2016: The Year of “Problematic”

With the year almost coming to an end, I think it’s safe to say 2016 kinda sucked, for the book community especially.

Now, I really hate to shine light on the negative, horrible things that have happened through 2016 but I’m letting myself do so this time around, in hopes of revisiting mistakes made and learning from them before 2017 comes around.

Not so long ago, one of the YA book community’s buzzword was “unlikeable” wherein readers would often disparage books who have unlikeable (aka characters who’ve made a shit storm of mistakes and hurt a whole lot of people) MCs. Fast forward to this year and I can’t help but think:

Is problematic the new unlikeable?

In 2016, there has been a huge push for #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Unfortunately, the rise of diverse characters in books also saw the rise of problematic representation. This is mostly because authors try to write outside their own voice  to be “inclusive” but fail at it because of their lack of research and empathy when it comes to marginalized people.

Book twitter often explodes whenever ableist, racist and offensive “diverse” books are called out. The bookish community is suddenly divided: marginalized, allies to those marginalized, and privileged. People say things and people get hurt. Things get ugly.

Rinse and repeat.

That aside, you’re probably wondering why the heck I’d compare “unlikeable” and “problematic” when they’re two words used very differently in the book community.

Remember when there was a sudden revolution for “unlikeable” characters awhile back? Instead of hating unlikeable characters, readers were suddenly becoming aware that unlikeable characters were often a reality.

And this is where I’d like to point out that “problematic representation” is the reality of being marginalized. It’s because problematic representation exists that we are reminded that marginalization still exists as well.

I know it sucks for everyone who’s ever been marginalized. It absolutely hurts to be reminded of our own marginalization.

And yes, we should call it out. Yes, we have the right to be angry. But by doing so irrationally, and lashing out, and hurting others, we fail to do something that we, as marginalized people, have done since forever: make the best of the situation.

The best of the situation is simply that we learn what needs to be done better.

Instead of creating division between the community, let’s bring readers and authors together and uplift #ownvoices that need to be heard.

Omg am I trying to perpetuate the idea to #KeepYAKind? Ugh no. I’m trying to say let’s #KeepYAAwesome. To remind you, here’s what’s awesome about YA:

  • YA is honest
  • YA is real
  • YA is passionate
  • YA is open-minded
  • YA is thoughtful
  • YA is outspoken
  • YA is varied
  • YA is creative
  • YA is relevant
  • YA is brave
  • YA is there for you

Yes, 2016 was a problematic year for the YA community. Should we forget about if forever? No. because while YA made a shit ton of mistakes this year, 2016 was when YA also realized what needs to be done better.

Bottom line– let’s do better! Let’s talk about problematic books and learn from them. But more importantly, let’s talk about books that get it right, so we can follow their lead and publish more books that portray marginalized people how we deserve to be portrayed.

We can do this. We can #KeepYAAwesome today and in the future. Let’s greet 2017 in a few weeks with much love and hope for YA literature and the YA community.

9 Responses

  1. I absolutely loved reading your post!! There was no need to be scared of posting it or anything because you expressed yourself quite clearly without being offensive to anyone and that’s awesome!
    I think you are absolutely right when saying that lashing out doesn’t solve anything because in my opinion people get frustrated and the main issue gets covered with all the petty fights and angry comments.
    Anyway, this was a great way to end 2016 😊

  2. Love this post! Thank you for saying all the things I feel so articulately. As an actor, I often feel the roles written for marginalized people in films and tv are “problematic characters”. I’m not a big YA reader (though I try) so I did not realize “problematic characters” were a huge issue in book as well. Keep on keeping on. I’m with you…Let’s do better!

  3. After reading this I am glad my tweeting was mostly reduced to K-pop and Asian dramas. Aside from work and life, I don’t think I’d be able to handle stress in the book community too! Books are supposed to make us learn and think, not fight and argue. I hope 2017 will be a better year for everyone. Happy holidays Hazel! :)

  4. There’s a lot of truth in this post—making the best of situations and lifting up the positivity of own voices books makes problematic books fade away. I still think it’s important to address problematic rep because it’s hurtful and we should encourage the opposite of that, but understand and agree with your point. We are so much more powerful when bring out the positive ❤️ Thank you!

  5. This is a great post because it does highlight one of the bookish issues which are happening. Diverse books are needed but in the push for diverse books mean there are releases which fail at truly pushing for diversity as people aren’t willing to put the work in. Those books are more harmful than books which don’t have diversity at all. It’s good that you’ve addressed this because it is something we need to recognise. If we can recognise it we can try to stop it. Another thing we need to promote is diversity in authors as well. That’s the only way we’re going to see better diversity in books.

  6. Not gonna lie, I was so scared to jump into any conversations, especially this last month. The book community on Twitter has grown extremely hostile to one another and it’s just so terrifying to jump into this community that feels so strained right now. I completely agree with you, though: we all need to work together (authors, bloggers, publishers, etc) to show that YA is diverse as the world is diverse (in many ways, not just one), and that we can’t keep dragging everything through the mud but instead be civil about it. I don’t know if that makes sense? But you spoke really well on it, Hazel!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Are You In?

Get our latest posts right in your inbox and 
stay bookish with us!

Follow Stay Bookish on WordPress.com