Did the 1950s call? Because I think they want their journalists back.

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It’s 2016. Are we really doing this? Are we really writing damning, personal attacks against successful young entrepreneurs for no valid reason, really, other than that we feel this twisted sense of power when we bring down those who are building up young people around us? I can’t fathom this world. Is it jealousy? Is it just plain sexism? Are we so out of touch with the new wave of mass media that YouTube is creating that, instead of embracing it, we react with fear and vengeance?

Zoe Sugg – Zoella – a 26 year old, likely millionaire, with 10 million YouTube subscribers, and all round successful young woman. Now, I have my own issues with Zoella and a number of things she does/has done, but no matter what they are, a title like this, in a goddamn national online newspaper, is not okay on so many levels:

To summarise the article (read it in whole if you can), it is a rather vindictive attack against Zoella and her WHSmith’s book club choices. In it, the writer calls the titles “sugary reads” and goes on to pull out random, misplaced, out-of-context lines from several of the titles and twist them to her own meaning. Rather than focus on how – oh I don’t know – the books discuss serious topics like abuse, suicide, mental health issues, betrayal, anxiety, and trauma (to name but a few), Rebecca Reid and the team at The Telegraph would rather look at vague, unimportant lines about virginity that are included in these books and then determine from that that Zoe is not a good role model. Yeah, I’m not joking.

A lot of YA lovers have probably already read the eight books selected for the book club – I’ve read 5 and have every intention of reading 2 others as soon as possible. After all, most of them were widely popular even before they were chosen. So for those of us who have read the books, you’re probably wondering where virginity even comes into them too. Right?! It barely does. Taking All the Bright Places, one of the titles explicitly called out in the article, the writer doesn’t actually mention that said novel deals heavily with suicide, bipolar disorder, depression, loss, and grief, instead feeling the need to pick out this one quote:

“I walk through the halls and stand at my locker and sit in class and wait for my teachers and classmates to look or say ‘Someone’s not a virgin any more’… …Even though the Day Of wasn’t slutty, I do feel a little slutty, but also kind of grown up.”

What? I didn’t even remember this part until I read it in this article. It’s not a ‘message’ that resounds with the audience, or that an audience frankly cares about, because you know what? Some girls do “feel a little slutty” when they have sex. And some girls feel empowered. And some girls don’t care at all. You know what the great thing about girls and sex is? It’s different for everyone. No one experience is universal, and books reflect that. In fact, I found it rather humorous that the article directly contradicts itself: “In reality, for most young women having sex for the first time is no bigger or smaller a deal than you want it to be”. True, Rebecca Reed, absolutely true. I agree with this sentiment so hard: virginity is a social construct, but you can put as much or as little stock in it as you please. It can mean nothing or everything to you and that is absolutely okay. So then why does the article go on to ask “so why are these books still telling young women that they are born with some kind of ‘gift’ for them to ‘lose’?” Right. Okay. Is virginity not allowed to be a gift for us to present to someone we love, if we so choose? What do they think the relationship between young girls and virginity is supposed to look like, exactly, because it’s sounding a little unclear here.

And can we just stop and pause for a second here and remember that teenage girls are not robots, are not stupid, and are fully capable of autonomous, intelligent thought. There are young girls around the world doing phenomenal things and I think the least we can do is give them credit where it’s due, instead of belittling them at every turn. Zoe says it best herself:

I’m just so tired of journalists talking about what this book club is lacking and not what it’s doing for young girls and reading popularity across the country – across the world, even. And why do they lay all the blame on Zoella? The books that have been picked apart in the article – why, not once, were the authors of them brought into question? No, this is all devilish Zoella’s fault, right? Yawn. Can we move on already, and accept that teens reading is a great thing, full stop? Can The Telegraph and Daily Mail and the rest of traditional media stop going into meltdown every time Zoe does anything? Like I said at the beginning of this blog post, I have personal issues with Zoella’s ethics, but all in all she is definitely not a bad role model to have, and I really think newspapers like The Telegraph need to stop whining for attention and move onto reporting actual news. Much appreciated.

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25 thoughts on “Did the 1950s call? Because I think they want their journalists back.

