In Huffington Post today, Sarah McCarry decries the cult of niceness among the almost exclusively female YA bloggers.* She's disturbed in particular by the lack of teeth in book reviews; according to McCarry, YA reviews and resulting commentary are simply group hugs in disguise. She believes this ultimately perpetuates gender stereotypes and robs YA writers (again, mostly female) of a chance to be seen as worthy of serious critical study.
I will agree with her that it is difficult to find YA book reviews equal to the lengthy, insightful criticism commonly given to adult books. I also agree with her take on what criticism should be: "But the role of the critic is not to make people feel good, to distribute hugs and goodwill all around; it is to contextualize and examine the role of a particular book, to evaluate its success as a work of art, to demand of both author and reader a sense of accountability, and to hopefully open up a conversation."
Yes, this is exactly the job of the critic, but is it the job of the blogger?
The community of YA writers and bloggers is so incredibly supportive. I strongly believe this helps keep the YA category in the black while most genres dip red in these trying economic times. Financial success is important and will keep quality young adult literature on the shelves at your local bookstore. The blogging world IS responsible, in part, for keeping YA literature in the public eye and this benefits everyone. I don't see anything wrong with that, as the mainstream media often ignores the genre.
This is not to say YA should be exempt from real criticism. (This is one reason Kirkus is so vitally important.) Serious criticism of YA lit will only further elevate the category, and legitimatize some very worthy writers in the eyes of the literary establishment.
Bloggers, though, are not bound to the same rules as critics. We can cheerlead; we can promote; we can gush. What we can't do, however, is call this criticism. There is absolutely nothing wrong with copying and pasting a novel's jacket copy and then writing a line or two stating how much you liked the book. This is not review, however, it is a recommendation, and should be labeled as such.
In the YA world, bloggers are a consistent and powerful force. Yes, we are mostly female, and mostly subscribe to the "catch more flies with honey" philosophy, but I dare you to scour the blogosphere and find a group of people more devoted to sustaining the health of a single genre. Serious criticism has never been the goal (which isn't to say it wouldn't be wonderful if more objective, experienced critics started blogging with this sole purpose), but celebration has, and, in YA, it seems there's more and more to celebrate every day.
What do you guys think?
*Thanks to author Lee Nichols for the link.