Condescending Reviews are Us (update)

Maybe I’m being unfair, but Dwight Garner’s New York TImes review of LeBron James’ & Buzz Bissinger’s Shooting Stars gave off the distinct reek of Eau de Condescension (via Mitali Perkins):

“Shooting Stars,” a new collaboration between LeBron James, probably the greatest basketball player alive, and Buzz Bissinger, the author of “Friday Night Lights,” is a different kind of book. It avoids speaking about James’s professional career with the Cleveland Cavaliers (he was the National Basketball Association’s most valuable player last season) almost entirely. And since James skipped college, well, ixnay on that too.

“Ixnay”? Seriously?

“Shooting Stars” reads like a better-than-average young-adult novel, “Stand by Me” with breakaway dunks and long, arching three-pointers. I suspect it will find its best and most eager audience among the teenagers and preteenagers for whom James is a deserving role model.

Let’s set aside the fact that Stand By Me is a movie not a YA novel1 and have a look at “better-than-average young-adult novel.” Given the lukewarmness of the whole review it’s pretty clear that Garner does not think much of YA. Though if he thinks Stand By Me is a YA novel then it’s more likely he hasn’t read much YA average or otherwise. The whole thing reminds me of Maureen Dowd dissing adult chicklit based on her reading of a satirical YA novel. The New York Times seems pretty hazy on what YA is.

Eric Luper suggests that we need to run a remedial seminar for them and make them read some better-than-average YA. What do youse lot think? And what should we put on the reading list? I suggest five or so books but they all have to be completely different from each other. Here’s my off the top of my head list. I made a point of not including any books by my friends:2

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith (historical)
Bucking the Sarge by Christopher Paul Curtis (contemporary realism/comedy)
Skin Hunger by Kathleen Duey (fantasy)
All American Girl by Meg Cabot (chicklit)
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (science fiction)
If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson (contemporary realism/romance)

What would your reading list to school The New York Times book people about YA look like? Remember each book has to be really different.

Update: Scott says I should point out that this review really made me want to read Shooting Stars. So, yes, it’s condescending but now I really want to read the book. But, come on, I’m a basketball fanatic I was going to read it anyway.

  1. Based on a short story by Stephen King which is also not a YA novel. []
  2. I’ve met Cabot and Duey and they are both delightful but I don’t know them well enough that I feel biased recommending their work. []


  1. thelittlefluffycat on #

    Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You, by Peter Cameron.

  2. Justine on #

    That’s just one book! Gotta be a list for the seminar to work.

  3. thelittlefluffycat on #

    I envision them reading it, then talking about it for a long, long time. 🙂

  4. Justine on #

    And if they don’t like it? (And I have heard negative things about that book though I haven’t read it myself). Then game over before it begins. Gotta give ’em a variety of books so we increase the odds of finding the right YA gateway book for each NY Times book person.

    What does the rest of your list look like?

  5. M. Molly on #

    I have no problem recommending your friends:

    Marcus Zusak, The Book Thief (historical)
    Carrie Ryan, The Forest of Hands and Teeth (sci fi/fantasy)
    E. Lockhart, The Boyfriend List (quote-unquote chicklit)
    John Green, An Abundance of Katherines (contemp realism/comedy)
    Laurie Halse Anderson, Wintergirls (contemp realism/literary drama)
    Chris Crutcher, Whale Talk and/or Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes (a better-than-average-YA-sports-novel) *snark snark*

  6. thelittlefluffycat on #

    🙁 I haven’t gotten to read enough newer YA lately. Hunger Games and Catching Fire are on my TBR. If I can say older things, I’d probably add on The Outcasts of Schuyler Place, by Konigsburg,and The View From Saturday — and Octavia Butler’s Parable books, Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. The Graveyard Book, by Gaiman. The Supernaturalist, by Colfer.

    A marked tendency toward fantasy. Hm.

  7. Ronni on #

    I’m a YA book-reviewer, and I find this condescending attitude to YA literature incredibly depressing. (It’s something I have to struggle against myself as a reviewer. Every so often, someone will ask, ‘So, when are you moving on to reviewing literary fiction?’ It’s very frustrating.)

    Anyway, I could think of about 50 books which would help to educate this reviewer, but it would probably be better to keep them to myself. I just wanted to show my support and let you know that not all reviewers are as ignorant as Dwight Garner.

  8. Miss_Tammy on #

    The Disreputable History of Frankie-Landau Banks by E. Lockhart

    Finding Alaska by John Green

  9. Jude on #

    1) Paper Towns by John Green
    2) Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud
    (and I’d say anything by Scott Westerfeld, but darn, it’s the same genre)
    The two books I read this summer that I really liked were Crash into me by Albert Borris and Marcelo in the Real World, but they’re both in whatever genre Paper Towns is in.
    3) How to Ditch Your Fairy (is this chick lit–maybe close enough)
    Not Wintergirls because even though it is exactly right and extremely well-written, I have a mental illness, so reading it was painful–all that repetitive self-talk that forces you to treat yourself poorly made me feel much worse after reading it, so I’d say it’s only for those who *aren’t* sick already.
    I give up.

  10. Justine on #

    M. Molly: Good list! Though I think that the Lockhart and the Green are too similar. And the Lockhart is not chicklit.

    littlefluffycat: Octavia Butler is not YA!

    Ronni: You know it used to depress me but now I just think it’s funny. I mean, seriously, right now YA is the biggest growing genre in the US and Australia. (Don’t know about elsewhere.) It’s bigger and better and more widely read than ever before. We win! 🙂 What’s to be depressed about?

    Miss Tammy: That’s only two books and they’re the same genre. Tsk tsk.

    Jude: Good choices! (Er, not talking about the choice of my book. The other ones . . . though I mostly describe HTDYF as a comedy.)

    It’s hard, isn’t it? I notice no ones picked a crime/mystery book, which is making me try to remember my fave YA crime books.

  11. Keren David on #

    First, thank you so much for the Maureen Dowd link. Honestly, I thought it was a spoof. The idea of the two of them sneering around a bookshop, picking up chicklit as though they’d never seen it before – ‘My dear!’ ‘How ghastly!’. Very funny.

    Yes, these silly ignorant people should be forced to read YA books. My pick:Jonathan Stroud Bartamaeous trilogy. Patrick Ness, The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer. Gillian Philip Crossing the Line. Cory Doctorow Little Brother. Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games. Tabitha Suzuma From Where I Stand

  12. Melissa on #

    A NORTHERN LIGHT by Jennifer Donnelly (although I also LOVED FLYGIRL) (historical fiction)
    A BRIEF CHAPTER IN MY IMPOSSIBLE LIFE by Dana Reinhardt or MONSTER by Walter Dean Myers or STAYING FAT FOR SARAH BYRNES by Chris Crutcher (realistic fiction)
    THE WARRIOR HEIR by Cinda Williams Chima (fantasy)
    RASH by Pete Hautman (uh…scifi? dystopian fiction?)
    13 LITTLE BLUE ENVELOPES by Maureen Johnson or AUDREY, WAIT! by Robin Benway or ELSEWHERE by Gabrielle Zevin, although the last sort of pushes it (chicklit)

  13. Linda on #

    A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray. Best termed Historical Fantasy, but it really is a wonderful study of girls and their role in society.

  14. Delux on #

    At this point, is there anything those people at the NYT book review don’t need to be schooled about?

    Why, I’m not still enraged about Dances with Pretendians aka Margaret Jones Diaries. Nope, not at all…

  15. eric luper on #

    Since I suggested it, I need to offer up my list:

    The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
    Absolutely True Diary… by Sherman Alexie
    Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson
    Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
    Tyrell by Coe Booth
    Godless by Pete Hautman

  16. Susan on #

    This is the second review brought to my attention where the critic really reveals more about his ignorance than the shortcomings of the reviewed work. Honestly, I really think someone needs to tell these paid professionals to do their homework, to educate themselves about the subject matter beforehand so they can avoid making an ass of themselves.

    I swear, do I have to go sistergirls on these fools who repeatedly want to comment on a genre they clearly know nothing about. ((imagine Susan doing the full head roll and “No he didn’t?!”

    A few books they should read:

    The Rock And The River by Kekla Magoon (historical)
    A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott (historical/speculative?)
    Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger (realistic fiction)
    Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-mbachu

  17. Ali on #

    1) The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Steven Chbosky (if that’s not technically YA, then 1)(b) is Paper Towns by John Green)

    2) A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray – great historical fantasy, witty, and also fantabulous in this kind of way

    3) Blood Red Snow White by Marcus Sedgwick – because it’s creative and beautiful and gripping and, actually, educational at the same time

    4) Northern Lights by Philip Pullman – I would argue that this isn’t the same genre as AGATB because (in my experience) it’s target audience is mostly different, and also because it’s not historical (being, y’know, set in a different world and all…)

    5) Pirates! by Celia Rees – historical fiction minus the magic, with strong female characters and accounts of slavery that actually make you uncomfortable

    6) Uglies by Scott Westerfeld – Justine, I know he’s your husband and this seems like shameless sucking up, but I really think these are some of the most inventive and fascinating YA books I’ve ever read. Besides, this list needs some sci-fi 🙂

    I apologise if I am clutching at straws trying to say that these are 6 different genres!

