Mainstream YA Article Bingo: A Response To Laura C. Mallonee

Posted: November 19, 2013 in Critical Hit
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

YA Article Bingo

The past few years have seen so many terrible articles in mainstream publications about the rise, worthiness and content of YA that it’s hard to keep them straight. Just last month, for instance, Joanna Trollope declared that the entirety of YA SFF “doesn’t really relate to the real world” because she dislikes The Hunger Games, which novels she admits to never having read. Before that, there was Megan Cox Gurdon up in arms at the idea that YA novels might tackle difficult topics like rape, abuse and self-harm, an alarmist piece which lead to the creation of the #YAsaves hashtag on Twitter.  We’ve had pundits suggesting boys won’t read YA titles unless they have gender-neutral covers, and others saying that YA has become so female-dominated that boys are being left behind anyway – which is ironic, given the regularity with which various YA heroines are criticised as being poor role models for girls. While some good commentary has occasionally emerged through the morass of moralising, misapprehension and general handwringing, more often than not, the dominant mood of such articles is censorious:  a condemnation of popular YA in particular that quickly turns to disparaging the genre in general, and doubly so where SFF is mentioned.

Which brings me to the latest such offering:  Laura C. Mallonee’s Time For Teen Fantasy Heroines To Grow Up, which is a perfect example of Mainstream YA Article Bingo and then some. After a few establishing remarks about the current glut of YA film adaptations, it’s not long before Mallonnee presents us with this gem of a paragraph:

“But it would be a mistake to assume that the same girl who sped through Twilight and Hunger Games will easily find her way to The Martian Chronicles or even contemporary fantasy’s immediate forbearers — works by authors like Tamora Pierce or Robin McKinley. Teens today aren’t genre nerds who only love fantasy. According to Ms. Sutherland, they read these books because it’s what their friends are reading. But how did they become so popular? And what do they have to say — specifically to their young, female readers — about the world?”

Obligatory pairing of Twilight and The Hunger Games? Check. The suggestion that modern YA fantasy is somehow fundamentally different to REAL fantasy, or even to the YA novels of yesteryear? Check. Assertion that popular kids read genre now, too? Check. Moral panic about female readers? Check. The cliche density is so high in just this one section alone, it’s hard to tease out all the problematic logic underpinning each and every statement. Take, for instance, the immensely judgemental suggestion that the “same girl” who reads popular YA fantasy novels is unlikely to also read real SFF, presumably on the basis that she’s a popular kid rather than one of the “genre nerds”. What this is, in essence, is yet another permutation of the Fake Geek Girl argument: a deeply sexist panic at the idea that, even when they’re reading dystopian novels, watching comic movies and learning archery for fun, ‘regular’ girls can’t really be true fans of real SFF, because their enjoyment of other, more mainstream activities – or, far more often, their possession of conventionally attractive looks – invariably marks them out as dilettantes only feigning nerdness in order to drive boys crazy. In making this distinction, all Mallonee has done is shift the accusation of dilettantism to the (again, female) creators of modern YA novels: they’re not writing real SFF, like Ray Bradbury did – just popular, pretendy SFF for cheerleaders and pretty girls to read.

We’re then treated to five paragraphs on the history of novels written for young women (comparing modern YA to books written over a century ago? Check!), which, while interesting, betrays a rather heavy-handed attempt to suggest that girl-oriented stories have always fallen into one of three categories: lurid, lower-class love triangles and romantic pulp, written for money; sweet domestic fantasies; and feminist novels where girls do sports and go to college and postpone marriage for the sake of their careers. Which isn’t to say that Mallonee’s analysis is wholly inaccurate, at least as far as the texts she’s chosen to reference are concerned. (Conspicuous omission of J. K. Rowling and the Harry Potter phenomenon while discussing the rise of YA? Check!). But in trying to draw comparisons between these categories and different types of modern YA – which is inarguably the intention – Mallonee is not only neglecting the idea that, this being 2013 rather than 1860, a heroine can quite plausibly experience a love triangle AND be domestic AND play sports at college without the readers’ heads exploding, but is effectively arguing that only one of these categories has any feminist value at all. And as much as I enjoy reading YA novels where the heroine avoids romantic complications (and despite my own strong feelings on the subject of love triangles) the idea that such romantic elements are inherently anti-feminist, regressive, cheap or otherwise unworthy simply doesn’t wash.

The next section – an analysis of Twilight and its reception – is quite breathtakingly hypocritical. Having rebuked the almost universal condemnation of Bella Swann with the assertion that “Branding youth culture as obscene or degrading is old hat — and teens don’t care,” Mallonee immediately jumps on the exact same bandwagon, comparing Bella with Elnora Comstock, heroine of Gene Stratton-Porter’s 1908 novel, A Girl of the Limberlost. “In a time when few women went to college,” she says, “Elnora’s ambition was a brave push into new territory, inspiring readers with aspirations for their own futures. What hope did Bella inspire?” The comparison with Elnora is then extended, only slightly more favourably, to Katniss Everdeen, who wins some praise for being a capable woodswoman – but not much. Once again, Mallonee’s hypocrisy comes to the fore:

“Though Katniss never had romantic feelings for him before the Games, she pretends to return Peeta’s affection in order to “give the audience something more to care about,” and it’s this complex brand of romance that becomes her main tool for survival. Critics have applauded Collins for subverting standard romantic hooks, but this faux love story actually draws many Hunger Games fans, who debate aggressively online over the respective hotness of Peeta and Gale, Katniss’s childhood friend. Though Katniss eventually becomes a hero, up until page 156 of the first book, her internal struggles revolve around her conflicted emotions toward Peeta and Gale, not on the ethical dilemma of having to kill people.” 

Take a moment to parse the above. In the first sentence, Mallonee asserts that Katniss has no feelings for Peeta prior to the start of the Games, pretending to love him as a survival technique only after he admits to loving her himself; she then complains that, up until page 156 of the first book, Katniss’s inner monologue is dominated by her struggle to choose between Peeta and Gale. Which is a rather astonishing claim to make, when you consider that Peeta doesn’t even admit his feelings for Katniss until page 158 – at which point, they haven’t even reached the arena. Even allowing for a slight slip in page numbers between various editions, it’s still clear that Mallonee has contradicted herself, first claiming that the romantic elements don’t exist at the outset, and then complaining that the outset consists of little else. And as for the idea that Katniss “eventually” becomes a hero – what of her selfless decision to save her sister by volunteering as tribute in the first place? Does that not count as heroic? Evidently not – but then, Mallonee is so keen to criticise both the series and its fans for their focus on romance that, rather ironically, she hasn’t focussed on any other elements herself. Except for death, of course – the dystopian setting is “grotesque”, and Mallonee takes a perverse delight in reciting just how many times the word ‘dead’ appears in the trilogy. (Dystopias are depressing and unsettling for teenage readers? Check!) Mallonee then expresses regret at the fact that, rather than emphasising a comforting moral or specific lesson, the ending of The Hunger Games is thematically open-ended. “Readers,” she laments, “are left to untangle the book’s intimations about the real world for themselves.” You’ll have to forgive me, but I fail to see how an invitation to further critical analysis counts as a negative.

And then, of course, there’s the obligatory comparison of these pulpy, trashy, regressive, female-authored SFFnal YA novels with a literary, contemporary, feminist, male-authored work which – funnily enough – is better than mere YA: Winter’s Bone, by Daniel Woodrell. (Male authors doing feminism better than women? Check!) Despite having a teenage, female heroine, Mallonee finds it ” almost — but not quite — surprising” that Winter’s Bone wasn’t marketed to teenage girls; but then, even if it had been, one suspects that her imaginary, popular strawgirls wouldn’t have had the wit or wisdom to appreciate it. Not like those nerdy, unpopular readers, the ones we’re not talking about; the kind of girls who like popular YA novels are, according to Mallonee, a different breed entirely. This sort of dislike of the readers of popular YA is evident in her conclusion:

“The problem with Twilight and Hunger Games is that while operating in a seemingly black-and-white world they actually infect their readers with chaos: Twilight by exploiting its audience’s desire to completely escape reality, and Hunger Games by cementing its readers’ fears that there is nothing beyond the darkness.

The value of books like Girl of the Limberlost and Winter’s Bone is that while acknowledging the world’s ugliness, they carve a path of resilience the reader can follow.”

