My Rant about John Green, Twilight, and Female YA Authors

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On Wednesday night, I saw two things I’ve been thinking for a long time clearly articulated on twitter. One by YA author John Green, the other about him. The first was a series of tweets, termed by Green himself as a “twitter rant”, defending Twilight fans and shining a light on the misogyny that underlies the attacks on the series. After negative feedback, he further clarified his position with this post on tumblr. After reading about this, I saw this series of tweets and further conversation about John Green’s influence on the New York Times Bestseller list and the lack of women on the list.

I’m sharing these on my blog today because I’ve wanted to write about why I like Twilight and the nerdfighter domination of the bestseller list for a long time. I also want to start a discussion, or at least share some of my feelings, about the negative reactions to both social media events.

Before I continue, I want to say that I 100% agree with everyone’s right to form their own opinions on these issues and express their opinions. That is what I am trying to do here. So if you don’t care what I think about John Green or Twilight, I suggest you stop reading. Because this turned into the longest post I’ve ever written. It’s a lot for you to wade through if you legitimately don’t care.

SInce you are still reading, I’m going to assume you either do care or just really don’t like people telling you what to do. I’m also going to tell you that as nerdy as it sounds I really love both Twilight and John Green in a profound way. So here are my rambling and unorganized thoughts:

(1) Twilight: I’m not going to say these are the most well-written or pro-feminist novels ever created, but I really enjoyed reading them. Between the books, the movies, and the fandom there was something really immersive about experiencing this story. It makes me mad when people trash these books with such vitriol (especially when they haven’t read them) for two reasons. When I was a sixth grade teacher and my students were all way below grade level, Twilight was the only thing that got them excited about reading. For that reason alone it will always be an important book to me. Putting my own person enjoyment of the novel aside (team Edward 4ever!) it got thousands of kids excited about books that probably wouldn’t have cared about reading otherwise.

When people insult Twilight they seem to be insulting the intelligence of teenage girls. I admit there are things that can be construed as problematic about Edward and Bella’s relationship (although I didn’t read them that way). But I think it is a stretch to say the books glorify abusive relationships, suicide, violence, or the myriad of other evils that are project onto the books. The books are a fantasy about perfect and consuming love, and I think girls have the same ability as others to separate fantasy from reality. People don’t seem to worry as much about middle aged men killing people because they watch “Dexter” or teenage boys starting ganging fights after reading The Outsiders. Give teenage girls the same consideration.

The hatred against Stephanie Meyers, her books, and her fans does seem to me to have a gendered bent. It was really satisfying to read John Green’s tweets supporting the franchise, especially when he’s made fun of it in the past. It was disappointing to read the backlash against him. Even if you don’t like the books, it’s offensive to assert that tens of thousands of people are just plain wrong/stupid for enjoying and finding meaning in them.

(2) Tweets about Green’s domination of best-seller list: Reading Kelly Jensen’s tweets on this subject gave me a “finally” moment. I’ve been talking about how everyone on the list was either Green, a friend of Green’s, a client of Green’s agent, or had a book edited by Green’s editor since this summer. I am fascinated by this phenomenon, but don’t view it as particularly positive or negative.

To summarize the situation, last week there were only two female authors listed in the top ten spaces of the YA bestseller list. Of the other eight spots, four went to Green and two went to his college roommate Ransom Riggs. The two females were Rainbow Rowell and Esther Earl. Two authors whose books have likely benefited from Green’s support.

I think there should continue to be safe places for people to talk about the need for more female, PoC, and LGBT authors in the top echelons of almost every profession, children’s fiction included. But the comments to these tweets often seemed more focused on blaming and defaming John Green, than on productive conversations. “End John Green. End John Green Supporters. End the John Green Industry,” wrote one tumblr user. These people seemed to miss a central point of the tweets, which is his support of Rowell and role in the creation of Earl’s book. As someone who watches literally every vlog brothers video, I’ve seen him recommend many books written by female authors. Attacking John for recommending and helping to support the books written by Ransom Riggs, his friend and former roommate, seems ludicrous to me. I try and offer my support to all of my friends’ careers and creative endeavors. I expect most people, Green included, to act similarly.

John Green writes female characters that while often criticized, I’ve found both complex and thought-provoking in terms of the ways young women both project and have projected on them facades of simplicity, perfection, and for lack of a better term manic-pixie-dream-girlhood. He has often and consistently acknowledged his own privilege as an educated, white, cis-gendered, straight man. He has used his fame and his unique relationship to his fans to shine a light on important issues and authors that might otherwise be overlooked.