  18. Cristina on #

    It’s HARD to decide! It’s like you’re asking me to choose between sleeping and eating.
    The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks –E. Lockhart [Contemporary Realism]
    The Bermudez Triangle –Maureen Johnson
    The Hunger Games –Suzanne Collins [Science Fiction]
    The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing –MT Anderson [Historical]
    The Book Thief –Markus Zusak [Historical]
    Graceling –Kristin Cashore [Fantasy]
    Sabriel –Garth Nix [Fantasy]

  19. Clix on #

    A number of those I’d list are already here. So I’m just adding a few:

    Unwind, Neal Shusterman. [Scifi]
    Models Don’t Eat Chocolate Cookies, Erin Dionne. [Contemp]
    Schooled, Gordon Korman. [Contemp]
    Beauty, Robin McKinley. [Fant]
    Epic, Conor Kostick. [Scifi]
    Coraline, Neil Gaiman. [Dark Fantasy]
    Bloody Jack, L.A. Meyer. [Hist/Adv]
    Dragon’s Bait, Vivan Vande Velde. [Fant]
    The Squire, His Knight, and His Lady, Gerald Morris. [Hist/Fant]
    Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, Bruce Coville. [Fant]
    The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss. <– Is this YA? It's amazing, anyhow!

  20. Christopher Barzak on #

    YA has always been looked down upon by the literati, just as scifi and fantasy has, historically, been ostracized as lesser works of literature by virtue of their category. I’m not surprised. I don’t think it’s going to change much anytime soon, either, same as it hasn’t changed much over the years for scifi and fantasy. There are always those who are made exceptions to the rule, but the rule remains. It’s a depressing condition, really.

    You’re right. Stand By Me (or its original title, The Body) is not a YA novel. It’s a coming of age novella. I think there is a lot of commonalities between coming of age stories and YA novels, but I think there’s also a slight difference: YA novels are geared more toward an age specific bracket, whereas coming of age novels seem to be geared toward a broader age bracket, from teens to adults who like to read, with an adult’s perspective, about childhood and adolescence. The narrator, for example, of The Body, is telling the story from a much later time in his life, so his perceptions that are offered throughout are an adult’s perceptions of his own adolescence. I think this may be one of the distinctions between YA and coming of age narratives. Though there may be exceptions to this, I think it’s probably a general distinction, for the most part, despite some YA novels being marketed as adult and some coming of age novels being marketed as YA.

    I’m with Wordsworth. “Our meddling intellect Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things.”

  21. Melissa on #

    Thanks for posting this! I’m from Cleveland so this book has been all over the news lately here. I heard an interview on the radio this morning from the author, and honestly, I want to read this too! I can’t believe that reviewer. Bissinger is a well-respected author that deserves a respectful review. He had a lot of great things to say about the book and his experiences with Lebron James working on it. He said Lebron wanted to make sure to portray the good and the bad about his high school years, which I think is great, especially considering he is such a high profile person. Us Clevelanders have a lot of respect for Lebron here – I would never expect him to be the next super awesome amazing novelist (who knows?) but I’m glad you’ll be giving his book a chance, as will I!

  22. Doret on #

    Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
    Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan
    I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
    Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
    Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers
    M+O 4ever Tony Hegamin
    Jumped by Rita Williams Garcia
    Down to the Bone by Mayra Lazara Dole

    And since its a basketball book that started all this, I’ll end on the court with

    Necessary Hunger by Nina Revoyr

    The reviewer doesn’t know YA lit or basketball
    “a new collaboration between LeBron James, probably the greatest basketball player alive”

    Has he not heard of Bill Russell or Micheal Jordan. Bill Russell has 11 championship rings For a moment I will be kind and assume he meant to say greatest basketball player now playing. Still its wrong. James is ringless. The greatest find a way to win no matter who is on their team.

    “I swear, do I have to go sistergirls on these fools”

    Susan, that’s s classic. I may have to steal it.

  23. Karen Bass on #

    If a mystery still needs to be nominated I’d say Dooley Takes the Fall by Norah McClintock (it’s Canadian but available in the U.S. and a very gritty, very good read).

    Other titles I’d toss into the mix:
    Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner
    The Book Thief by MZ (already named but it’s a fave)
    Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
    The Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr

    The list could go on and on …

  24. lily on #

    I think these are great books full-stop – they happen to be great YA books too:
    KEEPER Mal Peet (a magic realist book about football!)
    JOURNEY TO THE RIVER SEA Iva Ibbotson (historical)
    BOG CHILD Siobhan Dowd (contemporary realist)
    THE GHOST’S CHILD Sonya Hartnett (er… fable? Unclassifiable)
    THIS IS ALL Aidan Chambers (um.. realist? Also pretty much unclassifiable)
    ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY… Sherman Alexie (memoir)

  25. Alex on #

    I’d like to offer I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER by Dan Wells into the crime genre, but I’m only half-way through it and whilst excellent so far I can’t promise it holds up to the end.


