This week, Publisher’s Weekly had a gushing article about a 6-figure book deal and subsequent movie deal garnered by a previously self-published author. Good for him. That’s great. A writer who made some money. His photograph shows a man with smoldering eyes and a careful coiffure (relevant only if you’ve read this article and the storm of comments it created) who we learn was an advertising executive who “thought there was no more drama to be had writing advertising copy and I wanted to try something different” because you know, why not. His main character is “Gwendolyn Bloom, a Jewish, slightly overweight 17-year-old, who is transformed into a “lean warrior with hair dyed fire-engine red.” Well of course she would have to be “transformed,” she couldn’t possibly be a warrior if she was "slightly overweight" could she? When the author describes how his character faces "morally ambiguous choices" and implies that’s something that doesn't happen in most YA fiction, I saw fire-engine red. “The morality of the book is more complicated than a lot of YA” the author states and, “In a lot of YA, the conflict takes place inside a walled garden, set up by outside adult forces. If you think of those stories as a metaphor for high school, they start to make a lot more sense, but that was one thing I wanted to depart from.”
Excuse me! Who is the person in a “walled garden” here? This clearly is a man who has read very little YA fiction. The Twitterverse was happy to set him straight with the #MorallyComplicatedYA hashtag.
Who cares? you might be asking. It’s a storm in a teacup. Well no – by writing that book he joined a community, a community of hard-working authors that he just dismissed by implying that he is the first person to add any level of moral complexity to a YA story. He doubles-down on his dismissal in his own first chapter when Gwendolyn describes the book she’s reading as “a novel with a teenage heroine set in a dystopian future. Which novel in particular doesn’t matter because they’re all the same.” Well no again - they're not all the same.
I read the first chapter of this book, I won't be reading more. The character didn't grip me and the author seemed to be in love with his own cleverness, taking forever to get the story going. I cringed at “ ... tucking a strand of my fire-engine-red hair behind my ear." And this: "One of the girls behind me says, “Jesus, what a snob.” She draws the words out, adding a roll of her eyes for effect." (She's behind you. How can you see her roll her eyes?)
I haven't read this book and I'm not planning to, but I will say that if you're looking for a YA story with moral complexity, then please check out those listed at the #MorallyComplicatedYA hashtag.
And should you have the urge to read the original Publisher's Weekly article, here it is.