This weekend’s Guardian Review led with a strange, controversial piece by Leo Benedictus on the current state of Young Adult fiction, notable for its length and its air of behind-cupped-hand secrecy.
Many of the battles around YA books display the worst features of what is sometimes called “cancel culture”. Tweets condemning anyone who even reads an accused book have been shared widely. I have heard about publishers cancelling or altering books, and asking authors to issue apologies, not because either of them believed they ought to apologise, but because they feared the consequences if they didn’t. Some authors feel that it is risky even to talk in public about this subject. “It’s potentially really serious,” says someone I’ll call Alex. “You could get absolutely mobbed.” So I can’t use your real name? “I would be too nervous to say that with my name to it.” None of the big three UK publishing groups, Penguin Random House, HarperCollins or Hachette, was available for comment.
Another author I will call Chris is white, queer and disabled. Chris has generally found the YA community friendly and supportive during a career spanning several books, but something changed when they announced plans for a novel about a character from another culture. Later, Chris would discover that an angry post about the book had appeared anonymously on Tumblr, directing others to their website. At the time, Chris only knew that their blog and email were being flooded with up to 100 abusive messages a day.
The inability to cite sources, and the author’s apparent ignorance that YA had a healthy and vibrant existence as a genre well before “the Harry Potter years”, seriously undermined the points Benedictus was trying to make, to the extent that I am surprised The Guardian published the piece and gave it such prominence.
The essay was really about the impact of social media, the blogging community and the atmosphere of fandom on Young Adult publishing. Benedictus cited the dramatic fall-off in YA sales in recent years without properly exploring the relationship between that trajectory and the publishing mood he was describing.