Here is a review of Matt de la Pena’s latest novel The Living, from Entertainment Weekly this week. Take a moment with it.
I’ve criticized reviews before which show incredible bias toward what quality is in YA and toward what many believe to be a revival in YA that comes at the hands of an individual by the name of John Green.
Perhaps you’ve heard of him.
Let there be no question: Green has earned his accolades and awards. He’s worked tirelessly to gain a following and fan base. But the fact that we as a reading and book culture — hell I’d even go further to say those who are casual readers — continue to uphold him as some Savior of YA and the success toward which to aspire is amazingly problematic. Because it follows in the same problematic gender norms that have plagued us since forever. The cis-gendered white male is the standard for best.
The review above irks me on many levels. But the reason we need to be talking about it and need to be angry about it is this — we spend a lot of time discussing about our need for diversity in YA. We want to give books featuring diverse characters and stories to YA readers, teens and non-teens, so that they may see themselves and see those who look like the people they interact with on a daily basis who may not be exactly like them.
We have a non-white author doing this kind of work, writing these kinds of stories, and yet — and yet— those characters must be worthy of the characters in a white, cis-gendered male novel. Worthy.
De la Pena did a rare thing in creating an interesting YA with characters who, even though they aren’t white (that’s noted in the review) are worthy of the white ones in the white male author’s novel.
At what point are we going to say we’ve had enough? And at what point will reviewers and/or editors actually sit down, reread these reviews, and think to themselves that maybe they’re further reinforcing a single norm as the “right” one?
Do they even care?