As I said before, I think there can be intelligent and measured conversations about the need to diversify YA literature. I think this is an area where people can clearly vote with their wallets and their time in terms of buying, pre-ordering, reserving at the library, and writing good reviews on Amazon for books and authors they want to support. I have read a few well thought out discussions about these tweets, but far more attacked Green personally, which I think muddies the issue and serves to alienate the huge fan base he’s acquired.

In both of these issues, tangentially connected by John Green, what frustrates me the most is people discounting the popularity of a book simply because they don’t like it. It’s fine if you don’t like Twilight or TFiOS (obviously). I actually didn’t love Looking for Alaska, one of Green’s most popular novels. However, to attack them and say they are just plain bad seems to disparage the opinions/taste/sense/intelligence of the thousands upon thousands of people who found something within these books that resonated with them.

I am among those thousands upon thousands of people, and I don’t appreciate my intelligence to be insulted. Nor to I enjoy my identity as a feminist being questioned.

Rant over. Sorry this was so incredibly long. What can I say…I have a lot of feelings. If anyone actually read through this long jumble of words, or even skimmed it, let me know what you think. What am I right about? What am I wrong about? I’m obviously a little revved up so I would welcome the lively debate and discussion.

23 thoughts on “My Rant about John Green, Twilight, and Female YA Authors

  1. I recently had a similar conversation about Twilight, but I was talking about it as a gateway. Of course there are better written books out there. But before Twilight I had never fully immersed myself in a fandom before, not even Harry Potter, as much as I loved it. It served as a gateway for me into full on nerd-dom, as I know it did for a lot of other young women who read it as a teenager.

    When it comes to mocking it, I mock it, but then get very defensive when other people, especially people who haven’t read the books, or watched the movies, do. It’s like a “I can make fun of my family, but you can’t make fun of my family,” situation.

    I think there’s a huge amount of sexism involved in the derision of Twilight in particular and YA Paranormal Romance (as it’s called in Barnes and Noble) in general. It’s seen as a particularly stupid genre, but as you said, it gets young people excited about reading. And it can work as a gateway. If a tween or teen is into Twilight, as an adult they’re more likely to read Anne Rice or Brahm Stoker. That leads to all kinds of horror and gothic classics. Simple genre stories can open up a world of fiction to people.

    (As you can tell, I also have a lot of feelings on this matter.)

    As for the Green domination, I don’t follow YA matters as closely as you do, but it seems a lot like comedy to me, and I really love when people support their friends and collaborators. A similar example is someone like Judd Apatow, who’s support has spawned basically a generation of brilliant actors and creators. Whenever there’s criticism for this kind of thing, I always say, “So wait? If you had the resources and your friend who had what it takes, it’s not like this is your useless talentless friend came to you, you wouldn’t help them out?” It’s insane to hold others to any other standard.

    • I love your use of the term gateway to describe Twilight, because that is what it is for so many people. Even though I had already fallen in love with reading, Twilight was a series that brought me back to YA fiction and made me start thinking about writing it – which has obviously been hugely influential in my life. For my students, it was a gateway into reading in general. It caused students to want to improve their reading ability so they could be “in” on it – which in turn I’m sure helped them hugely down the line.

      I think there is a a big difference between mocking the books and movies, which I do as well, and saying they are worthless of harmful. Robert Pattinson seems to be the chief jokester when it comes to the series and I agree that the “twihards” can be an easy target.

      If you don’t like a book, don’t read it. I don’t understand the impetus for trying to destroy the experience for other people.

      Thanks for commenting Reenie!

  2. Great article!

    As an ‘older’ Twilight fan, I completely agree with you. I’ve been told by people who don’t know me that I’m either a pre-pubescent teenager or a frustrated housewife. I’m neither. I’m an intelligent 51 year old with grown up children. I wasn’t expecting to like Twilight but have always had a fascination with vampires so I watched it and was hooked. I read the books in 2 weeks and couldn’t wait for more. What I wasn’t prepared for was the outpouring of utter hatred! I couldn’t understand it. If I’ve ever been in a position where I haven’t liked a book or a film, I’ve probably voiced my opinion and that’s it, but to set up pages and groups devoted to hating Twilight was beyond my comprehension. A lot of the hate comments were ridiculous. People were reading too much into the story and not taking it at face value…a work of fiction. People were saying things like, “vampires don’t sparkle”…why not? They don’t exist, who’s to say what they can and can’t do? It’s up to the author and surely Edward’s character is a lot less offensive than vampires before him. (The only past I didn’t really like was that he now fed on animals…I would have preferred him to keep feeding on human low life.)

