Re-Examining YA Fiction: Why John Green Doesn’t Deserve Savior Status

I just want to state something for the record: I love John Green’s writing.  I’ve been working my way through his works over the last few months and I’ve found them emotional and compelling and interesting.  The Fault in Our Stars is absolutely one of the best YA pieces I’ve read in a while, and if you haven’t read it yet, go find a copy.  This post is in no way a criticism on John Green-~-who, I suspect, would be pretty frustrated with the idea that female YA authors have been erased such that he can be credited with “saving the genre”.

The post I just linked to has some pretty good analysis as to why this crediting is problematic, but I’m give you a quick rundown here.  First, most male authors who write for young adults aren’t considered “YA fiction writers”, they’re just, you know, writers.  This is because, as I’ve previously written about, female writers are taken less seriously and their work is packaged such that only one gender is meant to feel able to access it.  Second, YA is seen as dominated by female authors, but it was a male author who was credited with “saving the genre”.  This is because so much of what is considered YA is tailored for girls and focuses on stories about girls and their experiences, and (again, as I’ve previously written), young women aren’t seen as serious and aren’t a subject that people are willing to engage with.  The entire demographic gets written off, and so does the literature that’s written with them in mind.  You should really take a minute to read that original post, because it talks substantially about sexism in literature, and as a writer, that’s something I think should be talked about.

It’s just not what this post is about.

What I ACTUALLY wanted to do was to highlight a couple of fantastic YA authors who have contributed to the genre, who deserve equal if not more credit than John Green.  Feel free to post other authors you love in the comments section below.

TAMORA PIERCE: Tamora Pierce writes YA fantasy, a genre that doesn’t get nearly enough credit.  She primarily writes interesting coming of age stories that incorporate elements of adventure and magic, but which (to some extent) examine privilege and develop dynamic and interesting (and predominantly female) characters.  She is sometimes compared to Christopher Paolini and Phillip Pullman (who, for the record, is ALSO great) but is more prolific within the genre than either of them.

MAUREEN JOHNSON: I’ve mentioned Maureen Johnson before.  She’s written a number of popular YA fiction books within the realistic fiction realm, and they also deal with challenging issues about growing up and finding yourself.  The one I remember best is Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes, which is certainly a coming of age story, but one which makes you reexamine what it means to come of age and chart your own course.  (And it’s not as sad as John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars)

CAROLYN MACKLER: I loved Carolyn Mackler during my teen years.  I think The Earth, My Butt and Other Big, Round Things should potentially be required reading for high school students.  Vegan, Virgin Valentine is an awesome look at testing your boundaries and recreating yourself as you go.  (I also really liked Love and Other Four-Letter Words).  Her stories use real emotion to convey important ideas about what it means to come of age as a woman in America-~-and that’s still a complicated issue worth discussing in literature.

JUSTINA CHEN HEADLEY: I admit that I’ve only read two of her books, North of Beautiful and Girl Overboard.  I think these both have powerful messages about standing up for yourself and deciding who you are, about finding your strength and learning how to live.  These books are actually fantastic, on par with The Fault in Our Stars or John Green’s other books…but I don’t see people singing her praises.  She deserves it though: those books also convey some very real feelings about navigating young adulthood, and provide a meaningful access point to try to understand those emotional experiences.

RANDA ABDEL-FATTAH: Abdel-Fattah explores something I think we need more of when she starts talking about intersectional issues around coming of age.  Her books Does This Make My Head Look Big and Ten Things I Hate About Me both explore coming of age stories for young Muslim women in Western societies navigating their religion (and what people think of it), often their ethnicities, and competing expectations about womanhood.  I think they actually have important messages about tolerance and defining your values, and are certainly valuable contributions to this genre.

VERONICA ROTH: Roth’s science fiction portrayal of a dystopian world set years in the future in what is currently Chicago in the Divergent trilogy (the last book of which comes out soon) have been gaining attention, for good reason.  The books are interesting, well-paced, and feature strong characters who struggle with legitimate conundrums.

And those are just a few authors whom I’ve read.  There are countless other authors and countless other books that have been quality contributions to the genre.  On top of that, the three best-selling series for YA fiction in the last decade have been Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games.  All three of those were written by women, and have been turned into blockbuster films to boot.  It doesn’t matter that I have serious issues with the portrayal of gender in Twilight–it was still incredibly popular.  So the point is this: why aren’t any of these women credited with “saving the genre”…and why did it need saving?  I think the answer is, realistically, more complicated than “they’re women and John Green is a man”, but it is troubling that so many women have been producing quality YA fiction for years and have gone unrecognized by the broader public, yet John Green’s work has been so acclaimed.


~ by Randi Saunders on September 9, 2013.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: