Is It The Author’s Job?

I’ve had this post sitting half finished in my drafts since 4/14 — yeah, almost a year. OOPS. That is the state of my drafts right now — about a hundred of unpublished posts. I kind of just forgot about it after getting it all down but never went back to it. But I was creeping on an interesting conversation between some smart & thoughtful ladies on Twitter that reminded me about this post — particularly because they were talking about the same book that sparked this post for me.

So back around this time last year I was reading Open Road Summer. I LOVED it and it was interesting to see all the conversation about the main character Reagan and about some of the slut-shaming that goes on in the book. I personally LIKED Reagan. No, I LOVED Reagan. I saw a lot of high school/college Jamie in her. But it was interesting to me how many people DID NOT like Reagan (also valid). One of the other things I saw was how they were disappointed with how slut-shaming was handled in the book. I didn’t see it the way they did necessarily but their opinions were definitely valid and they were super thought-provoking.

For a little context, if you haven’t read Open Road Summer (which you should), Reagan is a bit judgmental and prickly when it comes to some of the other females that aren’t her best friend Lilah (their friendship is AWESOME btw). Some slut-shaming goes on. But personally? I found it to be SUPER realistic of what I was like. I acted a lot like Reagan — saying things about other girls/being judgy/tearing them down was my defense mechanism. It was a HORRIBLE defense mechanism but through the years as I grew up I realized how awful it was. How toxic it was. How tearing other girls down and shaming their choices to make myself feel better did actually NOT make me feel better or make me any less insecure. But it took me years to learn that and see that.

I don’t LIKE seeing slut-shaming in books. It’s hard. I feel ashamed that this was how I acted. It’s sad how much it happens. It makes me want to be like, “LADIES LET’S DO BETTER.” I don’t LIKE  or condone to it but it hasn’t ever really bothered me personally as a reader in the context of the story because I think it FEELS realistic to me.

I think when I encounter things I don’t like in a book — bullying, slut-shaming, racism, misogyny — I try to think about the context and if I think the book IS condoning it. Often times we read things that we don’t LIKE necessarily and that HAPPEN in real life but it doesn’t mean the author is condoning it always. So typically it doesn’t make me react negatively to a book just because I don’t like the THING that happens in it.

But the more interesting question that I’ve been thinking about ever since I read this book and saw conversations about it (that I have no answer to) is this:

Is it the author’s job to address a problematic thing as wrong somewhere in the text?

In Open Road Summer’s case people brought up the fact that nowhere is it really addressed how wrong her slut-shaming was. I think I saw it different when I read it — I think she DID in some ways see how it didn’t help her any/that her defense mechanism was flawed but also I think that not all lessons are learned at the same time. I think it was a START. So while, it didn’t personally bother me when I read it,  other people’s thoughts and criticism on the matter made me think A LOT about it in general.

Is it the author’s job to give some sort of moral? Give clear consequences for something that is wrong?  Basically in some way make it CLEAR that the THING was wrong?  Or can it just merely exist to show authenticity of a time or a social situation and what really happens? (because, in the case of slut-shaming/tearing down other girls, just spend 5 minutes with my 17 year old niece and her friends and you’ll know it’s the way of a lot of teens). Can it exist just to be a character flaw sometimes?

I have no clear answers, honestly. I’d LOVE to talk about this because I think it’s an interesting topic and y’all are smart and thoughtful. I LOVE that about being part of this book community for the past 5 years…how I’m engaging with books and thinking about things I probably wouldn’t have on my own!

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About Jamie

Jamie is a 30 year old married lady who is in denial that she's actually that old. When she's not reading you can find her doing Pilates followed by eating ice cream, listening to music with oversized headphones and having adventures with her husband and dog.

Comments

  1. What an interesting topic, as I’m writing this comment I see so many complexities. I’m more interested in how the book as a whole treats these situations as opposed to the characters in the book. Like I believe it when a teen girl slut shames another teen girl. That is fine and unfortunately happens but I hate it when the “slut” is also the bimbo mean girl who torments the protagonist for no reason. It feels like the book is saying that if a girls sleeps around she is the enemy.

    I also came across this a little bit I’ll Meet You There, the male protagonist, Josh uses the word gay to mean bad and Skylar always corrects him on it. I just found it a little inauthentic that she would call him out on this since they grew up in the same smalltown and there was no one to teach her that you can’t say that. It felt a little PSA-ish to have her correct him all the time. But on the other hand if Skylar didn’t call him out I can see people being offended.

    This is an interesting topic I’m curious to see the other responses to this !

    • YES! As I was writing this post I kept thinking of new things and I’m like OMG STOP OR THIS WILL BE EVEN LONGER. haha. So many complexities to it!!

      AND omg YES. I’m with you about how the BOOK treats it. Because I hate seeing that kind of cliched evil “slut”. It’s so lazy.

      YESS. I had convos about this with IMYT. I grew up in a small town until 7th grade in a town a lot like IMYT. My dad and stepmom and half sister still live there. My half sister totally still uses the word gay and retarded –two things I GREW UP saying and not know were so wrong until I moved to the Philly area. SO realistic. But I’m betting she probably didn’t want to offend people. Although in some ways maybe Skylar, because of the internet and such, is more connected to things. I mean, I think my childhood would have been different had I had the internet to learn about the big world and see things on Twitter and stuff. But I guess on the other hand…my little sister totally did grow up with the internet and still says it? haha WHO KNOWS.

      I really appreciate your thoughts!!

  2. First, I haven’t read the book yet but it is on my Tbr shelf.
    I do think this is an excellent question though. Everyone has their own opinion about anything and everything. I don’t think it’s the authors job to point whether or not something is wrong or provide a moral to the story. I find when authors do this they become too “preachy” and that is a big turn off for me.
    It’s ok for the author to bring an issue to light but it’s the up to the reader to determine what they think. I mean isn’t that part of what we search for in a great book? Something that stays with you and makes you think, at least I do anyway.

    • YES see I dislike that too. I’ve come across books where it is clear the author is getting preachy and it IS such a turn-off. I’m like…as a reader I think most of the time I’m able to deduce the moral or if it was right/wrong or at least to truly consider it.

      Great thoughts!

  3. I don’t believe that it is the author’s job to give a clear cut solution to things. Let’s be realistic – nothing in life is clear cut; there are moral ambiguities everywhere and what one person sees as right, could be seen by another person as being wrong. I haven’t read this book you’re talking about, but I can give you a similar example.
    I recently read and studied ‘Heart of Darkness’ by Joseph Conrad for a university class. In the hundred years or so since it’s publication, many people have called it a racist text, and by extension have labelled Conrad himself a racist. In my opinion, neither of these things are true. To me Conrad is showing through his novel, what it was like in The Congo in the late 1800’s. He does not explicitly say that what happens in the novel is wrong, and neither does not offer a solution to the issues (like slavery, genocide, etc), but I think in not doing so, he allows the reader to come up with their own moral standing on the issue.

    In the end, the moral standing taken by the reader is going to be based on their own personal history and experiences, and I think that even if an author were to say precisely what is wrong, why it was wrong, and what happens when you do that thing, lots of people would disagree anyway!

    • YES re: moral ambiguities. So much! Plus, like you said all of our own history and morals and experiences factor into how we read books!

      That’s really interesting what you bring up about Heart of Darkness! I feel like a lot of people have issues with older books that might seem racist or subscribe to a belief system we know to be wrong today but I always try to think of the TIMES and the context that might have been in place when the author wrote it. What biases they would have had. It’s hard to read sometimes but that’s what it might have been like for the author. And sometimes, like you are saying, they aren’t even offering their opinion but showing what it is like.

      Thanks for your thoughts! Very thought-provoking!

  4. Nikki Robinson says:

    I think it just needs to exist. While “issue” books may not be my favorite, I think books that contain the subjects that make us uncomfortable (bullying, slut shaming, etc.) opens the conversation. I know I’m guilty of those things too. It happens. And I hate that I did that now. But then? I didn’t know any better. I feel like some people take things too far and get offended to just get offended. I personally don’t know anyone that hasn’t “slut shamed” somebody or judged somebody for their appearance. But those same people wouldn’t do it now. I agree with what you said about being around a group of teenagers. Unfortunately, that’s what happens at that age. So those things needs to exist in these books. I agree with the previous comment that the author saying something is wrong could get preachy.

    • I agree! I love the convo that gets opened when these things come up in books! I love when I have to feel uncomfortable. I read a book called Tease that is from the POV of a bully whose actions may or may not contribute to a girl killing herself. I LOOOOVED how uncomfortable it made me and how it wasn’t so black and white. It was one of the best reading experiences to challenge me!

      And yesssss. Same here. I didn’t know any better either. Took so many years of being like that before it finally clicked. It’s all part of growing up I think. Unfortunately, some never learn from it. But I think a vast majority of us do. Because you look at why you did it (for me it was my own insecurities) and how it has impacted your life. I realize it’s never HELPED me. Or actually made me LESS secure. I learned how much powerful we ladies are when we build each other up. How so much of the world takes jabs at us…why do we need to do it to each other. It’s amazing how I think about how I was vs. how I think now.

      Thanks for your thoughts, Nikki!!

  5. I’m one of those people who ended up rating the book less because of the slut-shaming. While I don’t necessarily think there has to be a huge author presence in a book saying “don’t do the thing” I’d like it to be addressed, especially in Reagan’s case. It doesn’t need to be a big lesson or anything; a single character saying “Hey, you’re kind of being an asshole for no reason, here.” would have worked for me. The fact that Reagan did the things she shamed other girls for – that’s the thing that REALLY ticked me off about the book. It was the hypocrisy and how everyone in Reagan’s life treated her like a princess and never called her out when she was being awful. So I guess I just don’t think it’s realistic when characters don’t face consequences (even little ones) for their actions. Also, I mean, ORS was centered around this empowering female friendship and the slut shaming completed negated all of it, which was a real shame because I really could have loved the book.

    For other books generally, like I said before, there doesn’t have to be this big lesson. Like others have said, it sometimes (oftentimes) comes off as heavy handed and preachy. But I expect real life actions to have real life reactions, so if someone is a jerk, they shouldn’t be universally loved, I guess.

    Sorry for the rambling!

    • No, Bekka, I loved your “rambling”! I think this is what I love so much about this community is seeing how differently everyone reads something and how none of it is wrong. I think to read opinions different than my own it has made me think about things I WOULDN’T with a book if I read it by myself and saw no other opinions — like what it was like to read before I found Goodreads and then blogging. It definitely has made my reading experience more rich!

      I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and loved seeing your particular feelings about ORS (I feel like so far you are the only one who has read it that has commented thus far). I totally get your point — like a little comment rather than a big revelation would have sufficed for a lot of people maybe? (Also, now that I’ve been reading comments and thinking even MORE about it…in my brain the thought is going around that how would I as TEENAGE Jamie thought about how it was presented..would it have just seemed like it was condoned bc that was my belief system or would I have seen that it was wrong? Because obviously adult Jamie has a different mindset).

      It’s been a while since I read the book but I feel the bff kind off was turned off/disgusted by how she was bitchy about that other girl? Even if nobody directly addressed the behavior. I could totally be wrong though since it’s been a year! lol. I realize maybe I should have revisited the book before posting this but alas. I also think, the way I think about it, is every time I slut-shamed or anything like that…nobody called me out on it even half of the time and I did still have empowering female friendships (although if I’m honest…kind of few…so MAYBE some of my underlying shitty behaviors impacted that). So I thought it was maybe a bit realistic because I so often NEVER faced any sort of consequences at all. So I think that’s just how my brain perceives it.

      I loved your thoughts and am glad you shared them! You gave me some things to think about even if we processed it all different when we read it (but I totally still SEE your point if that makes sense? Even if it’s not how I saw it)! Especially that last paragraph — it makes me wonder why some characters who do certain behaviors are universally loved but how others aren’t. Not just slut-shaming but also cheating (thinking of how so many of us love St. Clair but might hate other characters for it). So thank you for your thoughts!!

      • I totally forgot about the Other Girl Reagan hated. I know that Dee was definitely not okay with how Reagan treated that girl but then all of Reagan’s feelings were confirmed and *that’s* why I felt like the book condoned Reagan’s behavior. It’s only been about a month since I read ORS but the details are already escaping me haha. I was hoping that Reagan could have been wrong about her, to show her hey – this isn’t how you treat people. But then it would have been a very heavy handed message thrown into the book and I’m not sure how well that would have been received either.

        You do bring up an interesting point and that is to remind me that these books are written for teenagers, not for me. When I was a teen, I had a complicated relationship with slut shaming. I knew it was wrong, but it felt like the easiest way to cut another girl down. I personally didn’t care at all if someone tried to do the same to me (there were other things I DEFINITELY cared about, so it’s not like I had this awesome teenage experience where I didn’t care what others thought of me lol. It was that being called a “slut” didn’t bother me because being sexually active wasn’t one of the things I was ashamed about.) Anyway – I know that I was never called out on it by my peers, but I did see the hypocrisy in it on my own. Maybe one of the reasons Reagan grated at me the way she did was that I saw a lot of myself in her? Man, I just woke up – this is too deep for me!

        But yeah, your post definitely sparked something in me. I need to remember that these are YA books and while I do remember what it was like to be a teenager, I’m not *currently* in that mindset and maybe I should take a step back sometimes to really put myself in that place when I critique YA books.

  6. That is a very interesting question! My first reaction would be “no, that’s not an author’s job at all”, but of course it’s a lot more complicated than that. I think it kind of depends on the book in question. If ALL books would have this moral lesson to be learned, I think reading would be a lot less fun. Yes, of course there are certain books with moral lessons that really make us think, and that’s good! These can be very good books, and they can make us aware of certain problems that may exist in society or with ourselves. I’m very happy that there ARE books like this, to start a conversation and ensure awareness.

    But I totally understand authors who want to write a story with a realistic take on these types of problems, who just want to portray what actually happens in society. Or who just simply want to write a story, period. I don’t think it’s their responsibility to add some sort of moral lesson, or tell the readers what is “right” and “wrong”. It might mean that some people like their book less because of this, but that would probably also be the case if their WAS a moral lesson.

    I haven’t read Open Road Summer, so I can’t comment on that, but like I said, I think it just depends on the book and on people’s taste and ideas. I can totally see why someone would dislike a book which features slut-shaming (I can imagine myself being frustrated by this too), but I don’t think it’s the author’s job to “fix” this in some way or other.

    • YES same! I love how reading books that start a convo and having a community to actually talk about them in has made me a better reader!

      And yeah, I think in these cases where perhaps a problematic behavior isn’t explicitly addressed, I can see WHY some readers would like a book less. I mean, really with anything in a book, there are going to be things that readers like more/less than others.

      Thanks for your comments!! Appreciated them!

  7. This is *such* an awesome topic. YEAH for you.

    You know, I really don’t think it’s as black and white as should/shouldn’t it be the author’s job, I mean, a lot of it has to do with the book in question, right? I haven’t read the book you talk about in your post, but I kind of feel like sometimes in life shit happens, people do shit things and say shit things and make other people feel pretty rubbish and that’s just A Bad Thing. It’s there, it exists and it’s probably always going to exist. It doesn’t make it right, obvs, but hey, that’s just how it is. Sometimes, in real life (to borrow your example) slut shaming happens and nothing is said or done: it’s never addressed and life goes on. Again, pretty shitty, but it happens. I can get why people would be a bit iffy about a book where one of the main characters is engaging in that kind of behaviour, and I can see why if that’s never addressed people might raise their eyebrows, but sometimes you have to just read the story for the story you know? Sometimes you have to accept that even if you don’t like it, if you’re being honest the lack of reaction to the thing is as realistic as the thing itself. It’s not the author’s job to tell you slut-shaming is wrong, and I am fine with that. I also don’t want to live in a world where all the books I read are all hearts and rainbows and the less great qualities of some people are ignored. Bad stuff happens and not many people are nice all of the time, I want to see that in the books I read because as much they might be the best form of escapism, I also want to relate to them.

    Sometimes a book can just be a book and that should be ok: it should be fine to read a book where the main character is a dick and you know that and you know why they’re a dick – because you’re learning your life lessons whilst living your actual life -and it need never be addressed within the pages, but at the same time, certain books work super well for having a moral message to pass on. That’s cool too.
    If you want to tell your readers what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ then awesome, do that (but please don’t preach oh my God) but on the other hand, if you want to tell a story that really is just a story or even just want to make the point that sometimes teenage girls can be the worst then that should be awesome too. Words, words are awesome and we should just be happy we have them; as a reader it’s never really up to us to decide what an author ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ be saying…

    • Yeah, I think that’s how personally read it. Like even though it was so wrong…things I have done in real life don’t always get addressed right then or in that moment. Maybe never. Maybe a year later in a different situation. I mean, the author could have definitely thrown in a comment to kind of say HEY that sucked but without being preachy but I think I wasn’t personally turned off by the fact it wasn’t there (at least I don’t think it was haha it’s been a while since I read that book). But it’s like I definitely can understand how it rubs readers the wrong way and they would have liked for it to even be addressed in a small way. And I see how some of us would have been okay with how it was handled and didn’t need that. It doesn’t make anybody wrong or right. It’s all so complicated! And it’s great we get to have convos about it all!!

      Thanks for your thoughts!!

  8. I’ll start off by saying that I don’t have as big of an issue with slut-shaming as other people do. I in no way thing that it’s a good thing or that it’s right but the way I see it, it HAPPENS. I agree with you — it’s realistic because unfortunately, girls (well, guys too) can get pretty catty sometimes, especially if they’re intimidated or offended or showing off or proud or … anything. It’s not a great thing to see but it does happen.
    That’s SUCH a hard question. I actually don’t think it’s the author’s job to say “Hey, I’m talking about this and I’m going to show you that it’s wrong and that my characters will fix their behavior.” That’s fantastic if you’ve got a finish to the book that improves morally… But people don’t always change. Life is messy. Fights happen, grudges are held, people are judged. It’s not a good thing but it’s a constant and as much as I wish we could all be happy and settle our differences, it’s not always realistic.
    I like that some things don’t get resolved. Some of us still have friendship break-ups that STILL hurt after years. Some of us can’t get over ex boyfriends. Some of us can’t help but throw out all the defenses in order to cope with what we’re trying to handle inside. It’s not always the nicest or best way but it’s a learning process and ESPECIALLY in YA books, it’s something that the characters might not have learned to deal with yet.
    I did most of my growing and maturing AFTER college. Probably from 22-24. I’ve changed a lot since high school! I’ve dropped a lot of bad habits and yes, I’ve picked up new ones but every person is a work in progress.
    So very long comment made even longer, I’m okay with not seeing things like that resolved. I’m okay with seeing things like that in books… Life is complicated and things can get ugly. The characters don’t always have to fix themselves in order for the READERS to see the error of their ways. I don’t think it’s the author’s job to teach a lesson. It’s great to be able to pick those things out of books when we read them but it IS the author’s job to write a good story, messy and hard to watch or not!

    • Thanks for your thoughts, B!! I think we feel pretty similarly (though I’m still taking in all the thoughts and all…my brain is just spinning even more after writing all this and reading comments). I think this is why I’m always such a fan of more messy books because we only see slivers of someone’s life in a book. Every single thing you face and need to grow from isn’t going to be wrapped up or even addressed necessarily. I do think that Reagan, in a way, realized that acting like that didn’t necessarily work out well but I kind of saw it as…she has a long way to go.

  9. Jamie! Thank you for finally posting this! I really must get my essay on the “slut-shaming” in ORS up – I think we were talking about how I have an essay where I go through examples of Reagan’s thoughts and why I think the author isn’t condoning slut-shaming while allowing it to happen. MUST. GET. THIS. UP.

    The larger question you ask is about the author’s job, which I have been thinking about a lot lately because I’ve had a lady on Twitter who keeps writing me about Mosquitoland and the representation of Cherokee and “war paint” in the novel and how debilitating it is to kids and to the idea of Native Americans. My response was that I think Mim recognizes that what she’s doing isn’t quite right, but that it wasn’t at all disrespectful to a culture because it was true to the character and what she needed at that time. I think it’s the author’s job to present things and present characters that are true and right, and you can do that without condoning what the character is actually doing. I think the point is – as long as it’s presented in a balanced way for the context and character and story, it’s acceptable.

    I personally don’t like stories or authors that dictate or preach to you – I don’t want to be reading a didactic story, I want to be told a story and judge for myself. And I think ORS does that – I really don’t think that Emery Lord is condoning Reagan’s behaviour. I think Reagan herself recognizes that it’s warped and wrong, but the thing is, she doesn’t do anything about it. She doesn’t push a girl. She doesn’t harm anyone. She thinks terrible thoughts, and that’s bad enough, but you can tell that those thoughts stem from her own insecurities.

    • YES! I remember us having this discussion! I think you should post it. It’s such an interesting and important convo!

      YES okay when I read Mosquitoland I didn’t know anything about what people were saying. I saw it the same as you did. But I was definitely receptive to what people were saying about the racism because I always WANT to be a better reader and more aware of things. It wasn’t something that I saw on my own…I can’t change that…but I was thankful to think about it. I still don’t know how I feel but also I’m not really in the position, especially with racism, to say whether it is or not as a privileged white girl.

      And yes…exactly how I saw Reagan’s actions and how I thought Emery was portraying it. I will say these comments that are disagreeing with those thoughts are actually really thought-provoking to me! I mean, I read it how I read it…and I stand by that…but I’m happy to be challenged with things I wouldn’t have though of! Whether or not it changes how I feel about it. But yeah, I saw it clearly as reactions based on insecurities. Shitty but I saw that it was the motivation behind it. I do think one of the interesting things that I’ve thought of since opening this convo up would be HOW would high school Jamie have read it? Would I have walked away thinking it was okay? Obviously I can’t answer that but it’s interesting to think about the different lenses we read things as WE grow.

  10. Very interesting post, Jamie. I have similar thoughts to something like “The Duff” by Kody Keplinger. In large part, the main character in this story uses a physical relationship with a boy to deal with issues in her personal life. In my opinion, it is never really addressed in the story, it may be because Keplinger was very young when she wrote it. But as someone who works with teenagers and it often asked to recommend books, it is hard for me to fully promote The Duff (even though I really like it). I don’t necessarily negate how the author wrote or handled the material, but is hard to draw a line in the sand with regards to dealing with this kind subject matter. But, on a personal note and generally speaking, I do not think it’s the job of an author to address morality problems, especially since Young Adult fiction is now read by men and women of all ages. That’s just my two cents.

    • I do think there’s a big difference between what you think is an author’s responsibility to do and what you’d recommend. I thought about this a lot when Ned Vizzini committed suicide, because I realized it made me have very different feelings about handing that book to a kid who was in a similar place and him now being able to look up the author online and feel incredibly fatalistic about it. Which feels terrible in itself, like I’m punishing Vizzini for his own demons, and also because I think it’s one of the absolute best books on depression and in a vacuum could really help a kid. But it isn’t in a vacuum; it was authored by a person who made a choice that puts that book in a new context now.

      • Dahlia this is SUCH an interesting point! I haven’t read Ned’s books but I knew what some of them were about so I did think about this a little when he passed. Like how his fans who connected so much with his books and how it might have helped them might have thought about it. “But it isn’t in a vacuum; it was authored by a person who made a choice that puts that book in a new context now.” <--- love this sentence. Very thought-provoking!

    • YES I totally get this! I think that’s also an interesting point too! There are books I might give to my teen niece but hope we can talk about it to discuss what’s realistic but also my opinion on what was presented. There is this line, like you basically said, where it’s like giving the teen credit to see that it is wrong but also you don’t WANT them to think it’s a healthy thing.

      Really loved your thoughts! Thank you!

  11. So, obviously I’m coming at this from a couple of different directions here, but the way I feel about it as an author is pretty much the same way I feel about it as a reader – for me, it’s first foremost about a depiction of the way I believe things truly would’ve gone down. If it feels true to character, that’s the most important thing to me. And if I don’t like the character, I don’t, and so many that dampens my enjoyment of the book, too, but for me that’s up there with any other choice an author makes. And like Brittany said, in real life, some things have a sucky ending. Sometimes, people get away with it. I want to see that too, because it’s reality, and even if it’s unfair, it’s how life happens. (I suspect no one who’s read my NA will be shocked to learn I feel this way.)

    Where I reach a curve in all this is in the way these things change a silent conversation, for better or for worse. I didn’t come away from Open Road Summer feeling like anyone would think Reagan’s behavior was something to be emulated, but I did come away feeling like her friendship with Dee was, which is obviously a huge net gain as far as I’m concerned. Where I think authors do falter in a way that makes me think they should take greater responsibility is usually in the implicit: scenes that suggest a super-stalker LI is hot, or girls should play dumb, or someone groping another character without consent isn’t a big deal. These are the images and messages we don’t even realize stick, the ones that penetrate and don’t get discussed, and to me they’re so much more dangerous.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Dahlia! I always love your thoughts…like on everything haha.

      And I feel the same way…I typically have to feel like the depiction is true to the stories and to the character. Even if it IS a good thing. Like one time I read a book where the MC was a huge bully and then it was like by the end she completely turned into this saint and I was like THERE IS NO WAY in this short of time. I didn’t feel like it was true at all…and I already didn’t like her…so it made me not enjoy that book.

      YES re: ORS. This is exactly how I read it too!! I think that relationship showed how much more powerful it is when we have those genuine connections and empower each other. It’s like in that way I feel like Emery did what she needed to show that but not in a heavy handed way.

      And YES…I have so many issues with unhealthy romantic relationships where we are MEANT to ship them but I’m going NO NO NO. There’s male characters that it seems we are SUPPOSED to fall for and I can’t comprehend giving the book to my teen niece bc I wouldn’t want her to think being a stalker and controlling is okay. It’s romanticized so much and I think the teen is supposed to fall in love with the dude rather than be turned off by it..the way that it is written. Whereas, like you, I never thought as a reader we were supposed to think it was okay (but this is also me as a almost 30 year old…who knows what teen Jamie would have thought haha). I’m definitely much harsher on something like a stalker LI because the story is so often written in a way where the behavior is supposed to be desirable.

      I LOVE this sentence ” These are the images and messages we don’t even realize stick, the ones that penetrate and don’t get discussed, and to me they’re so much more dangerous.” I feel like it must be hard as an author to decide how much credit you give your reader to pick up on what is right/wrong and where it must be tucked in there somewhere.

      Very thought-provoking comment, lady! Loved thinking it through.

  12. This is a great discussion. I think by including such things in their books, authors are calling attention to the issues, and allowing the reader the chance to identify with/denounce/reflect on the issue. I think that’s what literature has always done: given readers a chance to examine other perspectives, but also turn inward and examine their own belief systems/structures/prejudices/behaviors.

    The author draws up the scenario, and it’s up to the reader, ultimately, to decide whether or not what is happening is wrong.

    • I love what you said here: “I think that’s what literature has always done: given readers a chance to examine other perspectives, but also turn inward and examine their own belief systems/structures/prejudices/behaviors. ” THIS. This is why I love reading so much and also why I love this community where we all get to talk about these things together.

  13. I read Open Road Summer last year and I did like it. But I didn’t love this book and a huge part was the slut shaming. I agree it’s realistic to a point, but I didn’t like it. And I also rarely enjoy overly message-y books

    But all the same I hated the slut shaming. I certainly don’t think it’s the authors job to have some kind of moral. Like I said I don’t like very message-y books. But even more than that I hate reading about girls tearing other girls down. It’s realistic to a point but not all the time. Even if there was some comment in the book, even very small, where Dee said something to Reagans constant slut shaming, even more in a joking way, it wouldn’t have bothered me as much.

    Even though the slut shaming is somewhat realistic for some people, even so I didn’t like reading about it. In fact as time has gone by since finishing Open Road Summer I like it less and less. But this is due to my personal reading preferences. Girls tearing girls down is one of the biggest things I hate in books. Or in life really.

    So I guess I feel that authors do not have to write anything they don’t want. But readers don’t have to like things that authors put in their books.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, lady! Loved reading them! Someone else also mentioned that just a little direct comment would have sufficed for them too so you definitely aren’t the only one thinking that! This convo has made me think about how I would have seen it as a teen who was actively acting like that…not grownup Jamie who knows better. Would I have seen it as wrong? Or just how it is or even as okay? Would it have given me any pause at all?

      And totally makes sense! I think as readers we all have things that we don’t like in books, that harder for us or less enjoyable for us to read than others. And totally agree, as readers we don’t HAVE to like it. Because really there is no right or wrong way to read something — especially because we all bring our personal preferences, morals, experiences, etc. to the pages that we read and interact with. That’s what I love so much about this community! Reading things differently and getting to see another perspective!

      Thanks for sharing!!

  14. I do think you’re right and sometimes this kind of stuff could just be there to show the character is flawed, and altogether human, which is ok, I don’t think I’m bothered either by books where things I don’t like happen, as long as it feels real and goes well with the story. But do I feel the author needs, at least in a slight way, to show that it is wrong. No need for it to be explicit, but maybe show that things didn’t work out all that well with the character when he/she did those things. Because I think as adults we can understand those kind of behaviours are wrong, but as you said for most teens this is normal, so a slight hint that it is not ok would be great.

    • Yeah, I think this is the one thing I’ve been thinking about since writing this is how TEEN JAMIE would have walked away from this book. Would I have also thought that it showed the more positive way Dee and Reagan’s friendship impacted Reagan compared to how she acted to some other females? How acting like that because of her OWN insecurities actually did NOT help anything? Or would have thought it was just condoning how I acted towards other girls. WHO KNOWS. And I’m with you…in any case..I think it needs to feel real and true to the character/story.

  15. This is something to really think about as an author. I’m currently writing a story with a judgemental character.

    I guess I should read Open Road Summer as research. Thank you!

    • I’m sure it has to be hard for an author to determine how much they should trust their reader to see that it’s problematic vs. explicitly saying it in some way through another character or consequences.

  16. Hmm. I think I have some pretty complex thoughts on this. For the record, I also LOVED Open Road Summer & Reagan. She was harsh & defensive, but I understood where she was coming from so much. I think the line in your post that got me is this:
    “Is it the author’s job to address a problematic thing as wrong somewhere in the text? ”
    If an author had to *address* everything problematic characters did, I’m not sure stories would ever get told. I don’t think authors have to tell stories with moral or lessons spelled out in the text. BUT, there’s a difference between explicitly calling something out in the text & letting the *narrative* condemn problematic elements, and I do think authors have a responsibility to that–or at least, that’s what I try to do in my own writing. I think readers are smart and can interpret stories for themselves, and I also think it’s generally clear(or at least open to interpretation) when problematic things characters do are shown to be problematic, even if the narrative doesn’t explicitly call them out. And the characters don’t have to necessarily learn or grow in that one area over the course of the book(because like you said, growth doesn’t happen all at once), but the text can reflect in small ways the things that the characters do that are not okay.

    • I should add that I personally thought Open Road Summer was a great example of that. Not called out explicitly, but I never thought the story was saying Reagan’s behavior in that aspect was *good*.

    • “BUT, there’s a difference between explicitly calling something out in the text & letting the *narrative* condemn problematic elements, and I do think authors have a responsibility to that–or at least, that’s what I try to do in my own writing” I really liked what you said here! It’s interesting that what divides people with ORS (or seems to be) is whether or not anywhere in the narrative it was condemning it in some way. Like, similarly to you, I felt like she didn’t do it in a super heavy handed way but I did see it clearly that Reagan was actin a fool based on her own insecurities and her defense mechanisms. Dee didn’t seem too charmed with how she was acting. And I thought their friendship clearly showed how much more fulfilling that kind of relationship was. Obviously others didn’t see it that way…which is totally valid.

      I definitely think I have VERY similar feelings to you on this one! I think that’s why I didn’t think Emery needed to do anymore than she did.

      LOVED your thoughts! Thanks for sharing! I think you articulated some things I feel in a way I couldn’t!

  17. I definitely don’t feel it is the author’s job to address the character’s flaws as wrong. They are writing a character, and if that is the way that character acts, then so be it. It’s up to us as readers to decide if a book that contains something we are not comfortable with (in this case slut shaming) is for us.

    • I think that’s also a really good point…up to us to decide how we feel about it/interact with it…whether or not they address it fully. Thanks for sharing!

  18. This is very thoughtful and interesting, Jamie! But also tricky. Very. I don’t think it’s on the author to give a clear-cut moral or to lead the reader to one specific conclusion in regards to the problematic subject. However, I do think it’s his/her job to present it in a way that has a plausible context. Like, was it realistic (like you mentioned above)? Was it tackled in a way that shows there’s something wrong about it? This can be taken in different perspectives, of course, but end of the day I believe we, readers, want to think more than be told.

  19. Yes, of course it is the author’s job to clearly convey that problematic behaviors that are exhibited in their books are not condoned and not okay. At least, this is true for books that are aimed at a teenage audience.

    We live in a misogynistic culture. Girls and women are walking through a constant stream of misogyny. It is pretty impossible to not internalize this in some way. I definitely was chock full of internalized misogyny (and still am in some ways–It’s something you have to keep working on after a life time of absorbing this stuff) as a teenager and into my 20s. I understood Reagan’s thoughts and impulses. But they weren’t right and it needed to be addressed.

    With a topic as serious as misogyny, I found it downright irresponsible to have such sloppy messaging in this book. You can’t just have a main character thoroughly embody problematic/toxic ideas and then *completely fail to address these behaviors.* It contributes to the normalization of misogyny in our culture. And misogyny is already pretty normal. We should be demanding that the status quo gets shaken up in our teen literature, not lining up behind stories that reinforce toxic behaviors.

    This book could have been such a more powerful and effective “girl power” story had the internalized misogyny ever been addressed. As it was, I found Reagan and Dee’s “powerful” friendship pretty much negated by the fact that Reagan hated literally every other woman who wasn’t her friend. That’s not girl power.

    Misogyny is all around us (see yesterday’s Andrew Smith’s Vice magazine interview). We need to call out misogyny, internalized or otherwise, in our community when we see it. Be the change and all that,etc etc.

    • And just a few more points:

      As a teenager I doubt I would’ve noticed anything wrong or odd about Reagan’s behavior. It would have all seemed very normal and rote to me. Imagine if I’d been confronted with the idea that this behavior wasn’t okay and why. It would have opened my eyes. Perhaps I’d’ve been on my way to examining and addressing my own prejudices.

      The author had the chance to make that point (and what an impact!) but she didn’t What a shame.

      • Thanks for your thoughts, Kim!! Loved them!

        It’s so interesting to see the varying responses to the question I posed. I mean, I have no clear answers in my head. I just know how I read it and interact with it and my own personal past so I love how since this book and reading people’s thoughts about it PLUS this convo…that I’m able to really wrestle with it in a way I probably would have never had I read it pre-blogging and Goodreads. You definitely gave me a lot to think about! (I also hope you don’t think I’m saying that it shouldn’t be addressed ever/that I’m condoning any of this…I’m wrestling with it and wanted to share how I view it/be challenged by other’s points…which totally am).

        And re: your last point about how you would see it as a teenager. I was just saying that in a comment above. Since writing this point and chatting with people about it, today I started thinking about how I would have seen it as a teenager. This whole time I have been looking at it as how adult Jamie sees it. I’m really thinking about that. Would it have just passed me by and reinforced how I lived? Maybe there is some responsibility to point that out even in a small comment that it’s not okay? IDK still wrestling with all of it. I can’t change how I saw it when I read it and felt about it (how it was realistic and true to my experience and I was okay when I finished it with the lack of direct condemnation) but I’m glad I decided to post this because it’s definitely challenging me to think about so many different aspects of it which is why I’m so grateful for this community! It’s made me a better reader!

        • Oh god more thoughts. They just keep coming! I was kind of thinking about how also even KNOWING about misogyny or slut-shaming or sexism or a lot of things like that/being able to SEE it as such…is still relatively new to me? If that makes sense. So I think that also affects how I read things (and also how maybe others do too based on their exposure). Being part of THIS community opened my eyes to things I never thought about before. I think like, okay, slut-shaming I never KNEW it as such …I just thought of it as being nasty and tearing down other girls but I think now my eyes are opened to how many DIFFERENT ways slut-shaming can manifest itself. Not even in the most obvious ways. I didn’t even know what misogyny was until after I joined this community 5 years ago. I’ve learned so many things. My group of friends and the people I surrounded myself with did not talk about these sorts of things. I may have SEEN things that resembled misogyny but didn’t know a name for it. None of my friends identified as feminists (and I had such a different thought of what a feminist was) and I just never felt strongly about these things because I was never forced to think about them or exposed to people who were vocal about them. So I think that also probably comes to play into how we all interact with these things for sure. I feel stupid a lot of times in this community because I don’t always SEE things that other people point out in a text. I’m still new to thinking about these things in the grand scheme of things. I’m not as “schooled” in all this as others in the community. So I’m thankful that books allow these sorts of discussions to happen and am thankful for the perspective we all bring to the table. Because we are all still growing. And I think that books allow us to think on these things and interact with them. I’m wrestling with how much is the author’s responsibility and how much the author should give their reader’s credit to be able to point that out….but that also goes back to the Jamie in high school/college who didn’t think about these things vs. now. Do you think it’s a different responsibility in YA than it is in adult fic? I keep thinking about that now. Because as you said, YA is the target audience and we can’t assume that all YA’s think about these things…as I know is true in my experience. So maybe that seed DOES in even some small comment need to be planted there even if it’s not a direct moral condemnation? IDK. All I know is my brain is just buzzing with lots of thoughts. Sooo thanks for giving me lots of food for thought!

          Also, have been thinking about what you and someone else said about their friendship being negated by the slut-shaming. I think we all can be hypocritical and walking contradictions though especially as teens? I don’t know if I personally think it negated the friendship but I can see how it would cause others to question it. I mean, if I think about my female friends in high school I only had a few really true ones where we really empowered each other and lifted each other up…the rest were littered with cattiness and tearing each other down..all these underlying things we “learn” to do to other females. I think those really good friendships were the ones that were the foundation for how I started to understand how much more powerful we all are when we don’t tear one another down. So I guess I saw it kind of like that with Reagan and Lilah. There was genuinely that kind of relationship between them that inspired girl power feelings but also the insecurities and that “competing” with other girls mentality that I think we all face as a teen. That society teaches us to do. Again, that’s just how I saw it and it doesn’t make it wrong or right. GOD I wish I HAD these conversations when I was younger…even in college. Maybe I would have had more meaningful female relationships (YEP I was that stereotypical girl who was pretty much only friends with guys because I didn’t “like” or “get along with” other girls).

          Basically my response right now had no point haha or was even super related to what you said but my head is swirling and I wanted to get them down!

  20. I went to a panel at Books of Wonder recently, and someone in the audience asked the same question. I was kind of floored by it, honestly. The best thing about books, as evidenced by the comments above, is that our personal experiences have us reacting to situations in different ways. Did the book make you think? Did the book make you explore beyond the pages? Not everyone reads to discover slut-shaming or racism, and that could be a product of so many things. Where they grew up, what is going on in their life now, etc. I think sometimes, as bloggers, we get into this bubble of thinking critically and forget to think about the other audience. I mean how do you tell the difference between an author writing something problematically or writing it the way they intended it to be from a character who feels this way (hypocritical or not). It would be pretty exhausting if an author felt the need to defend everything they wrote and why they wrote it. Are we having this conversation now? Yes. Maybe that’s all Emery wanted. We are complex people. We say things but act another. We do things but feel another. Why can’t that be reflected in our reading? Instead of it being some large judgement, it can be the moment that we are like hey… we are guilty of doing the same thing. I don’t know about everyone else but I’d rather authors like Emery, etc., to continue writing this multi-layered stories instead of spending time going on and on and on again about their characters.

    I hope all of this make sense. I love that you wrote about this, and when I read the post before I went to bed last night, I was like hmm… I have to go back and read ORS but I’m not remembering this. But also I think Dahlia’s comment about Ned’s book is interesting too. It’s important to separate the work from the author but sometimes it’s just very hard to. (As we continue to see in this community. Kathleen Hale for example.)

  21. I think it’s an author’s job to write a book, period. How that book is received is another story, but an author pandering to an audience is the worst.

    It’s 100% up to an author what to include and what not to include in a book. In the situation you mention, while I haven’t read the book, it sounds like it should be pretty obvious to the reader that the main character’s propensity for slut-shaming is a flaw of hers. An author can only do so much without explicitly beating readers over the head with morals—and one of the most important principles of writing is showing, not telling. And I personally feel that showing negative things—slut shaming, misogyny, racism, etc.—to show authenticity of time or place is totally allowable. It should be obvious to anyone in this age of relentless political correctness that these things are no longer socially acceptable, but it’s naive to think that they don’t still happen. And to sterilize literature by removing them is unfair and unrealistic, I think.

    Thanks for a really thought-provoking post!

  22. I just wanted to say that I recently listened to the audio book of Open Road Summer (thanks to your rave review btw!) and I was on the same page as you about Reagan. I never thought she was slut shaming, she was just reacting to situations in a non mature way. We all have inappropriate reactions to things and I think it’s okay to write a character in that way. One of the things I loved most about Reagan was how real she was. She had flaws but she also had a fiercely protective side. This made her more well rounded and a better character to read about. There are a lot of times in the book where she even says how flawed she knows she is. I don’t want to read a book about a perfect person because I am not a perfect person.

  23. I’ve actually done some thinking about this too, especially about ORS. Like you, I loved Reagan’s prickliness, and the way that she thought about people was not inaccurate for high school Christina at all. The thing is that I didn’t even have a concept of slut-shaming being a thing until I started book blogging. I had no idea that it was a bad thing or how much it was out there in culture. I realized that I was doing it in college, and I tried to do better, but even then book blogging and considering things even more made me realize how much more work was still to be done, even for me.

    Whether it’s the author’s job to show that something is bad is a tricky question. On the one hand, no, but on the other yes? I guess I feel like there should be contextual clues that it’s not a good thing, maybe? But it certainly doesn’t need to be massively preachy on the subject.

    I actually agree with you about how slut-shaming was a defense mechanism for Reagan, and I think if that were my sole issue, I’m not sure I would have minded at all. My biggest problem in that book was actually Matt’s ex girlfriend’s portrayal. She pops up determined to get Matt back, as this barrier, and I feel like both girls could have come to understand one another, but she’s just the villain. Reagan suspected all girls (minus bestie) of being untrustworthy and bam. It just really felt like a step backwards when she was about to make progress. It’s not an unrealistic plot point, but I just didn’t feel like it really added to the story for me, because the ex had so little character development.

    I don’t think it’s the author’s JOB to offer a moral. They definitely don’t need to beat us over the head with it, which both Levithan and Cat Winters have done in recent books (which I loved, but definitely message hammer). Their job is to write the book. The big problem for me is when really unhealthy things are shown romanticized. ORS falls in a gray area on that for me, because Reagan does go through a lot and, while not called out on her slut-shaming that I remember, she’s definitely taken to account for other behavioral issues. Sometimes, though, to use a trite example, an abusive relationship is held up by the text as a romantic ideal. I’m thinking now of Nobody But Us. It was clearly an unhealthy relationship, but the heroine never comes to that realization, which was a big issue I had with that book. In Reagan’s case, I was pretty sure she would grow out of slut-shaming, but I wasn’t sure that NBU heroine would ever learn, so I was less forgiving.

    Basically, it’s a big mess, and I sort of go with my gut on whether problematic things were shown realistically but without romanticizing bad behavior. I like to see consequences for bad things in most circumstances, because that’s how life works most of the time.

  24. What a great post. I think you really nailed it with this part – that it can “just merely exist to show authenticity of a time or a social situation and what really happens.”

    I don’t think every issue in a book needs to be addressed with a moral or message, necessarily. I think it depends on the situation and the extent of the issue. If we’re talking about slut-shaming, I can assure you that I tended to be the same way as Reagan all the way until my first women’s studies class in college. I think a lot of teen girls don’t even realize that’s what they’re doing. It portrays something that’s just TRUE out there. Even though she doesn’t say “THIS IS BAD” it seems a bit obvious that Reagan’s behavior is kind of self-destructive and shouldn’t be duplicated. If a teen reads the book and thinks “it’s okay to be like this,” then they probably missed the overall point of the whole thing. Bottom line is that Reagan was a teenager. She wasn’t going to learn from ALL of her mistakes, ALL at ones. It’s just unrealistic to me. She can’t fit her entire moral development into one book!

    In reading some of the comments after typing all that ^ I can definitely see some of the other points. Eliminating those behaviors by deeming them undesirable or bad really could help young girls move past that part of their lives. While I think the author did a great job of showing what it’s like to be a normal teen, I can see how that in and of itself is a bit problematic. I’m glad to see all the comments and engagement on this one!!

  25. My gosh I love this post.

    I also try to put slut-shaming/racism/misogny “aside” or put it into context. I mean, it’s kind of easy now to say being racist, prejudiced and against homosexuals is wrong, but….if you grew up in the 50s-60s, you might have a different outlook on people than someone who grew up in more modern times where we’re already integrated. Or with homosexuals, if you grew up being told they were “wrong” or whatever, you’re going to believe that until you’re told something better. And some characters don’t understand what they’re saying/doing is wrong. Which upsets me if they never learn.

    While I don’t think it’s the author’s job to show/tell what a character does is wrong, but I like it when they do. Even if it’s something small like just saying “You shouldn’t do/say/have done that.” “That was wrong”, “You’re being a jerk”, etc.
    It’s different with other things though, like cheating, if cheating isn’t shown in a negative light (ie. Anna and The French Kiss), I’m going to really be upset. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m okay with racism/homophobia/slut-shaming, etc, I was just using an example of an event I wouldn’t be okay with.

    I just, I want characters to know when they do something wrong. I don’t want them to act like whatever they do is fine because no one ever tells them that they’re not being right. I will (and have) ratite a book lower/negatively because it featured cheating and I would do the same for the other topics I mentioned, it just depends…

    I think something can just be a character flaw sometimes, but, I don’t know. I think there’s a point to when it’s a character flaw/mistake and when they’re legitely not concerned or whatever.

    I hope some of this makes sense. Great topic.

  26. So, I do think it’s the author’s job to at least bring to light that there is an issue being discussed, especially if they are aware there is an issue being discussed. Sometimes it just comes off as ignorance, which it might honestly be, but that doesn’t necessarily make it right. I am specifically thinking of harmful stereotypes that are perpetuated in literature; it might not be meant to hurt or offend, and it might be something that happens in real life, but it can be harmful nonetheless. Especially if it is published today.

    With diversity in children’s and young adult fiction being in such a spotlight right now, author’s should at least consider if what they are writing will be harmful to a group of people–do they want to sacrifice the image of an entire group for the sake of a plot device or character development?

  27. This is such an interesting question that I’ve never really thought about. I’m kind of with you here. As much as I don’t like to see things like slut-shaming and bullying, I do think it’s a part of teen life and as a reader of YA, I kind of expect that stuff to show up. Books wouldn’t feel realistic without it.

    I do like when the characters learn that they are wrong, but I don’t necessarily think they need to 100% understand by the end of the book. Because like you, I also used to bash other girls and participate in slut-shaming. I’m not proud of it, but I was a teenager. I learn how damaging that kind of stuff is for years. I definitely didn’t learn it in a few months or a few weeks as most of these books take place over those periods of time.

    So I guess my answer is yes and no? I think it’s important for a character to recognize that their behavior is wrong. I don’t necessarily think they need to 100% learn their lesson.

  28. Great topic! I am of the opinion that bad things like slut shaming can and maybe even should be part of a book, not as a moral lesson, but because it is realistic and happens. I greatly value realisme in books and I think it’s important to keep in mind that just because an author writes about characters who do a certain behvaior it doesn’t mean he/she condones it. I think it’s nice if the character eventually realizes something about her past behavior, or maybe even a small step forward, but if that isn’t what happens I am okay with that as well, as long as it makes sense for the characters and story and is realistic.

    I recently read a coment from a blogger about udnerage dirnking and how she wished that wans’t in the book, but I think it’s realistic, I might like a character less who drinks away her fears, but it is realistic. Same goes with the sex in YA question, I think if is realistic and makes sense it should be there, I dislike it when a couple seems to reach the stage where they should have sex, but don’t because it’s YA. Sure you don’t have to be explicit about it, but if it’s natural and fits the story I would say go for it.

    I think behavior like that can solely exists as a character flaw and it isn’t the authors job to addres how wrong it is. It’s a book, a story, fiction, people can make up their own minds about the behavior and whether it’s right or wrong or if they like it or not. Maybe it’s an interesting topic for a guest post or something like that, but I don’t believe it should be part of the book. If the author wants to mention it somewhere, I wouldn’t have anything against it either, but I don’t think it’s necessary.

  29. I have yet to read this book but I don’t think it’s necessary to include a moral or a lessen. Sometimes just documenting society’s actions is enough.

  30. I hate bullying, racism and sexism. They’re all topics that I feel very strongly about. But things get a bit more complicated when it’s time to talk about slut-shaming. I’m a teenage girl finishing my last couple years of high school. I’d be a hypocrite if I started ranting about the evils of slut-shaming. I’ve done it, my friends have done it, complete strangers do it. I 100% disagree with people who say that girls who act/dress a certain way are asking to be raped. I even wrote a commentary about sexual harassment and sexism in schools. But it’s human nature to criticize something that one doesn’t agree with. I’ve been raised in a fairly traditional Asian household where its heavily frowned upon to behave promiscuously or dress in revealing clothing. My aim isn’t to crush other girls, but I don’t feel right hiding my opinion on the matter either. Does that make me a bad person?

    I feel that an authors only job is to craft stories. Books are ultimately a form of entertainment (though sometimes it feels like they are my lifesource). Sometimes we come across beautiful, wonderful books that make us think and give us new insight into the world around us, but not every story has to do that. Reading is an incredibly subjective experience. It’s the author’s job to write and the reader’s job to interpret. I think it’s very important that author’s write stories that portray the world realistically, with all of the good, bad, and ugly details. It’s society’s job as a whole to combat sexism, racism, etc. These more controversial issues usually don’t occur in juvenile fiction; YA contains many of the most controversial topics known to man. YA readers are usually at least 13 and as old as 100. It should be the parents duty to instruct the younger readers, but adult readers are old enough to look at scenarios and evaluate them themselves.

    Great post, Jamie! I haven’t thought this hard about a blog post in a long time!

  31. This is such a great post Jamie (as all these great comments can attest to)!

    I don’t entirely think that every book should have a moral or that its an authors job to clearly spell out when something a character does is “wrong” (plus morality is so dependent on the person writing).

    However, (and I haven’t read ORS, but this is still a fairly common theme in books) slut-shaming is directly derived from patriarchal influences. It’s okay for boys and men to have sex (With women! no gay people allowed!) but women and girls are not allowed the same freedom. Slut-shaming is a way to control that. Most teens aren’t aware of this. And the problem is that a lot of adults also aren’t aware of this (or they agree with it, which is an entirely different kettle of fish.). People will tell their daughters to guard their virginity because it’s precious, but they’ll let their sons have free reign. It’s why our society has such horrific problems with sexual assault and rape. (I’m sure you, as an adult, are also aware of these things, but I know as a teenager I wasn’t.)

    So while I don’t think that authors always need to have a moral or clearly note when their characters are doing bad things, in certain cases, I think they’re supporting (whether intentionally or not) culturally embedded norms. And in those cases, I generally won’t like or recommend a book–even if I enjoyed reading it. Because I don’t want teenagers to think that certain behaviors are okay. I don’t want them growing up to think its okay. If they wanted to read it, I would let them, but I’d also try to temper it with books that say the opposite. Just like I wouldn’t give teenagers books that all say drinking is awesome and doing drugs is cool.

  32. Such an interesting topic, Jamie! I have yet to read Open Road Summer but I have seen good reviews and definitely adding it to my TBR.

    I think authors can do either of the two. They can get the moral out there through character or plot development. Or it can just exist in the book and readers can interpret it. Ultimately though, an author’s job is to tell a story, one that readers can hopefully connect with. Whether the moral’s solidly presented or not is optional. More often than not, we connect to stories more when they’re realistic. In this case I agree with you that slut-shaming is a reality. I know I have done it several times in the past and it’s a very real thing, especially for teenagers. Maybe we don’t need the author to say that hey, that’s bad. Maybe just connecting with the character, despite and because of her flaws, is enough.

  33. That’s a really interesting question. I think I would have a problem if an other condoned certain behaviour that we know is just not okay – racism, sexism etc. I would argue that to ignore behaviour is to implicitly be okay with it. Whilst the author need not write a little neat morality lesson I think perhaps through the actions and questions of others it is a clever way to challenge actions/behaviours/attitudes that we are not okay with but we know exist. Perhaps in that way they will make the reader think twice.

  34. Great post! I think you make some great points, but I can understand why others would disagree. Personally, I am fine if the author does NOT insert something in the book to show it is wrong. It really just depends. Now if the story calls for that kind of behavior or if it is genuine to the characters then I can understand it. I would only want the author to call out the behavior as wrong IF it would be authentic to the story. I don’t necessarily think it is the author’s job to do this.

  35. That’s such a difficult topic and one that has come up recently for me since reading The Duff. My personal preference is that it’s OK to include things that are “wrong” such as slut-shaming, racism etc. as that is realistic of the world we live in, but that there should be resolution and it should have a sub-plot or theme of character development to the point where it is made clear it isn’t acceptable. I don’t know if it’s an author’s job or not to do that, but I’m cautious that if they don’t, some readers may interpret it as acceptable behaviour, and I think authors have a responsibility when they are writing as it is being released into a canon of work that influences and shapes our culture. What came first, the chicken or the egg? Similarly, our culture shapes our writing and vice versa, and I think for changes in culture towards a more diverse-inclusive, body positive etc. society, we need to be projecting that in our Arts.

  36. This is such a great question, Jamie!

    I agree that, even if there isn’t an explicit take-down of the “bad behavior” in question, it doesn’t mean the author is automatically condoning it. I think we readers have to take it upon ourselves to read between the lines to see what the author’s stance actually is. I also think that it can read as inauthentic or jarring if wrist-slapping comes in out of nowhere.

    Thanks for bringing up such great food for thought! 🙂

Trackbacks

  1. […] Jamie asked an interesting question about the role of the author when it comes to something like slut-shaming – is it their role […]

  2. […] Jamie wonders: is it the author’s job to address a problematic thing as wrong somewhere in the text? […]

  3. […] – The girls at Totally Booked Blog wrote a very honest and brilliant open letter to authors, you should all check it out! – Epic Reads shared an awesome post about the prettiest YA endpapers.  I love when books have pretty insides. – Nick from Nick’s Book Blog talks about how she doesn’t consider herself a reviewer. – The Sunday Chapter shares 25 things she wished she figured out sooner. – Jenny from Supernatural Snark shares a gorgeous book cover she worked on. – Sharon at Obsession with Books is celebrating her 4 year anniversary with a giveaway. – Jamie at The Perpetual Page Turner asks, Is it the author’s job??? […]

  4. […] wrote a thoughtful post about authors’ responsibility and accountability over certain aspects of their work. A lot of people don’t like the slut-shaming that occurred […]

  5. […] Jamie @ The Perpetual Page Turner asks is it the author’s job? […]

  6. […] of The Perpetual Page-Turner asked us: is it the author’s job to address a problematic thing as wrong somewhere in the […]

  7. […] I share my two cents. There are three major posts I want to share first and foremost: Jamie asking if it’s the author’s job to always teach a moral or lesson in the book, Tiff interviewing Emery Lord about slut-shaming and previously discussing it […]

  8. […] amazing connection with the main character and the complexity of the issues they were dealing with. Jamie at The Perpetual Page-Turner did a post earlier this year on whether it’s the author’s job to write realism, or to […]

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