scott Bergstrom, said a couple things in an interview with Publishers Weekly that infuriated a lot of people. You can read the article for yourself, but I’ll paraphrase what I got out of it: Scott Bergstrom is looking down at that YA genre as a whole and dissing it by saying that regular “high school” YA isn’t morally complex and dystopian YA is “imaginary” and thus has no real world connotations.

As a YA writer who writes such morally simplistic and “imaginary” stories, I take a lot of offense at this.

Look, dude: congrats on your six-figure book deal. I’m happy for you, honest. You made it to publishing, and that’s hard to do. But—and this is a big, big but—there is absolutely no reason to stub a genre like that. I realize that you’re entitled to your own opinions. And I get that you think your book is real special because we all think our books are real special. Maybe—maybe—your book is real special, I don’t know. But to say that you think YA novels are trash—yes, I’m exaggerating a little—is a) offensive, and b) wrong. Any time you make a blanket statement about a group based on a few of its parts, you will be wrong. That’s a fallacy of logic, actually. Okay, yeah, some YA isn’t morally complicated. Sure, some dystopian YA might be just imaginary fluff to waste time on. I’ll give you that. But those are the exceptions, not the rule. To say otherwise is false, ignorant, and dangerous.

I think by saying how bad the rest of YA is, you’re trying to make your own book better. But here’s the other thing: we don’t need to have a slightly-overweight-turned-lean-warrior girl searching for her kidnapped father for there to be moral ambiguity. That’s like saying a story can’t have drama in it unless there’s a love triangle, or a manuscript doesn’t have any suspense in it unless it’s a murder-mystery. The truth you’re not seeing is those dumb high school stories can be rich with moral ambiguity, too. From what I’ve read—and trust me, I’ve read a fair few books in my lifetime—those high school YAs are by-and-large just as morally complex as any. And as a high school student myself, trust me—there are way more than enough moral dilemmas to face in high school that have nothing to do with a girl racing to save her father.

Then there’s the whole dystopian/fantasy-isn’t-real-life-ergo-imaginary argument, which is clear and plain crap to anyone who’s actually read those “imaginary” books. Look at any fantasy series—Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, the Hunger Games, etc.—and you’ll see a ton of real-world connections. Harry Potter? The Wizarding War is a parable for the Holocaust—Voldemort is Hitler, the Death Eaters are the SS, and the Muggleborn Registry is suspiciously similar to the Nuremberg Laws. I haven’t read the Lord of the Rings series, admittedly, but even a quick Google search can pull up all kinds of real-world themes, like addiction, free will, and even parallels to the World Wars.

And the Hunger Games, which your agent oh-so-conveniently paraded as one such example of “imaginary” stories that’s just about kids killing other kids? Oh, man. You shot yourself in the foot there. The Hunger Games might be the most morally complex series I’ve read. I could literally write paragraphs and paragraphs on the metaphors and themes in that series. Yes, you’ve got kids killing kids, but seriously, how more morally complex can you get when you have kids who have to kill for their own survival? It may be a dystopian novel, but if you look at our world today, especially our obsession with Hollywood fame and the gap between the super rich and the super poor, you’ll find a lot of parallels.

Long post short: do your homework before you say something. I get you’re a Big Published Writer Boy now, but that doesn’t mean you have to denounce the rest of your genre. It doesn’t make you any better or worse than the rest of us. That’s not how you get more sales—that’s how you make enemies, and even if you have a six-figure book deal and a movie adaption in the works, that’s not something you need.

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2 thoughts on “#MorallyComplicatedYA

  1. Very well said Alex. I don’t write YA because I’m too far removed from the age group to be convincing but I have author friends (of all ages) who write it and write it well. Frankly, I’ve read quite a bit of it from them and from others and I’d hold some of their work up to anyone’s work focused at older readers.

    It’s sad to me when authors tear other authors down to build themselves up. Writers write and readers read. There’s room for everyone.

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    1. Thanks! YA is pretty near and dear to my heart, seeing as I grew up on it (still am growing up on it) and I now write it too. A lot of what I’ve read (and admittedly I haven’t read too much adult fiction) is, like you said, comparable to works for older audiences. I agree with you completely; there’s room for everyone here, and we don’t need to snipe at each other for a spot at the table.

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