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Caitlin Moran’s YA fail, or “blazing trails down existing highways”

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“[…] 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

 

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:

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.

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27 Comments

  1. Does this woman not know what the word “pioneer” means?

    And Nicholas Sparks … *sigh*

    I wasn’t going to read The Notebook. It wasn’t my thing. I knew it wasn’t. I knew better. But it was SO popular that in the end I couldn’t ignore it anymore and I gave in and read it. I will never, ever, ever read another Sparks. It remains one of the worst reading experiences of my entire life. He has a lot of nerve being snobby about what he writes. He should be grateful for his success because he doesn’t deserve it.

    May 16, 2014
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    • Lieke
      Lieke

      Yep, The Notebook is the worst. (I really like the film, btw) That book is utter shit. It’s absolutely dismal. How such a short book can be so bad will forever remain a mystery to me. You don’t learn anything about the characters. You get zero feel for them. This in turn means that you are not the slightest bit invested in their dull love story. It’s so generic. There’s just nothing there.

      May 17, 2014
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      • I did love the movie and I think that just shows how terrible a writer Sparks is. If they can make that wonderful movie out of his idea, the book should have been even better.

        And now we have writers like James Patterson following Sparks’ footprints. I read Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas because a friend gushed about how great it was. That book made me want to kick puppies.

        May 17, 2014
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  2. Maj
    Maj

    YA has PLENTY of tropes that need to be put to rest – like seriously, so many, I could write a dissertation on it – but “No Girls Allowed” is definitely not one of them. Maybe I’ve been skipping some of the more notable YAs out there, but every one that I’ve read has had a female protagonist. Every. One. Which is not a bad thing at all (duh), but it’s not like Moran is ahead of the game in that aspect, either.

    May 16, 2014
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    • Lieke
      Lieke

      She didn’t even have to pick up a book to know that girls having adventures isn’t a completely alien concept in YA. I mean, hello, The Hunger Games and Divergent. Those are the biggest YA franchises out there right now and they’re everywhere. Has Moran been hiding under a rock?

      May 17, 2014
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      • Not to mention Harry Potter. I mean, I know Hermione isn’t THE main character, but she’s a huge part of the story. And the Narnia Chronicles? There are also quite a few girls who play a huge part of the Dark is Rising series.

        I guess there’s no sex in those examples, though.

        May 17, 2014
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        • Lieke
          Lieke

          Okay, sometimes in YA sex is nonexistent or tame or a bad thing for girls to want, but even that’s not some sort of pervasive theme.

          Just… I wish she didn’t make out like she’s the first person to come up with any of this. Couldn’t she just have said: ‘The YA I’m familiar with doesn’t really feature female protagonists or young girls dealing with sex, so I thought it would be fun to write about that.’ At least then she’d have framed her comment in a way that included her knowledge/experience about/with YA (not a lot) and not made out like she’s (you said it) boldly going where no one has ever gone before.

          May 17, 2014
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          • I want to add the “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” trilogy to the list. Female protagonist, having adventures, and she’s definitely having sex.

            May 18, 2014
        • Tamora Pierce does well I think. Lots of female protagonists, many of whom not only have sex, but talk about contraception.

          May 17, 2014
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          • liz
            liz

            I totally agree! I absolutely loved the Song of the Lioness series as a teenager-I even tried to get up early and exercise before school in an attempt to replicate Alanna’s training schedule…that didn’t last long though. Great books.

            May 22, 2014
      • Ange
        Ange

        Tomorrow When the War Began too. Female protagonist having big scary adventures and the occasional bit of sex.

        May 21, 2014
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  3. Flo
    Flo

    Back in the “dark ages” when I was reading mostly YA, my favorite author was Lois Duncan. Most all of her books were centered around a female lead, learning about a variety of subjects ranging from the paranormal, being kidnapped, being thrust into the witness protection program–that’s just a few that pop in to my head right off the bat. Once in a while she threw in a romantic story line, but it was generally secondary to the main story. And no vampires or sex!!!! Who would have thought someone writing in the 70’s and 80’s could be so progressive?!

    May 17, 2014
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  4. Michelle
    Michelle

    Judy Blume would like a word…

    In particular, “Forever…” which was a 1975 novel about a female protagonist losing her virginity and exploring her first sexual relationship.

    May 17, 2014
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    • Michelle
      Michelle

      That HTML broke spectacularly, but eh. Let’s go with it.

      May 17, 2014
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    • DancedAllNight
      DancedAllNight

      so I was just about to pop up and say that it’s like this woman has never heard of Judy Blume. Or for that matter Ann M Martin or Francine Pascal. Girl bye!