Respectfully, I would submit that this is bullshit. Throughout her article, Mallonee has made clear her contempt, not only for popular modern narratives, but for stories which dare to include a romantic component for their heroines – an opinion she has tried to imbue with historical significance by first disparaging the “promiscuity” and “passivity” of early romance-oriented novels aimed at girls, and then contrasting these lesser works with their unromantic, college-and-sport themed heirs,  novels which “captured the spirit of the Suffragettes”. That being so, it hardly seems irrelevant that, in critiquing modern YA novels, Mallonee has described the romance in Twilight as “sinister” and disparaged its role in The Hunger Games, all while praising the lack of romance in both Girl of the Limberlost and Winter’s Bone. For Mallonee to conclude, then, that the value of the latter titles and the failure of the former is due to other factors entirely – thematic descriptors that, quite pointedly, have nothing to do with romance – is both insincere and deeply inaccurate. Instead, she tries to pin that sentiment on David Levithan, quoting him in such a way that her own, snide conclusions about the failings of SFFnal YA read as an interpretation of his remarks, rather than as a revelation of her own bias. To quote:

“I asked David Levithan, Scholastic’s vice president and editorial director, whether such books might be a way for girls to escape the real world. He explained that most successful fantasy literature is actually deeply relatable to the reader: “The themes (survival in Hunger Games, unrequited love in Twilight, etc.) are completely real even if the situations are not.” Within this milieu, authors as influential as Meyer and Collins have the opportunity to inspire their readers toward greatness, but they squander it miserably. Neither Bella nor Katniss have dreams that transcend their current situations.”

 In fact, it’s not even clear if the bracketed reference to Twilight and The Hunger Games is something Levithan actually said, or whether Mallonee inserted it herself to contextualise his comments and just so happened to forget the convention of using square brackets when commenting within a quote. In either case, though, it seems abundantly clear that Levithan’s actual statement – that the success of fantasy literature hinges on its use of real and relatable human elements – is the exact opposite of Mallonee’s conclusion, which is that Meyer and Collins both fail to do this, as neither of their heroines “have dreams that transcend their current situations.” Whether intentionally or not, Mallonee has ended her article by quoting a prominent YA editor in such a way as to make him look highly critical of Stephenie Meyer and Suzanne Collins – a ploy which is not only grossly misleading, but cheap. And that, I’m afraid, is the tone of her article all over. Rather than enter into an honest discussion of her issues with the portrayal of romance in YA novels and the genre’s newfound popularity – both meaty topics, and well worth discussing – Mallonee has instead decided to invoke the age-old spectre of SFF as meaningless pulp, less worthy of praise than real literature, and used it as a shoddy cover for different anxieties. As she herself says:

“Louisa May Alcott may have written sensational vampire stories, but she also wrote Little Women, a classic I first read in middle school that taught me I could do or be anything, and that my uneventful life was filled with meaning. I’m not betting on Meyer or Collins to create her, but I’d like to think another Jo March might still be out there.”

What a condescendingly sexist, genrephobic mess. While there’s nothing wrong with either critiquing the role of romance  in popular narratives or disliking popular works, the intimation that the presence of the former and success of the latter is somehow fundamentally unfeminist, unliterary and unworthy is deeply problematic –  as is criticising exclusively the tastes of female readers and the motives of female authors under the guise of impartial, literary concern. Thanks ever so for your patronising thoughts on YA SFF, Laura – but next time, save yourself the effort.

  1. I was actually going to avoid reading the Hunger Games, but the longer they exist the more I find that I need too in order to be informed of the world today.

    From what I do know of Hunger Games compared to what I have read of Twilight, I don’t see a fair comparison between Belle and Katniss. I also don’t understand how anyone who pays attention to the YA genre could possibly say men saved YA novels when the Harry Potter books are hands down the most influential and popular YA books since the Oz books or Narnia Chronicles.

    Also, lets just accept that men can, and do, write strong female characters, but that doesn’t make them or their characters Feminists. I’m not saying a man can’t write a feminist character, I’m say that the simple act of having a female lead doesn’t make that character a feminist. In comparison, women writers don’t always write strong female characters, by design or by accident, and those same characters are not by default feminists.

    Lastly, the act of having romance in a story doesn’t devalue the rest of the story. There are plenty of romance novels, in and out of YA, that include romance and have a very compelling and effective story-lines. In the same hand, there are plenty of non-romance stories that have romance threads in them and those stories are not criticized for those plots. I can think over the YA books I read when I was a teen and I recall the strength of the characters and the impact of their worlds more than who fell in love with who. I think over the books I have read as an adult within the fantasy and Sci Fi genres and how little impact they have had with me, and how the contrived love stores in them ticked me off because they were crap. Not to mention Romance is an essential subplot in almost every story ever told. You will find it even in the most macho of macho books aimed at macho men, it’s just disguised as sex more than emotion.

    Anyway, I never realized the YA world was so fraught with all this BS about what is “appropriate” and “real”. I always saw YA books at the step between children books and adult books, where the young reader went when they were too old for Peter Pan but still not quite ready for Clive Barker (who has a set of YA books himself). It’s important that YA novels handle the topics of sex, abuse, depression, and self development. It’s important the teens get exposed to healthy images of this and learn how to identify unhealthy images. YA novels should require some critical thinking in order to understand the plots and characters, and it’s good these novels are becoming movies which hopefully provide the same experience as the books.

    I say keep it up, and the complaints and false equivalencies made by commentators like this Mallonee here only prove how important it really is.

  2. Thank you for this!! You are brilliant and this is an amazing response to a rage-inducing, ignorant essay.

  3. That certainly was a mess of an article wasn’t it? If you were playing along with the bingo card, I bet you’d have multiple ways to “win.”

  4. Excuse me while I stand up and cheer.

  5. OK, I admit, I haven’t read Hunger Games… but doesn’t Katniss go from being in a life-or-death struggling-to-survive situation before she ever enters the arena, to the arena, and then subsequently become a revolutionary icon? In the first book, she’s dealing with the very lowest levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy, so no, I don’t think we can blame her for not having “dreams that transcend [her] current situations”. But inspiring and working in a revolution is not having transcendent dreams? Da fuq?

  6. tinyorc says:

    Hey Laura Mallonee, I read The Martian Chronicles when I was sixteen or so, plus a whole rake of Clarke, Asimov, Zelazny, etc. throughout my teenage years. I read The Hunger Games when I was twenty-three and devoured the whole trilogy in a weekend, that’s how much I loved it.

    It’s almost like young women are individuals with their own personal and evolving tastes that transcend sweeping gendered stereotypes, isn’t it?

  7. Freddie deBoer says:

    I’m sorry, but the constant insistence on a narrative where “elitists” of some stripe are mocking lovers of pop culture and its genres is just utterly empty. Pop culture, and specifically the “fandom” culture of sci fi, comic books, fantasy, etc., is the most powerful cultural force on the earth. It dominates economically and it dominates in terms of coverage and conversation. The continued insistence that fans of these genres are some sort of terribly oppressed minority is simply at odds with reality. You dominate everything! Everything you like is made into movies and video games and television shows! Meanwhile, traditional “high culture” like opera, ballet, experimental fiction, and experimental theater are all severely threatened in terms of their very existence, to say nothing of their near-total lack of popular press coverage and interest on the internet.

    There is no such thing as “high culture.” If there ever was, it died long ago. You have been utterly victorious. Stop looking for respect from an establishment that does not exist, and please, try to be a more gracious winner.

    • fozmeadows says:

      This argument might hold some weight if the very exclusivity of traditional high art forms like ballet, opera and the like wasn’t firmly established as part of their appeal. Saying that certain elitist attitudes are anti-YA isn’t negated by its popularity; in fact, quite the opposite. So-called low art forms have ALWAYS been popular, the art of the masses, with high culture distinguished by its scarcity, exclusive pricing, and general unavailability to anyone not rich or classy enough. Availability has absolutely nothing to do with it. You might as well be arguing that caviar isn’t still considered a gourmet food just because pizza is commonplace. Yes, it’s terrible that arts funding is frequently under threat, but schools and libraries – places where YA flourishes – are similarly endangered moneywise, too; as, for that matter, are many local booksellers. Of course there are still people making distinctions about high and low culture; whether you or I consider such distinctions to be relevant is a different question. Nowhere in this article have I claimed that lovers of pop culture or YA or SFF are powerless, or oppressed, or a minority, or anything so ridiculous – I’ve simply said that, regardless of other factors, there persists a cultural attitude that such works are intellectually and literarily lesser; which, if you actually go and read the article I’m responding to, is what the writer herself is contending.

    • sacredcowtipper says:

      Monologic Communication 101

      Lesson 1: Label your opponent’s argument a “narrative.” Impute false claims and motives.

  8. jillheather says:

    Has she even read A Girl of the Limberlost, which has Elnora pining away after a guy for the entire second half of the book, where he is already engaged? Sounds like a love triangle to me. Elnora is a loner for two whole days in school, after which she gets in with the popular girls and is loved by every person who ever meets her. And she doesn’t go to college — indeed, the guy tells her eventually that she shouldn’t, that it will spoil her natural knowledge.

    When we later compare Elnora to Katniss — well, Elnora’s not scared of the swamp because the thieves don’t actually do anything, and the menace is “look around carefully if you’re near the swamp”, not “an all powerful government will kill you if you act poorly”. It’s made abundantly clear that Elnora has lots and lots of food available all the time.

    I enjoyed A Girl of the Limberlost, but Elnora isn’t terribly resilient: she doesn’t have to be, because the second she has a setback, a dozen people come up to help her out and it turns out better than she imagined at first.

    I don’t agree with her points, but they’re not even even backed up by the books she refers to.

  9. I skimmed the article and I have no idea what the writer’s premise was, which is terrible for whatever premise she’s supposed to be championing. But at least I have more reason to finally read “The Hunger Games” now.

    • sacredcowtipper says:

      Monologic Communication 101

      Lesson 2: Skim, rather than reading, and blame your comprehension failures on the author.

  10. This is awesome. I just love your response, and the Bingo card is the best. I really hate it when people see the Hunger Games as nothing but a love triangle when most of its readers recognize that the love triangle takes a backseat to the danger, the games, the government, and, as the series progresses, the war.

    Fortunately, I’m over my embarrassment when it comes to genre and YA. Most of the books I read are YA fantasy, and I’ll gladly tell anyone that, but I know there are still people out there who see it as intellectually “lesser” than, as you emphasized, real scifi. It’s so frustrating! I work at a bookstore where everyone mocks the Paranormal Romance section and the Romance isn’t even in it’s own section — it’s called “General Fiction” when everyone on the staff knows it’s Romance. So why not just call it romance? Of course, I love working there, but you really can’t escape the high brow sort of thinking.

    • ERose says:

      As someone who switched between YA and Adult fantasy as a teenager, I can say that sometimes YA books are not very intellectually challenging and are formulaic in the worst, most marketing-driven way – for example, most (though not all) Sarah Dessen work is awfully interchangeable, and I do deplore the trend to imitate the worst excesses of Twilight in the wake of the series’ success. I am far from a blanket approval of the genre, since even as a teenage girl I got tired of its tropes – with the caveat that, naturally, all genres have their irritating trope gallery.

      In fact, it’s not all that different from my attitude toward adult fantasy, and I’ve definitely read YA books that blow a lot of adult fantasy or sci-fi out of the water in terms of their character development, plot construction, thematic elements and demands for further critical thinking.

      In fact, two of the books that have moved from state to state with me over the past decade are Diana Wynne Jones’ “Dark Lord of Derkholm” and “Hexwood” because as much fun as they are, they have never failed to make me think in a way that, for example, “The Martian Chronicles” does not. Saying YA fiction doesn’t have anything to give is like saying that the lessons we learn as teenagers never have to be re-learned as adults.

      • mclicious says:

        But a lack of intellectual stimulation and formulaic-ness also has nothing to do with a book being YA. Those books exist across the board, and it’s just because they’re published, like you say, for a specific type of market and reason. There’s no greater number of books like that in YA than there are in children’s or adult markets. Just look at every chick lit novel about a slightly overweight white girl with dreams of a job in publishing and no boyfriend.

  11. […] avid reader of YA fiction, I want to stand up and cheer for Foz Meadows, who is letter-perfect in this response to the condescending treatment of YA.  If you only read one of these links I share in this post, read that […]

  12. Michelle says:

    What makes me laugh the most is that David Levithan, whose quote she twists to make it sound as though he disapproves of those books, was actually part of the editorial team that worked on the Hunger Games series. Oh, the lulz. (To wit, a Q&A with Levithan about HG:

  13. Joanne says:

    Yes, at its heart, the essay is all about contempt and dislike for the YA reader. Hatred of the feminine is no less obnoxious or dangerous when spouted by a woman.

    • lkeke35 says:

      I agree. Just another literary snob looking down her nose at something because it doesn’t interest her.

      There is a butt-load of YA fiction out there that is not limited to young women falling into love triangles. I know this because those are the books I look for. Just because The Hunger Games and Twilight is what’s most popular right now, doesn’t mean there’s not SFF/YA fiction out there to suit almost every taste.

      Really? To condemn an entire genre on the basis of two books you didn’t like (and I suspect ,didn’t actually read.)

  14. […] The past few years have seen so many terrible articles in mainstream publications about the rise, worthiness and content of YA that it's hard to keep them straight. Just last month, for instance, J…  […]

  15. Not entirely on-topic as regards YA and its readership, but if Mallonee thinks The Martian Chronicles is an example of good genre literature that is a good match for young readers looking to go beyond their “current dreams” I would invite her to reread it, or just read a synopsis for The Silent Towns, one of the tales in that book and one of the most offensive pieces of sexist shit ever written (taken from wikipedia):

    “Everybody has left Mars to go to Earth, except Walter Gripp—a single miner who lives in the mountains and does not hear of the departure. At first excited by his find of an empty town, he enjoys himself with money, food, clothes, and movies. He soon realizes he misses human companionship. One night he hears a telephone ringing in someone’s home, and suddenly realizes that someone else is alive on Mars. Missing the call, and several others, he sits down with a phone book of Mars and starts dialing at A.

    After days of calling without answers, he starts calling hotels. After guessing where he thinks a woman would most likely spend her time, he calls the biggest beauty salon on Mars and is delighted when a woman answers. They talk, but are cut off. Overcome with romantic dreams, he drives hundreds of miles to New Texas City, only to realize that she drove to find him on a back road. He drives back to his town, and meets Genevieve Selsor as he pulls in.

    Their meeting is the opposite of what he had hoped for in his dreams; she is unattractive (due to her weight and pallor), foolish, and insipid. After a sullen day, she slyly proposes marriage to him at dinner, as they believe they are the last man and the last woman on Mars. Gripp decides to run, driving across Mars to another tiny town to spend his life alone, ceasing all contact with Genevieve.”

    So, what exactly did she try to do by mentioning it?

  16. […] history on display here. GAH! (When you’ve read it and are super irritated, head on over to Shattersnipe: Malcontents and Rainbows for an excellent analysis of this article as well as a hilarious bingo card you can use for future […]

  17. While there are many lenses for viewing The Hunger Games, very rarely do I see commentary that talks about what I see as the central (and invigorating) irony of the series: Most (though not all) of the books’ readers–absurdly comfortable and entrenched in our industrialized world–have much more in common with the people of The Capitol than we do with Katniss and the desperate denizens of the districts.

    I count myself among this overly privileged group and freely admit that we are, in essence, the villains of the story. We are not the underdogs here because no matter the outcome of the revolutionary narrative, we (teenager and adult reader) remain securely in power when the stories end. (I do not believe that the “economic crisis” changes the true economic realities of the human race. A visit to India or central Africa might change one’s perspective on our so-called troubles.)

    I, a male 40-year-old American, live vicariously through Katniss and her friends–and feel as though I’m being more empathetic to the downtrodden–but these books are just another form of entertainment for me, akin to the screens on which the Capitol citizens watch the hunger games.

    I’m not arguing against The Hunger Games as ineffective or amoral. Rather, I believe its real power lies in its embodiment of a crucial quandary. And it’s not “We have the power; what do we do with it?” as some have supposed. It’s “We have abused our power; how do we live with ourselves?”

    Steven Withrow

  18. Lisa Goldstein says:

    Oddly I just finished The Hunger Games, and I’m completely boggled by the idea that Katniss only becomes a hero halfway through. She’s taken on the job of providing for her family before the story even starts, and she spends most of her time in District 12 hunting so her mother and younger sister won’t starve. Hunting is illegal, and dangerous, and, yes, heroic.

  19. *eyerolls* Ah yes. Funny how the men write women better than the women do. It’s like they’re more intelligent or something!

  20. Lurkertype says:

    I’m as tired of the YA dystopia (and the YA love triangle) as the next person, and I do wish there was more attention paid to SFF written for adults (Not with less attention to the YA; it’s not a zero-sum game), but this article is a hot mess. She hasn’t read any of the books mentioned, or at least didn’t understand them — which, since they’re aimed at youngsters by design, doesn’t speak well of her literacy.

    I’ve only read the first Hunger Games book, but Katniss looked pretty heroic just in her day to day life of hunting, bartering, etc. to keep her mother and sister alive. Much more so than in some of her dealings in the arena. But when she’s ready to die rather than give the Capitol the spectacle they want? Openly heroic, and beyond her “current situation”.

    • Eric Mills says:

      Ah, but the beauty of the elitist critique is that you can always deflect criticism that the book does contain heroism, or depth, or worth, by claiming that the legions of fans don’t realize this and only like it for the love triangles. It’s bullet-proof: you can use this escape no matter what elements your critics point out are actually present in the work you’re dismissing–you don’t even have to have read it, since those elements are irrelevant anyway. And unless someone’s surveyed fans extensively about their reasons for liking something, no-one can conclusively say you’re wrong.

      Elitism: because if being like me were easy, everyone would do it.

  21. Dawn. says:

    Excellent rebuttal. I was perplexed and disappointed by Mallonee’s article. It’s like she uses the guise of a concerned female reader to make curiously sexist statements that seem to be complete misinterpretations. Like you said above, the topics have such potential, which is why I read it, hoping for an actually worthwhile exploration. I just started reading YA again this year (returning after an 11-year absence; I’m 26) and it’s one of the best literary decisions I’ve ever made.

  22. […] blog at all, I’m a pretty enormous John Green fan, and what sparked my thinking on this was this blog (which I found, obviously, through Maureen Johnson’s Twitter), and in particular, the space […]

  23. […] The Millions has a terribly condescending article about popular YA series aimed at teen girls, because apparently they are too fantastic, have too many romance elements, “infect their readers with chaos” and don’t inspire young girls to “carve a path of resilience”. Uhm, has the author ever read The Hunger Games or even Twilight? Foz Meadows has a great and detailed rebuttal. […]

  24. sacredcowtipper says:

    Monologic Communication 101

    Lesson 3: Frequent comment sections with little interaction, treat potential dialogue partners as opponents, and pounce on topic keywords as jumping-off points for whatever you really want to talk about.

  25. Phenix Nash says:

    In the original article, the auhor writes:

    “The problem with Twilight and Hunger Games is that while operating in a seemingly black-and-white world they actually infect their readers with chaos: Twilight by exploiting its audience’s desire to completely escape reality, and Hunger Games by cementing its readers’ fears that there is nothing beyond the darkness.”

    The problem with this critique is it doesn’t examine the cultural contact of dystopian popularity. People read these books in abundance. In some cases, yes, because rhey’re popular, but no one is holding a gun to anyone else’s head. Why does dystopia resonate these days? I feel like that unspoken question is behind a lot fo Hunger Games criticism. It might even lead to more interesting discussion if critics could get past their cautionary stance.

    I’ll admit I do kinda want to read Pauline’s Passion and Punishment now. Just because.

  26. […] event: the Shattersnipe: Malcontent and Rainbows blog by Foz Meadows has created a response that begins with a bingo format. With the center free space “Hunger […]

  27. […] I think this reaction occurs for a few reasons – people simply don’t want to believe that a society similar to theirs can possibly do not only such things but worse than what occurs in the novels. Another reason is that anything aimed at younger readers is automatically dismissed. […]

  28. mclicious says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments here. That article was bonkers. But may I humbly suggest you find a way to combine two existing squares so that there can be one for “Conflates picturebooks, middle grade, and YA?” This lady actually passed that test, but generally everyone else fails it.

  29. Rose says:

    Well, teenagers here won’t be reading Tamora Pierce as her books are currently out of print in the UK.
    But they can find Kristing Cashore and Maria Snyder and Sarah Rees Brennan. Or read Throne of Glass by Sarah J Mass. Some of these have more emphasis on romance than Tamora Pierce but their heroines are not exactly frail and fragile.

