There has been a massive amount of discussion in the blogsphere about the Huffington Post article by Sara McCarry, “Faking Nice in the Blogosphere: Women and Book Reviews.” I will not attempt to recap all the criticism; Liz B has a great rebuttal and links to many relevant blogs on her blog, A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy. She’ been updating to include new responses and in reading one, I found a passage that I didn’t notice before. And it made me mad (emphasis is mine):
“Nice lady writers don’t rock the boat, they don’t hurt people’s feelings, and they sure as hell don’t write about topics that make other lady writers uncomfortable.”
Really? Ms. McCarry, I’m not sure you’re up on teenlit. A couple of books by women writers spring to mind.
1. Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott: Book about Alice, a teenage girl who was kidnapped at the age of 5 and made to be a sex slave to Ray. At the time the book starts, Ray is forcing Alice to find a replacement for her since she has gotten too old and he is no longer attracted to her. While this book was powerful, it was also powerfully disturbing and definitely controversial in the library I was working in at the time. Looking for reviews of this title leads to a review and discussion of how important it is to read books that make us uncomfortable over at Book Addiction.
2. Kendra by Coe Booth: The librarian who recommended I read this book and that the library purchase it thought that it had a stellar discussion and description of anal sex, which (sort of spoiler) the main character Kendra does with a guy to avoid losing her virginity since her grandmother is always threatening to her hymen examined (end sort of spoiler). Now, I’m not down on sex, but this is more about being pressured into having some sort of sex by a bad boy. I think it’s done fairly well, though I wasn’t as thrilled about it as my colleague. Neither was Ms. Stabooksi. I’m going to guess that the “Ms.” means she is a woman. I will say there was good press for this book at TeenReads (especially the last paragraph which admits this book has controversial content). For the record, I mostly agree with TeenReads.
3. Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan: I wish someone had warned me, as an adult, that this is a book about rape. Before we get into the main story, the main character Liga is raped a number of times by her father, once resulting in a pregnancy, and then raped again by a group of boys, again resulting in a pregnancy. By the end of the book, we have seen several more rapes of different characters for various reasons. Most of these scenes are not explicit but Lanagan’s writing ensures that they continue to be shocking. I struggled with this book. But Six Boxes of Books makes a case for why it is a book that should be read despite its disturbing nature. Yup, even though it’s written by a lady writer, it sure is disturbing.
I rest my case. Lady writers do write about controversial, necessarily disturbing topics especially in the YA lit world. Why? Because teens deal with disturbing, controversial topics. Because lady writers aren’t afraid to shy away from hard topics, ones that will stick with readers. And I applaud them for that.