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YA Books Are Targeted In Intense Social Media Callouts, Rosenfield Says


There was a widely read article about Twitter this week and how passionate opinions can catch fire on that platform - this time in young adult fiction often called YA. Kat Rosenfield reported the piece for She's a freelance journalist and also a YA author. She joins us from the studios of WSHU in Fairfield, Conn. Thanks so much for being with us.

KAT ROSENFIELD: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: You centered your article around a book that came out in May - "The Black Witch" by Laurie Forest. It had some buzz. Kirkus says, quote, "engaging character set in a rich alternative universe with a complicated history - a massive page turner that leaves readers longing for more." But in March, the buzz took a turn. What happened?

ROSENFIELD: A blogger who had an advanced reader's copy of the book disagreed with the reigning buzz and penned a 9,000 word review decrying it, basically, as an end-to-end mess of unadulterated bigotry. So this blogger disagreed with the premise of the book, which basically centers on a girl becoming enlightened to the fact that she's been indoctrinated into an ideology of racist superiority.

And once she had formed this opinion, she - you know, she wrote her review. And she got online and basically called for the activist crowd on young adult Twitter to boost it. And because of online dynamics being the way they are and because of how fast outrage travels, on Twitter especially, it really just blew up into a huge controversy that lasted for multiple weeks right up until the book released.

SIMON: Did a lot of people who kind of piled on bother to read the book?

ROSENFIELD: As far as I could tell in my reporting on this piece, no. In fact, the goodreads page where people can rate a book and review it before it's been released was really swarmed with reviews from people who almost proudly declared that they hadn't read the book and they never would. But they were leaving a one star review in solidarity with the blogger who had denounced it.

SIMON: Does some of this stem from the fact that the YA publishing world can have a - what I'll just refer to as a poor record on diversity?

ROSENFIELD: You know, publishing itself is a very white industry. And that's at the root of a lot of the discontent surrounding books like this. The question of who is editing, who's letting these books through the door and what kinds of authors are being let through the door - that's a big deal. And it is a problem.

SIMON: But on the other hand is - what are we seeing in this case?

ROSENFIELD: What we're seeing in this case is sort of the difference between trying to diversify publishing at a base level by getting more and different kinds of people telling more and different kinds of stories through the door versus diversity as a lens for critically engaging with books. And I think that there are questions now about whether that has limitations or whether it's the most productive way to critique literature.

SIMON: Harlequin still supports the book?

ROSENFIELD: Oh, absolutely, yeah. I mean, it was released. It has done quite well since then. The controversy, as they do, created interest for sure. And there were also people who observed the controversy and did feel that it was PC run amok and, you know, bought books out of spite.

SIMON: Can you tell if teenagers care one way or another?

ROSENFIELD: I think that teenagers - I mean, some were very passionately involved in this. And, you know, teachers do feel things very passionately. It's why they're such a great audience to write for. But others are getting a little bit fed up because these controversies within YA, especially, are dominated by adults, and they're led by adults. So the teens are starting to kind of push back a little bit and saying, you know, this community is supposed to be for us, and you guys are messing it up.

SIMON: (Laughter) As adults often do mess up things, don't we?

ROSENFIELD: It's true. We ruin everything.

SIMON: Kat Rosenfield, her article "The Toxic Drama On YA Twitter" is on Thanks so much for being with us.

ROSENFIELD: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF BROKE FOR FREE'S "HIGH HOPES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.