    • fozmeadows says:

      I don’t believe Pierce is out of print in the UK; for one thing, I’ve recently seen her books in firsthand stores, and for another, she’s still publishing new works. Possibly some of her early back catalogue are hard to come by, but I doubt she’s out of print.

      • Rose says:

        Scholastic UK haven’t published any books by Tamora Pierce since Trickster’s Choice in 2004.

        Yes, Throne of Glass isn’t as amazing as it could have been. And Poison Study by Maria Snyder is one of my favourite books, yet the sequels don’t live up to it.

    • Jenn says:

      Would they be available in libraries? I know I can find stuff there I’d never find in a book store (unless it’s Half Price Books, but I think that’s only here in the U.S)

      I’m going to have to challenge the Throne of Glass recommendation, as I feel the book has problematic messages about women.. The only thing I liked about it was the fact that the main character had a female friend, but even that relationship was marred by the fact that they pretty much became friends due to a mutual distain for “stupid rich girls” and that she spent more time with the dudes she was inevitably falling for than the more interesting Nehemia (who, I think, should be the main character.)

  30. Crystal says:

    Bahahaha Malloney’s article may just be one of the most ridiculous, unresearched complaints (with poor grammar too!) in a depressingly long series of ridiculous, unresearched complaints. Thank you, so much, rebutting it in an intelligent, articulate manner. I’d also like to point out that there are many other YA books that are popular and highly important, educational, and thought provoking, both with and without romantic elements: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson raises the issue of rape, self-blame, and passivity, Veronica Roth’s Divergent asks the meaning of sacrifice, bravery, choices, and one could make some impressive arguments about the presence of existentialism (lo and behold, a big idea in YA!) in Divergent.

  31. […] Mainstream YA Article Bingo: A Response To Laura C. Mallonee […]

  32. ERose says:

    Oh but girls who grow up with YA do indeed turn into adult fantasy and sci-fi readers. Sometimes while they’re still young adults. And they don’t often “grow out” of YA books. That’s because the line between the two is not as distinct as some critics want to think.

    I read Terry Brooks ad nauseum when I was a teenager. On the other hand, while I was immersed in the Brooks world, I also read Patricia Wrede’s “Enchanted Forest Chronicles”, Victoria Hanley’s “The Seer and the Sword,” Diana Wynne Jones’ “Dark Lord of Derkholm” and “Hexwood,” Sherwood Smith’s “Crown Duel” and “Court Duel,” Robin McKinley’s “Spindle’s End,” Garth Nix’s “Sabriel” and its sequels and a host of other books that are just plain good. Some of them have less nuance and depth than I’d like in a book I pick up now, but I still read a lot of them. And I’ve picked up plenty of “adult” books that are too shallow for me as well, including quite a few of the Brooks novels I used to love.

    As an adult, I am still a huge SF/F genre reader, but in my mind, that includes books like “The Hunger Games” and Cory Doctorow’s “Little Brother,” that are technically YA books. I can tell you right now that the person who minimizes the genre into its tropes flat doesn’t have the knowledge base to do proper criticism. The person who draws distinct lines between adult and YA books doesn’t get it either – after all, J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter for adults originally and I haven’t noticed myself getting bored with them because the hero is a teenager.

  33. […] Male Business to be ground out in penury, rather than Crass Female Business resulting in fame! Once again, I’m forced to play the game of Mainstream YA Article Bingo, and as you can see from the card […]

  34. […] have to list the repeated patterns and tropes in these articles, because there's already a bingo card for them, created by current Hugo nominee Foz Meadows. There's even a John […]

  35. CarrieS says:

    Hey Roz, I liked the Bingo card so much I’m planning to make a set for other genres and have “genre snob” BINGO night at an upcoming SF/F convention (Convolution 2014). Could I have permission to use your card?

  36. Simmi C says:

    Reblogged this on Ramblings and Mishaps and commented:
    Great article, and the must-play bingo for any YA fan confronted with the usual YA-bashing “journalism”

  37. Link Love says:

    […] 13 Things They Avoid ♥ Forever Young Adult explores the Studio Ghibli vault from 1984-1991 ♥ Mainstream YA Article Bingo: A Response to Laura C. Mallonee. This is an incredibly thoughtful response and article on YA reception. ♥ T.S. Eliot’s […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s