One of the many things I love about YA literature is the responsibility the author has to her audience. This responsibility is nuanced and variable, but it is nonetheless real. Chuck Palahniuk doesn’t need to worry about it. Angie Thomas does. It entails empathy and caring for the reader’s experience, providing both truthfulness, understanding and hope in some form and measure. Mistakes are an opportunity, not a fatality. Effort has meaning, even if it is not a linear meaning. A given character may be evil, even unredeemable, but a reader’s humanity is understood as a given. A character may be given over to despair or sacrifice something in vain, but the reader will always find portals leading to a constructive understanding of the narrative left open to them.
This sense of engaged concern, perspective, and shared humanity makes YA literature a living metaphor of how we should treat each other in life. This is why I consider it a terrible irony that the atmosphere of communication on YA Twitter is, at critical times, the antithesis of the very ethos of communication that makes YA special. Consider the current Blood Heir controversy.
In a case like this, in which competing perspectives ossify and become toxic, the need for discussion and dialogue as opposed to fear and vitriol is cast in sharp relief. Even though polarization has become endemic to public life, the YA book community should not allow core values of constructive criticism to give way to suppression and the forceful assertion of orthodoxy and a single right answer. Nothing is more nuanced than literary context as it interfaces with the personal contexts of authorship and readership. We all bring personal experiences with us that can be triggered by things we read. The attempt to make the world safe from negative associations is inherently repressive. A Twitter mob is not a just arbiter. The idea that an author on the receiving end is making personal decisions that are devoid from the crushing pressures of fear and anxiety is not reasonable.
Twitter’s propensity for facilitating avalanches of uncivil communication is obvious. No one wants to be dragged on Twitter. Fear of stepping outside the lines is endemic to YA Twitter. Conformity of opinion is inherently bound up in safety there. Once conflict starts between two competing perspectives a polarized environment of hate, fear and self-righteousness flows freely.
We’re all better for reading and being engaged with YA literature. Let’s put that into practice. The next time you see someone being piled on and bullied on Twitter ask yourself what a YA heroine would do.