    GALAX-ARENA or SPACE DEMONS by Gillian Rubinstein (who I only JUST found out wrote Tales of the Otori – how did I not know that?!?) Both of those would I guess fall in the sci-fi/speculative fiction genre.

  26. mb on #

    Have to mention:
    KING OF ATTOLIA, Megan Whalen Turner
    A TRUE AND FAITHFUL NARRATIVE, Katherine Sturtevant

    And I am right behind ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY, MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD, and BUCKING THE SARGE. The last in particular.

  27. Jodie on #

    Ok I’ll give it a stab:

    Ten Cents a Dance (for historical fans)
    Nation (for fantasy fans and people who already love Pratchett and boys who like to see boys in books)
    Empress of the World (lesbian contemporary romance)
    The Juliet Club (chick-lit)
    Little Brother (thriller/sci-fi, technology stuff)
    Dooley Takes the Fall (crime) (although I hesitate here because the ending is a bit confused, but I haven’t read much YA crime. People like crime books and it would probably get lots of people interested and the main character is really interesting).

  28. Diana Peterfreund on #

    In addition to many of the excellent novels here, I’d like to add:

    FEED by MT Anderson (futuristic SF)
    SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson (contemporary drama)
    PEEPS by Scott Westerfeld (contemporary fantasy, and because Uglies is also futuristic)
    KETURAH AND LORD DEATH, by the-name’s-escaping-me-darn-cold-medicine (a national book award finalist historical)

  29. angharad on #

    I’m tempted by A True and Faithful Narrative, but I can’t pass up a list entirely made of MT Anderson. You said five different genre, not five different authors. The man is too brilliant.

    Octavian Nothing
    Game of Sunken Places
    Whales on Stilts

    What do you mean WOS isn’t YA? La! La! La! I can’t hear you!

  30. wandering-dreamer on #

    *writes down those titles to look up later*
    I really don’t get why so many people diss YA lit. So it’s aimed at teenagers, your point? So teenagers don’t (always) have the same viewpoints as adults, your point? And supposedly these aren’t deep books? I always got a ton more out of my YA reading than any of the books I had to read in school so does that actually make YA lit better? It just feels like some silly elitism so that some people can justify not reading YA lit, their loss I suppose.

  31. Susan Loyal on #

    The Green Glass Sea, Ellen Klages (historical)
    The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness (science fiction)
    Eon, Alison Goodman (fantasy)
    TWOC, Graham Joyce (psychological/magical realism)
    Midnighters, Scott Westerfeld (horror)

    just to add some fuel to the fire! Lots of lovely books listed above already.

  32. Lauren on #

    I’d add How I Live Now and What I was, both by Meg Rosoff.

    Also, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, which to my mind is a YA novel.

    The Times is annoying on many levels, but it might be best to merely ignore them. Do our readers pay much attention to their reviews anyway? The best revenge is to write and sell good books. History is the ultimate arbiter.

  33. Jet at scatterbeams on #

    chiming in late: i saved the comment list to inspire my TBR pile – with so many good books in YA it is inconceivable** that YA is still seen as somehow a lesser genre
    **(inigo: i do not think that word means what you think it means)

    my list would include:

    TOUCHING SNOW by m. sindy felin
    MIDNIGHTERS by scott westerfeld
    DUST OF 100 DOGS

  34. Jet at scatterbeams on #

    ack… i wasn’t done… also:

    DUST OF 100 DOGS by a.s. king
    ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES by john green (love that there are smart boys here, comfortable with being smart boys)
    BEAUTY by robin mckinley

    i think that’s a pretty good range of books; i had a hard time NOT adding


    but you said five, and i’m a bit of a rule-follower

  35. keenai on #

    How big of a dork does it make me that I’ve been thinking about this since you first posted it? I don’t think these have been posted, but I’ll add them:

    1-800-WHERE ARE YOU #5: Missing You – Meg Cabot (Science Fiction)
    Feeling Sorry for Celia – Jaclyn Moriarty (Epistolary)
    American Born Chinese – Gene Luen Yang (Graphic Novel)
    A Certain Slant of Light – Laura Whitcomb (Fantasy)
    Story of a Girl (Contemporary Realism)
    Boy Meets Boy (LGBT)

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