      May 20, 2014
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      • Every writer knows there is no longer and such thing as an original idea or story. Everything has been done already. We just give it a new spin. So any writer who comes along claiming to be a trailblazer or pioneer in that respect immediately makes me think, “This person has never read a book in her life.”

        Even Shakespeare never wrote an original story.

        And that’s OK. A good story is a good story and we give them new twists and new characters and new voices. But we do not invent.

        May 20, 2014
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  5. fina
    fina

    Tamora Pierce. Female protagonists, realistic (not graphic) sex and sexual relationships, feelings. Adventure. ALL of her many books. Which have been around for awhile.

    May 17, 2014
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  6. lindsay
    lindsay

    This is exactly the reason I can’t read Margret Atwood. We listened to an interview from her in high school discussing a book she wrote about genetic splicing and she fervently claimed that it wasn’t, and could never be considered, science fiction because it lacked aliens or robots. I’m an avid fan of science fiction and get so mad when people try to narrow the field to outlandish stories of space and aliens (not that there’s anything wrong with those, I enjoy those too). For some reason people think that the genre is “lesser.”

    May 17, 2014
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    • I watched Atwood speak when I was volunteering at the Vancouver Writers’ Fest and she said some sexist BS that made me want to vomit. Referring to when people asked her why her two main characters in this story were young men, she replied, “Well, you’d never have two girls sitting in the same room on separate computers playing video games and talking to each other.”

      Because I’ve *never* been in that situation. Multiple times even.

      At this same talk she also went on and on about how her work was “speculative fiction” which is “different” from “science fiction or fantasy” (and obvs. totes better). No, screw you, spec-fic is the encompassing umbrella that holds SF and F.

      She also talked about how the internet wasn’t a big source of entertainment for people, and used as “proof” for this the small amount of audience members who had heard about the festival online — ignoring, of course, the fact that most of the audience members of VIWF are older white people because they can afford the tickets (ie, why I volunteer — I can see events for free) and don’t entirely rely on the internet for entertainment — many have been members for years and they first heard about the event before the internet was a big thing. Internet is a much cheaper source of entertainment and thus will be populated by people with less money — POC, young folks, etc — and if they heard about VIWF online, it’s not entirely likely they’ll still be able to *go*. Cory Doctorow tried to explain that the internet was a huge source of entertainment for many because so few people have the money to go to the movies or buy new books in stores, etc, but she continually interrupted him and the other dude on the panel (whose name I can’t recall) and didn’t let them really get in many words edgewise.

      If I’d paid for that event I would have felt extremely cheated, even if I did get to meet Doctorow afterwards and he was a pretty cool dude.

      Overall she came off as highly privileged and full of herself and sexist, classist, racist, and ageist, and I just lost all respect for her. I loved Handmaid’s Tale but ugh.

      May 27, 2014
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  7. Lynn M
    Lynn M

    Sigh. It’s so considerate when authors give you an easy reason to actively avoid reading any of their books. I already have so many great YA books to read and so little time, it’s really nice that Moran has lightened my load with her ignorance and hubris.

    May 19, 2014
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  8. Tabby
    Tabby

    Urgh. I wanted to like Caitlin Moran, I really did. But the combination of intersectionality fails, victim blaming, getting actors to read out smutty fanfiction of their characters on tv (and as a lover of fanfiction I object to this on many many grounds) and now this
    … I’m basically done with her.

    May 19, 2014
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    • Sushi
      Sushi

      “getting actors to read out smutty fanfiction of their characters on tv”

      Oh! I knew the name was familiar in a bad way and I couldn’t figure out why. Now I remember.

      May 20, 2014
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  9. Ben
    Ben

    Ok so I’m not all up on my YA fiction knowledge, but how can someone possibly be so ignorant that there are no YA novels about girls having adventures when The Hunger Games is making like a fucktillion dollars with every movie it makes and showing up everywhere? How is it possible to not be aware of that?

    May 20, 2014
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  10. Caitlin Moran obviously isn’t the brightest person on the planet. I’ve read so much criticism on her in the last few years and she seems to manage to piss so many people of with her thoughlessness (that’s putting it mildly), I don’t want to read any more stuff by her.

    May 21, 2014
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    • Cat
      Cat

      Same here. I can’t stand her and her brand of fluffy feminism (according to one article she wrote, one of the biggest issues for women today is whether an actress can wear heels or flats to the Oscars). Her “humor” is awful, and she throws around a lot of slurs without seeming to realize that she’s being offensive.

      May 14, 2015
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  11. Sharon
    Sharon

    In a recent interview, Laurell Hamilton said she saved the publishing industry.

    //snicker//

    May 25, 2014
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