Hello Everyone and happy Tuesday!
The title of this post says it all, I am giving my take on the Sarah Dessen Twitter drama from last week. By the time this is published, it will be old news (such is the nature of Twitter Drama), but I still wanted to weigh in on this, because I think it touches on several different issues that spring up from time to time.
If you have no idea what I am talking about, there was an article published with a quote from a graduate of Northern State University, in Aberdeen, South Dakota in regards to one of Sarah Dessen’s books being added to their Common Read Program. This program assigns a book to all first year students to read, and then the author of the book is invited on to the campus to hold a discussion about the book.
The committee who selects the book is made up of the student body, and one former student, is quoted saying, “She’s fine for teen girls… But definitely not up to the level of Common Read. So I became involved simply so I could stop them from ever choosing Sarah Dessen.”
Sarah Dessen didn’t like that the student had said this, and quote tweeted the article, scribbling out the name of the student and other identifiable information. However, due to the power of the internet, people found out who the student was, and started harassing her online, to the point she removed all of her social media profiles. Not only were fans of Sarah Dessen attacking her, but other well known authors were joining in as well. The quote was twisted into a what was being deemed as a “misogynistic attack” on Sarah Dessen’s work, as well as an attack on the entire genre of YA.
As there have been instances where there have been misogynistic attacks on the works of female author’s, as well as attacks on the genre of YA, I can understand why based on how people were perceiving the situation, they would become defensive. A lot of YA stories do get written off as being no important or just purely fluff, simply because they are from the perspective of teens for teen readers. Female author’s have also had to face many issues when it comes to getting their literature taken seriously, such as instances of Jodi Piccoult’s novels being written off as purely “chick lit” when that isn’t the case for a majority of her books (As she is one of the authors who commented on this situation, I felt it relevant to include that specific example).
I’m also posting a Twitter thread that has the list of all the authors, that have chimed in with support of Sarah Dessen, so you understand the scope of this situation:
As a side note, not all of the author’s on this list necessarily went and harassed the former student, some simply were saying stuff along the lines of “I’m sorry this happened to you”, “This sucks”, “Love you and your books”, so on and so forth. However, some of these authors did attack and harass the former student (Once again, Jodie Piccoult was one of the well known authors who participated in this attack).
A couple days after the incident, Sarah Dessen posted an apology on Twitter, that, at least in my opinion, not a great apology. Here it is below:
Considering the fact that the article itself was from three years ago, and the former student has essentially removed herself from the Internet due to the amount of hate and backlash she received, this is simply putting a band aid on a stab wound. Nice thought, but essentially worthless. It’s funny because in the comments to this thread, someone posted a video on how to apologize when you mess up as a public figure, and even though Sarah Dessen tries to follow it to some extent (the initial tweet was deleted, she put this apology out), the damage is done.
Now that everyone is caught up on what happened, I want to start this off by saying I agree with the former student… to a certain extent.
There are better ways she could have worded her opinion, without sounding as condescending and off putting as she did. It doesn’t necessarily change the fact that what she was trying to say is true, to a certain extent.
Have I read a lot of Sarah Dessen books, and enjoyed them? Yes, yes I have.
However, I’m not going to say they are the most inspiring pieces of literature known to mankind. I think they are fun reads, and for someone who is in middle school or high school, Dessen’s books are great ways to introduce them to reading. Even though her most recent books fall into this latter category, her earlier books did deal with heavier issues that are important to discuss with young teens.
Do I believe her books are appropriate for a college-level Common Reads Program though?
No, I don’t, especially since the book chosen was Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, who is a lawyer and activist. Just Mercy is about one of his first cases as a lawyer after having founded the Equal Justice Initiative for the poor, the wrongly condemned or women and children who would otherwise not have the opportunity to receive proper legal representation.
Just Mercy sounds like a better starting point for discussions on political and social issues that permeate how our legal systems operates, at a college reading level. In all honesty, this Twitter thread sums it up best:
I’m not saying there is no place for Sarah Dessen’s books in a reader’s library, or that her books are absolute garbage.These stories have a right to exist in the book world as much as any other story. However, for a college reading level program, to spark discussion about the world we live in? In my opinion, there are books out there that better serve this purpose.
This doesn’t mean that important social and political issues can’t be discussed in YA books. In fact, I think it’s important to expose teens to these kinds of issues, and YA books can be a great way to jump start these discussions. There have been stories about important social issues discussed in YA books, the most obvious example being The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Teenagers want to learn more about the issues in the world, especially now in this day and age where social media makes information, whether or not it’s factual, is more easily accessible to everyone.
As this post is drawing to a close, (and is probably all over the place), here are something’s I would like you to take away from this post, if anything:
- It’s not okay for an author, or any public figure, to go after someone simply because of their opinion of their work. You will not please everyone, no matter how much you wish to, it’s not going to happen.
- Someone can hold an opinion of creative work that is simply that, an opinion. Sometimes, it is nothing more than that, and it is subjective to that particular person. That doesn’t make them wrong, or stupid or a terrible human being, it simply makes them human 😂 Since we are all human, there are times we make mistakes and maybe don’t put our thoughts into words in the best way possible. If something someone said really bothers you that much, talk to them directly. Putting someone on blast over social media isn’t always (and rarely is) the best way to handle these situations.
- This doesn’t apply directly to the situation, but it is a discussion that popped up: Do not simply write off creative works simply because it is not for your demographic. Just because a book is geared towards women, doesn’t automatically make it the stereotypical “chick-lit” story. Just because a story falls in the YA category doesn’t mean it’s immature. Even if there are books that fall into these categories, doesn’t make their stories less valid for simply existing. Not everything written needs to be an insightful discussion about all the problems in the world. Books are a form of escapism, and sometimes, people really need that escape to help them cope with whatever is happening in their life.
- This also doesn’t apply to what happened, but it’s another conversation popping up as well. It’s not okay for readers to tag authors in their negative reviews. Book reviews and such are meant for other readers, not the authors, and the best advice I’ve heard regarding reviews is for authors to ignore them entirely, as it’s just better for the long run.
Though I haven’t really been following Sarah Dessen as much as did when I was younger, it’s hard for me to sit here and say I would continue supporting her work after this. This whole situation leaves a bad taste in my mouth, especially as she is a grown woman who should know better about how this kind of behavior impacts others as an author with a larger following.
I was already thinking of cleaning out my book shelves again… maybe I should take another look at her books and get rid of some 😂
Since I’ve written a freakin’ novel over some Twitter drama, I think it’s time for me to sign off. Let me know what you think about this whole fiasco, do you agree with me, or disagree with me?
Thank you for reading, and I will see you on Friday with a new post!
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/eclecticerin87/
If you want to read more about the Sarah Dessen Twitter drama, here is the article I used for reference in this post:
If you are interested in the video on how to apologize, here it is: