Sunday, January 8, 2012

Rembering Who You're Really Writing For: A Teen Perspective of Last Week Kurfaffle

This actually happened in my classroom on Friday morning at 9:25am in Northwest Georgia...

Picture a class full of 8th graders. Those finished with their Practice Writing Test on why cell phones shouldn't be banned at school are reading(these kids are serious about reading. Library passes far outweigh restroom ones...but I digress).

As I glance up from the ever growing mound of papers to grade, my eyes hone in on a particular book across the room.

And I gasp in horror.

It is a book known by some in the YA community to promote a, negative relationship with an emotionally, if not physically abusive, love interest. The feminist in me fumes at the harmful messages of the book while the writer in me bristles about the non-sensical plot.

At my gasp, heads jerk up and brows furrow questioningly at me. The reader of said book realizes I'm staring at her. "What?" she demands in a tone that teenage girls have perfected.

"You're reading....that book."


Now that I have the entire class's attention, not just the reader's, I fumble for the right words. "That book seems to promote a negative image of what relationships should be. You do know, it's not normal for a boy to stalk or want to kill you, right?"

The reader looks at me as if I've just said the dumbest thing on the planet(another look teenagers have perfeted). She rolls her eyes while saying, "Well, duh! Of course I do."

My utter and total surprise makes her laugh. "I'd never let a boy treat me like that. I just think the story is cool."

Other girls lean over and examine the cover. "Ooh, what's it about?" "Can I check it out after you do?" and then finally another honest female matter of factly states, "You do know when we hear a book is bad, we just want to read it even more to see what it's really about?"

Yeah, I kinda do. Cause I've seen negative Goodreads or Amazon reviews that have made me stroke my chin and go, "Hmm, wonder if that's really true?" I stop the chin stroking and pick up the book to see for myself whether I agree or disagree. The ol' "Curiosity killed the cat" at its finest.

So, what does this have to do with anything about what happened last week?

First, I think we YA writers sometimes forget who our true audience is. Teenagers. And those teenagers for the most part DO NOT read Amazon or Goodreads reviews. They do not follow authors on twitter or facebook.

What they do is walk into a library and literally judge a book by its cover. Or they take the time to read the blurb and see if it sounds cool. Or they take actual teen word of mouth like my students do.

When we forget who our true audience is, it often skews our own opinions. My student didn't need to read The Feminine Mystique or know anything about Feminist criticism. Her common sense told her it was wrong, and she was able to form her own opinion why. I hope to God that most young women reading books like that book and others will be blessed with the same common sense. However, not all young women do. I watched two students I taught in 8th & 9th grade break up because "he wasn't an Edward!" Scary stuff!!

I think it can probably be said that us "oldsters" reading YA bring a hella lot of baggage to our YA reads. We're not going to view books the same way because of our wisdom, education, or personal experiences. I often wonder what 12-18 yr old Krista would have thought about some of the Young Adult I read now. At that age, YA was completely out of the equation for me. I was reading VC Andrews(no comments from the peanut gallery!) and Danielle Steel.

And I think all of this ties back clumzily to the multiple Goodreads craziness that happened this week as well as reviews in general. Just like my student's reaction to me "talking down to her", I think most teens would be appalled at what has gone on the past week. I think they would expect us to grow-up and act like the adults we're supposed to be. With that said, something must be learned by authors on how to react to negative reviews. The YA community must try to distance themselves from mob mentality or hopping on a bandwagons--good or bad. Promoting a clique like . Instead of focusing so much on twitter time, reach out to schools. Contact librarians and teachers about talking with their students.

We've got to realize the bigger picture. It shouldn't be about 5 Star Goodreads or Amazon reviews. It should be about people connecting with our stories. Somewhere there's a lot of our target audience who, as my student did, get in trouble for missing dinner because they are so enthralled by a book's plot.

At the end of the day, becoming a writer for me is based on the same theory as why I became a teacher. It's not because of the's because I wanted to tell my story and have someone enjoy and treasure it.


Vee said...

Yeah, the current situation with reviewers is a little bit ridiculous. I hate that it's so fraught.

And haha, your student's reaction is sort of awesome. Definitely, girls' minds aren't going to get warped by a single story (although getting inundated with several stories like that becomes a bit more dangerous...) :)