The Joy of Outrage

The outbreak of insanity both here in the US and over in Ingerland about the dread horrors of novels for teenagers like Maureen Johnson’s completely innocent Bermudez Triangle and Margo Lanagan’s disturbing, yet not-graphic-at-all, Tender Morsels has convinced me once again of two things:

  • Some people just love to be outraged
  • Many journalists don’t do even basic research

Both Johnson and Lanagan’s books are for teenagers. Bermudez is billed as being for 12 year olds and up and Tender Morsels as for 14 and up. Yet those being oh-so-very-shocked! insist on referring to them as books for children. They’re not. Those articles are flat out wrong or, worse, lying.

At least the rant in the Daily Mail is by someone who read at least some of the book. Even though their reading of Tender Morsels has zero in common with the Tender Morsels I read. In the Fox piece (I can’t call it reporting) it was clear that the reporter had not read Bermudez and that the outraged ones had at best skimmed the book looking for the word “sex”. Because they failed to notice that no sex takes place in Bermudez. There is nothing anyone could get offended by unless they’re homophobes who freak out at two girls falling in love.

Why do the outraged have so little interest in finding out who these books are aimed at? Or in so many cases don’t even read them?1 The Daily Mail mocks the publisher of Tender Morsels for pointing out it’s aimed at older teens. Which is utterly surreal because the publisher is telling the truth. The outraged have no interest in learning about YA or understanding the difference between it and children’s literature. They don’t want to understand the context for the book. They don’t want to know that there’s a very simple solution if you’re concerned a book is too mature for your child: read the book first. All they care about is being outraged. They don’t want the fact that Tender Morsels is not marketed to ten year olds to get in the way of that delicious outrage.

Well, I am outraged by their outrage. Or I would be if I could be bothered and didn’t have a novel to finish.

  1. Yes, there have been campaigns to ban books because of the book’s title. []


  1. Keren David on #

    I have to admit that I’d never heard of Tender Morsels until I read the piece in The Observer. Given that the book is published in the UK this month, could there be a publicist behind this manufactured outrage? Or am I being a hideously cynical journalist?

  2. JS Bangs on #

    Both Johnson and Lanagan’s books are for teenagers. Bermudez is billed as being for 12 year olds and up and Tender Morsels as for 14 and up. Yet those being oh-so-very-shocked! insist on referring to them as books for children. They’re not. Those articles are flat out wrong or, worse, lying.

    It’s possible that some people consider 12- and 14-year-olds to be children. I certainly don’t consider them adults. No offense to the 12-14 set that reads this blog, but I remember what I was at that age, and “adult” doesn’t enter into it.

  3. Icy Roses on #

    Well, clearly, Justine, you don’t understand that there is an age-limit to homosexuality. There are no gay people under the age of eighteen. It’s like voting. Once you become legally an adult, you can be gay. It’s as simple as that. 😛

    Obviously, everything above is total ridiculousness, and I don’t know why Bermudez is so controversial. There are, in fact, YOUNG ADULT gay people who need to read books to see that they are normal. There is nothing strange about it. And we have plenty of books about straight couples hooking up in YA novels, yet somehow this fails to be a problem.

  4. cbjames on #

    I remember years ago one of the people who works for Horn Book magazine wrote a piece about appearing on the Bill O’Rielly program to discuss Madonna’s then new children’s book. The overall message of the program was that no one like Madonna should be writing a children’s book.

    The author for Horn Book did not see anything wrong with the book, though he was not a fan of it, and he asked if Mr. O’Rielly had read it. He said he did not have time to read all of the books discussed on his show.

    This was a 32 page children’s book with lots of pictures. An adult could have read it in 10 to 20 minutes. An adult can read a typical YA novel in two or three hours.

    But, this “controversy” is not really about reading books.

  5. AMV on #

    As a former teenager, I am always outraged at people who call teenagers ‘children’. They’re not children. And they’re not adults. They’re Young Adults. If only there were a category of literature written specifically for people between children age and adult age.

  6. sylvia_rachel on #

    Since old episodes of Sesame Street that show kids doing such hazardous things as playing outside unsupervised and talking to strangers in shops are now sold on DVD with a warning label, I suppose it’s not a huge surprise that there are people who think teens need protecting from books written for teens. It’s stupid, but it’s not surprising.

    @JS Bangs — I don’t think most people would argue that 12-14’s are adults, but there’s a pretty big difference between, say, a 10-year-old and a 14-year-old. A 14-year-old is almost certainly most of the way through puberty, has had four more years of sex education at school, may well have had a boy/girlfriend or two, is in middle or high school rather than elementary school, etc., etc. In terms of books, a 14-year-old is likely to be interested in things (romantic relationships, for one) that would bore the average 10-year-old out of his/her tree. They are not the same readership at all. Where that leaves the 12’s I’m not entirely sure … except that I remember 12 and 13 were really awful ages …

  7. anonnypie on #

    The use of the word “children” in reference to teenagers is basically the whole problem in every alarmist discussion about YA. No one will argue that children should not be protected. But teenagers are not children. Nor, as the other posters have pointed out, are they adults. They are teenagers. Every time the censorship/alarmist/whatever discussions start up we really need to push people to use the word “teenagers.” It is not synonymous with “children.” And not just culture and hormones. As research has shown, their BRAINS ARE DIFFERENT from both child brains and adult brains. It is a transitional time in every way, and their literature is special.

  8. sara z. on #

    um, that was me.

  9. sara z. on #

    Oh, nevermind. Where was I? Ah yes. Agreeing with everyone. I’ve always thought that one of the biggest problems about all of the censorship/alarmist conversations about YA lit is the use of the word “children.” It completely changes the debate. Few would argue that children should not be protected, and since language is powerful once “The Children” enter the conversation of course the content of some YA lit can sound horrifying. But teenagers are not children. Nor, as everyone has pointed out, are they adults. They’re teenagers. And that’s not just about culture and hormones. As research as discovered, their BRAINS ARE DIFFERENT from children’s brains and adult brains. It’s an entirely discrete developmental stage.
    AMV: Yes, if only!

  10. rockinlibrarian on #

    I popped over here (from my lj feed) wanting to chime in with, as it turns out, exactly what AMV commented before me! Sure, teens are not adults, but they’re not kindergarteners either. It always bugs me when people don’t realize that “Books for Young People” doesn’t necessarily mean “Books for ALL Young People”…. I’m not sure which is worse, the people who think Harry Potter is appropriate for preschoolers or the people who think books like these are Too Adult for those poor innocent teenagers, but either way, it’s the same problem: people not actually paying attention to both kids and their media.

  11. Patrick on #

    I don’t know about getting all huffy outraged, but there are books targeted for 14 year olds that I wouldn’t want MY 14 year old reading(ok, mine’s 7, but my nephew is 14).

    As a parent, I find it harder and harder to stay ahead of what my son is reading or watching. I was really strict when he was 3, but it becomes more of a challenge. Getting good summaries of things helps, but one parent’s concern is not another. So, it’s always hard to judge and you do have to rely on your child to put something down if they don’t like it or whatever.

    I remember going up to my mom after reading “A Bridge to Terabithia”* and crying asking why anyone would write a book like that.

    I can imagine, now that I am a parent, what she felt. Many of us parents are over protective because we don’t want that crying child to ask us why.

    I don’t understand the uninformed outrage, but I understand the want to protect.

    *I think that’s what book it was. Books should have HEA endings!!!

  12. Electric Landlady on #

    I am going to get Tender Morsels from the library RIGHT NOW.

    At least the first commenter on the Mail piece was a voice of reason.

  13. supergee on #

    I recommend Philip Roth’s phrase: a communal ecstasy of sanctimony.

  14. veejane on #

    The last library I worked, there was a gentleman who took great exception to the movie The Last Temptation of Christ. He went so far as to formally challenge its inclusion in the collection, and got back a formal “No, this is not illegal, immoral or fattening” verdict from the library board. It was rated R; it was checked out only to people who could check out R movies; tough nookies. Whereupon: he embarked on a campaign to hide said movie around the library.

    People kept finding the video (tape) in random places: stuffed into plants, mired amid the romance paperbacks (ha), in History, in Pro Sports, in Science Fiction, next to World At War in the nonfiction video section. To my knowledge, he never discovered nor did he care that we had the book version of the same title, on the shelf, happy as a clam in fiction.

    So. You don’t have to be Thinking (only) of the Children to be a ridiculously self-important twerp! Now you know.

  15. Karson on #

    I have time on my hands, so I will be outraged by their outrage for you! I saw the Fox News piece and I was infuriated that the “reporter” obviously did not know what the book was truly about because no reading, or skimming, or any professional research was done beforehand. I personally think Bermudez (and other books willing to take on this topic) is revoluntionary and very relevant and needed in today’s teen society.

  16. David S. on #

    Really, why are you worrying about crazy book haters when The Ashes is on?!

  17. Justine on #

    David S.: I am not able to follow the Ashes or the Tour this year. It is a nightmare. Damn blasted novel!

  18. Foz Meadows on #

    It never ceases to amaze me how sanctimonious the uninformed are able to become on a topic they know nothing about, defending their ignorance on the grounds that, as the material they’re protesting is horrific and awful and inappropriate, they don’t want to read it. They only know how bad it is because someone told them, or they read about it on Teh Internets. Thus does the cycle of disinformation perpetuate itself. Grr!

  19. Cassandra Clare on #

    “children’s publishing, a world that used to be a peaceful haven from the sordid realities against which most of us would rather shield our children.”

    I enjoy it when journalists just make up random facts to support their assertions. As if dark teen books just appeared yesterday (Tenderness is ten years old, The Chocolate War 30 years old.)

    That is a deeply creepy article in a lot of ways and frankly does a lot to explain why the UK YA market lags behind in the US/Aus market in learning how to appeal to reading teens who don’t want to be treated like children. This year is the first time I’ve walked into a bookstore and seen that they’ve separated their teen section out from their children’s section, which is full of stuffed bunnies, rabbits, and sparkly rainbow stickers. The idea that a teen might not want to be caught dead surrounded by stuffed bunnies apparently only just caught on. Perhaps not coincidentally, YA book sales are on the rise this year. I wonder why.

  20. Kelly McCullough on #

    I think at root a large part of the problem is that journalism has entered one of it’s periodic departures from a real sense of public service, where it becomes almost completely about making money from providing entertainment and the function of real coverage of news happens as much by accident as a primary purpose of the medium. Scandal and outrage sell and it’s not so much that the media aren’t aware of the issues as that they don’t care, since it’s all about the money.

  21. Chris S. on #

    When I was 12 I read (as a personal project) a book chock full of rape, incest, xenophobia, killing, adultery, and long boring inventory bits about cubits. Strange that we rarely hear about people wanting to ban the bible.

    In these days of seriously over-protective parents, it’s important to remember that kids are remarkably resilient. Most of us read any number of adult books as kids. Some were probably disturbing, and some were scary and some were simply incomprehensible. Sometimes kids understand the concepts they’re reading, but sometimes they only understand the words. Kind of like the rest of their lives, in fact.

    Besides, kids take their cue from the adults around them. If adults gasp and gobble in outrage about a book, kids will think it’s outrageous. Otherwise, they probably won’t.

  22. C. J. on #

    They don’t want to know that there’s a very simple solution if you’re concerned a book is too mature for your child: read the book first.

    B-b-but… that would entail ACTUAL EFFORT! Why, I might be required to read TWO BOOKS in a single YEAR — even more, if my reaction fails to convince My Darling to cease and desist. Worse, I might be forced to admit that I don’t know everything, or that my child is far more insightful than I have been for a decade.

    All they care about is being outraged.

    Much easier, is it not? Such an approach goes hand-in-glove with other social trends, such as the willingness conviction that Teh Guvmint Should Protect Our Childrun — e.g. by requiring any adult who might interact with young adults to be certified as having passed a background check. (Charles Stross comments here on what this could mean for UK authors.)

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