I’m assuming most of you coming over here know why I started up this blog. Bitch Magazine posted their list of 100 must-read feminist YA titles. Then they removed some. Lots of debate ensued. This is part of the comment that I left on the Bitch site when I first read about the controversy:
I’m curious about what the purpose of this list is. I don’t think it’s to expose readers to a wide variety of feminist YA literature, because I count at least eight authors who have multiple titles on the list. Authorial intent doesn’t seem to matter much. Strong female characters are obviously an important qualifier, but if you were just choosing books with protagonists that fit that label this list would have been much longer, and/or is just picking at random from a list which is thankfully long and varied. Some of the books on this list were feminist touchstones when they were published and are no longer progressive; are they on the list as markers of what they have done for the field? Not that I’m not pleased to see so many queer-themed books on the list- I think many of the books you included are frequently quite good and very moving- but what makes those texts specifically feminist? If they were heterosexual romances, would they still qualify here as explicitly feminist YA literature?
Overall, while I’m grateful a list like this exists, and while I understand that part of the list’s goal is brevity, I think that if the purpose of this list is truly to advise young feminist readers, it would be much more beneficial if each book came with a brief annotation explaining what makes that book one of the most feminist out there, and what triggers readers might expect. It would help avoid a lot of the criticism you’ve received thus far, and it would also be providing a service for smart YA readers that we’re not receiving from all the other best-of lists around the blogosphere and in SLJ, Horn Book, Kirkus, and the other critical magazines that, believe it or not, many of us who love YA also read.
I’ve been thinking about it a lot, because I’ve been pondering for a while the idea of a children’s and YA book blog dealing with intersectionality1. Taking for granted that the default paradigm is a rich straight white male able-bodied point of view (and I think that anyone who’s looked at the canon of literature can reasonably say that that is the default), I’ve been thinking it might be beneficial to have a central place which identifies books which are notable because of their opposition to racist, sexist, homophobic, classist, ablist, anti-fat, etc. positions. I specifically wanted someplace that would identify triggers and places where the text is flawed while simultaneously pointing out where it’s strong, to make good YA lit a safe space2 for potential readers. And if someone needs to do it, it might as well be me, right?
The biggest problem for me is always having too many areas to go into and lack of decisiveness where to begin. The Bitch Magazine list has given me a good starting place. There are 103 books on that list, and I’ve read far less than half of it. But the ones that are there, I have some strong feelings on.
There are a lot of great books on that list. Some are feminist. Others aren’t so much, or- in my opinion- have other problematic areas which make the positive effect of the feminism less important than the overall negative takeaway. A few of the books aren’t actually YA. Some are important because of their place in the history of feminism in young adult literature but aren’t necessarily what I would identify as feminist literature, so much as markers for important steps in the general direction toward feminism.
My overall intention for this site is to log books that I read which I feel are particularly noteworthy for positive reasons. I want to focus on the Bitch list at first, but I have plenty of books that I love with a strong “but” that keeps me from recommending it unreservedly. I don’t really have any reason to post about a book which I feel fails on most or all counts, but I think there’s value in discussing why a book doesn’t work for me overall because of specific issues in my perception of feminism.
And there’s another caveat. The Bitch magazine list doesn’t give a specific definition of feminism that it was working from, and I can tell you right now that probably everyone reading this post has a different view of what exactly the word means. I’m not aiming to settle on one particular definition here. I’m sure some of you will disagree with what I say, and that I will disagree with what some of you say. That’s not just okay, that’s encouraged. Please disagree. For the purposes of this blog, feminism is the radical notion that women are people. Anything else can be a point of discussion.
Here’s the last issue. I’m one person. I can’t read all of these books in a timely manner, and some of them I won’t read. When I say I want YA to be a safe space, I mean for myself as well, and while I want to be challenged by my reading (I’m assuming anyone who cares enough to read a blog like this wants to be challenged) I don’t want to be hurt.
That’s where you come in.
Over the next few days, I’ll be posting a few reviews of my own of some of the books on the list. I’ve put together a template for myself and everything. But I can’t do all of the books, and even if I could, I don’t think I ought to. College and grad school convinced me that literary criticism always seems stronger when there’s a group of intelligent, enthusiastic people bouncing ideas off each other and changing their minds based on discussion. So if at any point you’d like to write up a review of any of the 103 books on the Bitch magazine list (even ones I’ve already written or that someone else has), please let me know. It’ll save me some time, and I think it’ll make the list stronger.
The Bitch list was a great starting place, but that’s really all it was. It’s up to us- as authors, members of the publishing industry, librarians, critics, and fans of young adult literature- to take it farther.
1 – Intersectionality is what it sounds like: the place where different critical/social justice perspectives intersect. It asserts that nothing- gender, race, sexuality, disability, whatever- exists in a vacuum, and privilege in any of those categories can influence the way others are perceived and enacted.
2 – A safe space does not mean a place without confrontation or challenging opinions, but rather a place where no one is attacked for holding a particular opinion. Logical discussion is totally welcome, as is attacking IDEAS- just not people.