Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Professionals

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.


  1. I've been in on a couple of discussions about this lately. It's easy to see the kitlit community as very self-congratulatory.

    Support is essential. Bloggers don't and shouldn't have to follow the same rules as critics. I wonder, though, how we look to outsiders, with all the cheery sparkle. This is sounding a lot more negative than I mean to be. I suppose I've been thinking about this a lot lately and what it means about the ways I present myself on-line.

    Thanks for adding to the discussion!

  2. I definitely understand all of this when it comes to writers reviewing books, because we are a community and we don't want to alienate each other. There's a part of me that wishes we could be kind but honest about the weaknesses of books *without* alienating each other, but maybe I would feel differently if it was my book getting scrutinized everywhere? I don't know.

  3. Awesome post, Loretta! I love your take on this entire topic. I read that article yesterday and while I agree that Kirkus and their peers are essential to legitimize YA in the eyes of the literary community, I also believe that blogs and the support they provide within our community are critical to our success as writers. Thank you for articulating this argument so well for me, L.

  4. I think bloggers are providing personal opinions based on their own reading preferences. Critics (at least should be) writing professional reviews. Apples and oranges, I think.

    I'm the first to provide a non-sparkly review in my blog if I didn't appreciate a book, though, regardless of the genre.

  5. I like what you have to say about the various roles we play.

  6. Thoughtful post. I agree with you on all counts, although how does one establish themselves apart from recommendation to insightful critique? When does that change take place?

    I am merely thinking "aloud" here.

    Great blog!

  7. Excellent point!!

    I've often thought that an anonymous blog would be a helpful tool (where we could proceed with COMPLETE honesty)--on our blog, we don't write about the books that we thought were terrible out of a sense of respect and support. Plus, we all live in fear that editors and agents will think we're crazy raving mean-spirited lunatics.

    I wish that there were more people out there giving actual book reviews as opposed to bloggers giving recommendations. So much is depending on the opinions of those few book reviewers. And, I'd like to read more honest critiques.


  8. Interesting topic and you raise a compelling point about how the blogosphere helps sustain the YA genre. I have a journalism background and was schooled in the tenet of objectivity. I do not review books on my kid lit blog because books can't be properly reviewed without objectivity. Also - many kid lit bloggers are writers or aspiring writers who choose not to write negative book reviews for fear of alienating prospective editors and agents.

  9. Wow, thanks for the thoughtful responses!

    Carolyn--It does seem bloggers should have a clear goals in mind (even if that goal is to be totally random, like,

    Veronica--I do think there is room for true criticism without alienation. Maybe my thoughts will change if I get published!

    LiLa--I'm continually amazed by supportive nature of the YA online community. I honestly think it keeps some people going.

    Medical Librarian--Apples and oranges. Exactly! Thanks for stopping by and adding to the convo.

    Liz--Your take on this is great. I really enjoyed reading it!

    Ms. Booksniper--It's all in the label, I think. And I can't wait to read more of your anonymous reviews. We do need more industry professionals reviewing anonymously, as Sarah Frances Hardy pointed out. Also, great point, Megan, it is all but impossible to attach your name to an objective review if you are an aspiring writer. I think anonymous blogs, though not ideal, could really serve the community well if the bloggers write serious criticism and not use cyberspace as a place to complain and rant.