Regardless of whether you watch or even like Zoella, or if you’ve even taken part in her book club with WHSmith’s, you should have a huge problem with the latest headline going around about her. We most certainly do.
It’s not exactly new that the media absolutely thrives off of criticising everything Zoe Sugg does. She’s accumulated over 10 million subscribers by putting herself out there on the internet. On top of that, she’s made a real name for herself in the publishing industry and the celebrity world as a whole. She’s huge, so naturally the media like to tear her down.
Recently Zoe announced that she would be collaborating with WHSmith’s and putting together a book club with eight YA titles. We couldn’t be more over the moon that Zoe has been pushing her audience to read more and, simultaneously, celebrating some amazing books in a genre we absolutely love.
But, surprise, surprise, turns out the media has a problem with it and Zoe was quick to share her thoughts.
The basic jist of the article was that the books chosen over romanticise the losing of one’s virginity and create it into a far bigger thing than it actually is. The article also picks out some choice quotes from a couple of the works, depicting them completely out of context so it all sounds pretty bad — on the book’s part, obvs. They also drill home the completely ludicrous suggestion that the YA titles perpetuate the idea that to have sex makes you a slut and, if you don’t, you’re a prude. Not sure what books the journalist was reading, but we definitely didn’t get any of those vibes.
So OK, we agree that not all YA is faultless. The representation within one title isn’t always vast and, depending on the kind of narrative, the story is told under the sheltered umbrella of a 16-year-old girl. So yes, sometimes the concept of virginity is that it is this sacred thing we must treasure until exactly the right moment and, OK, sometimes the idea of a ‘slut’ and a ‘prude’ plays a significant role.
But is that exactly surprising? Yes, society has come on leaps and bounds in terms of depicting and celebrating LGBT+ individuals, as well as representation in terms of women and girls and how we think and view ourselves now. First times don’t need and aren’t always fireworks, tbh. Sometimes it hurts and sometimes you’re not in love.
And it’s important to say that YA doesn’t always portray sex and first love like that. It’s not always rose-tinted and glorious, but even if an author does decide to give their main character that decent first time, why the hell shouldn’t they? Just like every plot in YA is different and challenging in their own ways, so are our individual experiences with love and sex. No one person’s experience is the same, so why are we criticising YA for showing one side of it? And, what’s more, judging the genre and pinpointing it as doing just the one thing, when the exploration of losing your virginity hasn’t been, at large, dealt with in exactly the same way?
What’s more, it’s YA. Authors are limited in exactly what they can say and how they describe that particular event in their novels, simply because it’s YA and publishers have to tread a fine line for fear of books coming under the subheading of erotica. If you’re looking for educational YA-type stories on sex, you’re better off picking your bone with publishing houses rather than Zoella. Or, better still, celebrating rather than ridiculing fan fiction — the good stuff is out there and it’s got some pretty incredible portrayals of honest sexual experiences.
And, just to reiterate for the people in the back, we repeat don’t pick your bone with Zoella. She’s out there celebrating good books and wonderful authors that provide us some seriously A+ escapism. Even better, unlike the ridiculous article, she doesn’t undermine and patronise her audience. Because it turns out we’re actually pretty intelligent beings. Who knew?
Just because we opt to read YA over ‘War and Peace’ (not that we might not decide to read it in the future, FYI) doesn’t mean we only hoard air in our skulls. We actually have our own intellectual thoughts and, what’s more, will have stimulating conversations about the books and the issues they tackle if we so please. We might even fancy picking the books apart and making our own calls in each story’s strengths and weaknesses, because, you know, we have the brain capacity to do that.
So yeah, thanks for your concern ‘Telegraph‘, but don’t worry about us. It turns out we don’t go out into the world — or into our books — completely blind-sighted. Surprisingly enough, we can actually form our own opinions and decipher between what is realistic and true and what is sugar-coated to make our reading experience that little bit more enjoyable.
What’s more, let’s give credit where credit is due to these authors for their discussion on issues of abuse, mental health and the largely overlooked struggles of being a teen. It’s not plain sailing, no matter how much you might go on and on with your mindless, passing comments about ‘teenage melodrama’. We have a lot of mixed and confusing messages flying at us, on top of the fact some people actually have the audacity to discredit and dismiss our own opinions.
Have you read the article? What were your thoughts? Let us know over @maximumpopbooks.