    I also read part of a Stephen King interview where he slated Stephenie Meyer. VERY unprofessional and a bit rich coming from someone whose who livelihood was based on fantasy and the supernatural and frankly seemed to be losing the plot with every new book he wrote…I digress.

    Each to their own. To have such hatred for something that gives so many people so much pleasure says more about the haters. I’m ‘one of those Twilight people – and proud’

      • Thanks so much for commenting and throwing your opinion into the ring. I think it is SO FRUSTRATING when adults are criticized for liking YA books. I 100% agree with you on the holes in the “vampires don’t sparkle” argument. They don’t exist! It is just a story. It’s called a willing suspension of disbelief. Imagine if people read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and were like “but wait, fawns don’t carry umbrellas.”

  3. Really well said – I think at the end of the day, the only important thing is to support the authors we love, and just keep reading. Who really cares which books make it to the Bestseller list, really? It doesn’t mean These Are The Best Books. It just means These Are The Books Most People Are Buying Today. And the whole anti-Twilight thing? I think it’s definitely more about hating on teenage girls than anything else.

    • Thanks Jen! If people spent the time really supporting the authors and books they love, that they did tearing down popular books, I think it would be more productive. I think in some ways it takes a lot more courage and intelligence to let yourself be enthusiastic about something, than it does to be critical of it (sometimes).

  4. I would like to thank you for your well- reasoned and well stated comments. I have long argued the hypocrisy involved both in the ‘anti-feminist’ argument against Twilight, and the misogynistic attitude and treatment that the novels, the films and fandom receive. And, what bothers most is that this hypocrisy extends to the periphery of the phenomenon, to things and people who aren’t directly involved. Film critics openly refused to read the source material and yet mocked so-called errors in the film that, had they bothered to do their jobs, they might have realized were not errors at all, but elements of the story. I think to this day, if you look at Twilight on IMDB, the fact that Edward and James can be seen in the mirrors in final fight scene is STILL listed as an error in film making! I have had my dedication to feminism, as well as my position as an advocate for survivors of domestic violence questioned because I connect deeply with the character of Edward Cullen, and argue vehemently about the health of his relationship with Bella. But, how can I have a reasoned discussion when people parrot points they’ve read or heard made but have no first hand knowledge because they have never opened one of the novels, let alone read a word of them. And, yes, through Twilight (though I originally discovered him in Harry Potter) I have become a massive fan of Robert Pattinson. Any positive review of his work I give is immediately dismissed because of his and my connection to Twilight. He has had to craft his career very carefully in a way to ‘win back’ male fans who despise Twilight, and who automatically write off any question of talent based on his mere presence in the film. Never mind that any fan who understands the character will tell you that his performance as Edward in those films was so spot on it’s a bit scary. But, because the critics refused to understand the character, and wrote off his performances, and because he is still judged by those prejudiced opinions, the fantastic work he’s done in films like Remember Me and Cosmopolis.. it’s taken people to come back around and give them a second chance before he gets he gets the credit and the praise he deserves. All because the astronomical success of the franchise he is most known for was and is due entirely to a female audience. Twilight is just one single example of this. It is pervasive.

    I’m not as familiar with the ‘pro Green versus anti Green’ discussion. But, your comments are spot on. Every person who reaches a level of success in their chosen field uses that position to encourage and assist where they see fit. It’s not as if he’s creating the list himself, writing it willy nilly just to put his friends’ names on it. People are still going out and buying and reviewing the works, even if based on his recommendations. I’ve found so many authors, artists, musicians and so on on based on things I’ve read from other authors, friends, etc… Isn’t that why we leave and look at reviews? So, to say that he is wielding some sort of unholy power is ridiculous. And, it goes back to the question of value found in popular series. If people are spending their money, and leaving their reviews, clearly the authors and novels he is promoting are touching people and leaving a mark. So, to write them off merely because he initially said, ‘hey, this guy is seriously talented and you should try reading his stuff’ is uncalled for.

    But,

    • Thanks for your comments Caryn. When I wrote this I was expecting a slew of negative responses (which I was ready for), so it is nice to have to many positive and thoughtful comments. I really enjoyed reading your insights into how the criticisms of the films have been skewed by reviewers not reading or understanding the books. I think, unlike some adaptations of books, these movies were made clearly with the fans, not the general public, in mind. I viewed this as a strength within the franchise.

  5. What an excellent response! Twilight brought the joy of reading back into my life and to hear others belittle its fans has been a large thorn in my side. So thank you for standing up for the intelligence of Twilight readers!

    I must admit I pay very little attention to the NYT best seller list and who is on it but, I would hope that all authors would root for and champion others in the industry. If they so happen to make the list at the same time it should be chalked up to coincidence and not favoritism.

    • Thanks Kelly! I’m always happy to stand up for the intelligence of Twilight readers!

      The NYT besteller list criticism really confounds me, because the people who are “at fault” are the people buying books. I found the argument that the NYT doesn’t review enough books by women or people of color more compelling. That is a choice made by a few people, not a market trend based on buying patterns.

  6. Wow, people have a lot of strong feelings about these topics. My comment would be a wider societal concern about why people feel more powerful and more intelligent by being negative than by being positive. I wonder if the people who criticizes so much are creative. It seems to me being creative takes positive energy. Thanks for a provocative post.

    • Yeah, twitter is kind of blowing up about this. I’ve spent way too much time today reading the thoughts of different YA authors, male and female. Something I didn’t mention here is that it is also really insulting to attribute all the success of certain female authors, like Rainbow Rowell, to John Green’s support. Rowell is a fantastic writer (who I am biased towards since she wrote my favorite book of 2013 and perhaps ever). I think she would have found a wide audience with or without Green’s review.

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  8. As someone who hates Twilight I have to say I still agree with you 100%. Just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean it doesn’t have something other people might like. I’m perfectly content to let Twilight fans have their thing while I go off and do mine. (Although I have to admit I did get in a fight with someone over Twilight once because they said it had more literary merit than Dracula… and that statement I can’t get behind. Dracula and Twilight are two very different books about two very different things. Dracula will not get 6th graders reading, Twilight will not spark a conversation about industrialism and xenophobia in 19th century England…).

    As far as the NYT bestseller list, there are way more factors that come into play there than John Green… The publishing industry is complicated, and John Green’s fan base may have a lot of power in the YA circuit, but its not the only factor that goes into who gets published and what people buy. And random, vaguely related fun-fact. Authors/publishers can buy review packages on Amazon… so not all the reviews you read are legit…

    • I would totally have been on your side in the literary merit of Dracula vs. Twilight argument. You said it perfectly: they are two very different books about very different things. It’s also great to have your insight into the bestseller-list and publishing industry. That is crazy about buying review packages on Amazon … I guess I’m not that surprised though. It seems like the Internet is full of loop holes.

  9. I was an early-adopter of Twilight and jumped on the Twilight bandwagon before the movies came out. Because of that book series – I met some of my best friends who I’ve since gone on trips with and flown around the world to see. As a result, to say this book series (however well or not well written it is) changed my life in a way I’ll never be able to fully explain. So it holds a spot VERY dear to my heart.

    My problem with everyone trash talking Bella as a character and arguing that she was not a good role model for girls is this — Twilight wasn’t the first popular book in history to feature a strong lead character that made some questionable decisions over a man. Think of Wuthering Heights, Great Gatsby, Romeo and Juliet – the lead female characters in ALL of these weren’t exactly the best of role models but they’ve gone down in history as female literary characters we love. No matter how stupid they were when it came to love.

    So yes, I agree with you 100%. And I love love this post because more people need to rant about this.

    • Right. I think it’s important not to make all characters in children’s and teen fiction role models, because that would be boring and kids wouldn’t learn the joy of reading. Also people in general aren’t always good role models. I think Twilight could raise some great discussion topics for parents to have with their kids if they are worried about it. I really don’t understand beyond parental concern, why so many people hate the books with such a passion.

  10. I think your long jumble of words was very good, and accurate. I don’t understand the anti-John Green sentiment at all – he’s a successful author using his internet fame to promote reading to teens (and everyone really) and in a world where our kids other “role models” are famous for being famous, occasionally seen twerking or caught driving drunk I think we should all embrace someone who is being such a positive influence. I haven’t read any John Green books, but my daughter is a fan and so I am a fan by default.

    I did read Twilight, I did scoff and tell my friends it was rubbish – the vampires sparkle? Way to ruin their cool! – I did tell my friends the annoying parts I hated (some of it is very repetitive) and then I went on and read the entire series because for me laughing at the silly is part of the entertainment. The poking fun is fine, downright hatred is weird – I’m glad I’ve never come across that.

    PS. Team Jacob.

    • Haha! Glad no to have you as a rival for Edward’s affection (just kidding … sort of). I totally understand making fun of Twilight. I do it too, and it’s one of the things I enjoy about the series – especially about the movies. I also don’t understand the John Green hatred. You bring up a really good point about role models and positive influence. I guess no one in the public eye is ever going to be universally liked, but what went down last week seemed out of line.

  11. I’ve never read any of the Twilight series and have no idea who John Green is or what he’s written, but I’m surprised anyone would get worked up over fiction. I agree with you, teens have the ability to understand fiction is not fact.

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