“[…] I wanted to get in there before anyone else and talk about sex.”
This is a quote from Caitlin Moran, in an interview with The Bookseller. The article is available to subscribers only, but it was this choice comment that exploded on social media. Moran was talking about Young Adult fiction, and she made this remark while promoting her own Young Adult novel, due out in July.
To say that YA authors and readers were outraged would be an understatement. YA author Keris Stainton (@Keris) created the hashtag #CaitlinMoranShouldRead to respond to the comments, and frustrated twitter users took Moran to task:
I would just like to say, #caitlinmoranshouldread before suggesting all female-led YA books are Twilight. That is all.
— Tamsyn Murray (@TamsynTweetie) May 16, 2014
What Caitlin Moran did today: “I have an idea!” *doesn’t check to see if anyone else has had same idea* *makes other people annoyed*
— Nicole (@NicoleBurstein) May 16, 2014
Oh I also saw Caitlin Moran wants to fix YA by writing about girls having adventures? *dies of sad laughter*
— Susan Jane Bigelow (@whateversusan) May 16, 2014
Misconceptions about Young Adult fiction aren’t new to fans of the genre. From being dismissed as mindless fluff for Twilight obsessed tweens, to constant warnings that the genre is dying, kerfuffles between the media and readers occur with alarming regularity. If Moran were familiar with the genre and its politics, perhaps she would have chosen a different way to promote her book. Moran’s comments, born of an startling lack of awareness of the very genre in which she aims to write, are offensive and, sadly, not uncommon or unique to YA. In 2009, Laurell K. Hamilton took to twitter to defend her claim that she “pioneered” the paranormal genre:
Tried of people being pissy when I say I pioneered modern paranormal thriller never said I invented it, different words, diff meanings.
— Laurell K. Hamilton (@LKHamilton) November 24, 2009
While Hamilton was unquestionably at the forefront of the Urban Fantasy boom, the paranormal thriller genre existed long before Anita Blake. Moran’s comments echo the self-important claims of Hamilton and the countless other authors who’ve declared themselves the inventors of trends years– and sometimes decades– too late.
But what makes Moran’s assertions about the genre even more troubling is the disparaging way she frames all YA:
“It’s always about teenage boys going off and having amazing adventures. You don’t see teenage girls anywhere unless they’re being bitten by vampires so I wanted to write about a funny, weird teenage girl having adventures, particularly sex adventures.”
Again, this shows an unfamiliarity with YA that suggests that prior to writing her own novel, Moran made no attempt to explore the genre. Instead she decided to blaze a brave new trail down a road paved by literally hundreds of authors before her. Furthermore, Moran has something of a spotty reputation where her feminist views are concerned, so it’s unsurprising that her dedication to reviving feminism in YA hinges upon ignoring the contributions of female authors in the genre, as well as the interests of young female readers.
Yet Moran is far from the first author to reject the notion that their book might fit into an already existing genre. New Adult author Jamie McGuire created an online furor in her gaffe-riddle bid to distance herself from YA fiction, until her novel, Beautiful Disaster, was nominated for a GoodReads reader’s choice award. And author Nicholas Sparks has insisted more than once that his novels can’t be “romances,” not because they don’t feature the requisite Happily Ever After, but because they don’t fit the genre in other ways:
“Universal” means you feel as if they are real. You feel like you can know them. I don’t write stories about astronauts or CEOs of Fortune 500 companies or millionaires or movie stars.”
Sparks’s suggestion that all romance novels feature the over-the-top and unrealistic tropes that have become as much of a stereotype as the term “bodice ripper” makes his lack of understanding of the genre all too clear. His generalizations carry the same misogynistic tone as Moran’s by insinuating that romance– a female dominated industry– is, at its heart, less serious and well-crafted than his groundbreaking novels.
What drives this need for well-known authors to be first, or to firmly deny that their work might have anything in common with existing books or genres? Moran has been a popular columnist for The Times since 1992; surely her large readership is aware of her social justice stances, and would therefore expect a feminist slant to her debut YA novel. Was it necessary to denigrate all of YA fiction in order to advertise the book’s feminist leaning content? Did future sales of the novel hinge upon erasing the thousands of books already available for readers craving the type of story Moran has crafted? While originality is a trait to be lauded, by trying to market her book as YA, but not that type of YA, readers who might have purchased Moran’s book before her disastrous comments may be turned off by her sneering attitude toward their preferred reading material.
If Moran’s intent was to enter the YA market by insulting readers and her fellow authors, then she has done so with staggering success. But she is neither the first to explore teenage sexuality in YA fiction, nor the first author to self-apply undue credit for pioneering a trend.