  1. Charlotte

    I read the article – well, parts of it. Couldn’t make it through the whole thing – and just… didn’t get the point it was trying to make? Like you, I didn’t recall the quote from All the Bright Places, the things I took away from it were all focused around mental health, not sex or relationships. I actually thought Finch and Violet have one of the better YA romances! Nothing like – for example – the relationship in The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer where Noah is controlling and manipulative, yet Mara fawns all over him and gives off the impression that that’s the type of behaviour teens should be looking for in partners. It’s such a shame that these are the things getting headlines these days. Save it for real news.

    Charlotte @ Bookmarks and Blogging

    Like

    • Jessica

      I don’t blame you for not making it the whole way through! When I got to the end I was kind of just like “sorry… what was the point of this article?” NOW if they’d wanted to talk about why there just isn’t much sex in YA that would be an entirely different story (there needs to be more, and more healthy positive sexually active relationships, let’s be real) but it was just a feeble article with points that made zero sense. I haven’t read any of the Mara Dyer series but I see the issue massively with those kinds of characters – I hate it being normalised, I hate any kind of controlling behaviour being seen as okay because “he’s hot” or because “it’s sexy”. Now THAT is something to take issue with. But focusing in on virginity in eight books that don’t really talk about virginity much, if at all? What was the point. That article is just a waste of internet space.

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  2. Lisa

    I also just read this article today. I don’t know, it’s so hard to think about it. Many and even I do somehow want to find a reason to hate this. She’s somehow invading the space of many readers, just because she is popular, I cannot quite tell. I mean, you’ve written about this very well and I agree with your points, but the whole book club thing is so weird. I am so sorry if it is really unclear what I am trying to say. Most of those books have been really damn popular and read by so so many before all of this. I cannot wrap my head around it. I mean, there have been numerous articles based on the books apparently not being diverse enough so far, in the context of Zoella. What do you think about that? Should she have chosen different books at all?

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    • Jessica

      Hey! Love what you’re talking about and I have many of the same qualms – mainly, Zoe hadn’t seemed to have read much/any YA before starting this book club which definitely makes me feel a little weird. I love that it’s getting loads more people into reading, I’m so 100% here for that, and her being the face of the campaign really does help from THAT perspective, but I get what you mean about it feeling like she’s invading our space. I guess… there’s nothing much we can do? She has as much right to be here I suppose. I did look at the list of books when it was released and go “really???” since she pretty much went for the biggest, most popular books going in YA atm and I think it would’ve been cool to shed light on some lesser known authors but hey ho. Also I’ve noticed a distinct lack of LGBT and general diversity too… I suppose nothing can be perfect, and it is a really small selection of books, so all I can really say is that I’m sure this book club is going to extend, and when it does Zoe will hopefully start to include more diversity in her picks. Although I really do question how much choice she truly got in selecting the books to begin with…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lisa

        That’s just the theme of it, YA and starting with the biggest ones might make a lot of sense to them and most people. I’m also hopeful to see this get better and also better in the selection of books! Yeah, now WHSmith has gotten such an enormous boost as a company. Did you even know them before all of this?

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      • Jessica

        Yeah, maybe! Given it’s success, I would not be surprised if there’s another one later this year or in 2017. With the influence she has, I’d really hope she does good and continues to shed light on voices that need to be heard. I mean, I love that quite a few of them deal with mental health already, and that seems like an obvious choice because of her anxiety disorder, so I get the feeling she will branch out if this continues to a wider variety of issues, topics, and voices. I guess… as long as it’s not HINDERING things, I’m fine for it to continue (not that I get a say either way lol) and it does seem like its helping things at the moment.

        I did know who WHSmith’s were before all this – they’re a pretty big UK chain, rival and second only to Waterstones for bookselling in the UK, and they also sell stationary and things like that. I don’t shop there because the books are the same price as Waterstones but you can’t get store rewards. I imagine Zoella getting involved with them has boosted their sales MASSIVELY.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Lisa

        We’ll see how to second round, if there is one, goes. Maybe we’ll be praising her, who knows. Well, I am not from the UK, so I didn’t and I don’t think it will be of any importance in the future. Everything Zoella even touches is being boosted massively haha.

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  3. shelfiepodcast

    Is it just me or did this feel like an extreme form of the “guilty pleasure”. This writer chose to focus on out of context lines about sex to shame people into thinking they were reading something that is less than “literature” or at least the writer’s definition of “literature”. Personally, I am a fan of read what you want and don’t let people shame you for it. If this gets more people reading then what’s the downside?

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    • Jessica

      That seems like the exactly the purpose and I just don’t understand how the writer could sit there and type about how “frivolous” these books are. YA generally has this really great balance between being light and completely serious all at the same time. I mean, some of the books in this club tackle really serious, difficult topics. I feel like sometimes people look down on YA for no other reason than it’s about teen lives, and somehow teens are seen as stupid, as less than, as unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Which is really ridiculous. I agree, what’s the issue with more people reading some really great, interesting, evocative? “War and Peace” the article calls for… you know what, I’m an educated young woman who’s heading towards a first class/2:1 degree and I would put YA over any classic book I’ve ever read. So.

      Liked by 1 person

      • shelfiepodcast

        There is nothing wrong with a good classic novel, either. But here’s the thing, classics rarely address issues that are still relevant today. Also, just because something is defined as a classic does not make it good. Great Expectations for example. I would rather read Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson 40 time that read three pages of Great Expectations. Why? Many reasons. Subject matter, writing style, and the fact that I am actually able to relate to the characters. The author of this particular article has likely not read much in the way of YA and it is very clear that she didn’t read the books she was complaining about. War and Peace is not an apt replacement.

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      • Jessica

        Yep, completely agree! Everyone has their own taste when it comes to books and that’s THE POINT. If we all read the exact same thing it’d be kind of very boring. Some 12yr olds have read every Shakespeare play going and some are still reading Jaqueline Wilson. Is one better than the other? Absolutely not. I agree, I really don’t think the writer has read the books in question, and if she has she is very stubbornly refusing to acknowledge their wider message, themes, and what is actually going on in the book. This frustrates me.

        Liked by 1 person

      • shelfiepodcast

        That article is bullying. We, as a community, need to make it as clear as we can that it’s ok to love what you love. No matter what other people say. It’s 100% acceptable to be who you are.

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      • Jessica

        Could not agree more, and I’m really happy that I’ve seen so much support for the book club and general chatter about this article all over Twitter all day. It’s important that if rubbish articles like this are going to be published, there’s a whole lovely community on the other side ready to batter them down and reminder everyone that, as you say, everyone should be who they are/read what they love ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  4. hermionefowl

    I noticed her tweet, and I can’t believe people are responding like that! She picked books with meaningful topics, and I bet she’s got a whole new group of people reading who usually avoid books just because she recommended them. You’re right, she needs credit for the good things she’s done, and her followers need credit for having their own opinions!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jessica

      Traditional media seem to just want to hate on Zoella, I think that’s the issue. It seems like some twisted sort of jealous — “oh look at her, famous for doing nothing”. Zoe isn’t my favourite person but as a whole she’s a pretty damn decent role model. As you said, the books she picked are meaningful ones that deal with quite serious topics. What’s frivolous about suicide, betrayal, grief, and a variety of mental health issues??? The writer of that article got it so so wrong.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Fatima @ NoteablePad

    I saw your tweet earlier and just knew I had to sit down to read this. I had a read of both the article and your post, and I’m completely in agreement with you. I’m not the biggest fan of Zoella (and frankly, I don’t know enough about her to make assumptions), but that article is so wrong about those books. Young girls reading these books are intelligent enough to make their own decisions. I read plenty of books similar to those, and not once have they ever influenced me negatively or changed my opinions of sex. Thing is, this won’t be ‘new’ to teens reading these books. They’ll be reading these books because they deal with more serious issues (depression, suicide, etc) and they won’t even notice anything else. I’ve read a few reviews of all the books listed, and not one of them has ever said “Oh, but it encourages promiscuous behaviour.”

    Love the title, by the way!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ashleigh

    Loved this!
    To be honest, I had the same reaction as Zoe – just to laugh. No matter what books she chose, people will have found something wrong with them. If she chose fantasy, people will have said they’re not realistic and misdirect young readers from reality. If she chose dystopia, they’ll have said there’s too much death and disaster or something. Any quote that’s taken away from the story is going to sound different to people who haven’t read the book.
    Like everyone said, younger readers aren’t as easily influenced as the media makes out. It’s strange to think that spin is still being used for ridiculous news stories like this!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jessica

      Yup, couldn’t have said it better myself. The book choices were going to be picked apart no matter what. Even if Zoella had recommended War and Peace, as the article calls for, she’d probably be ridiculed in an article all the same for picking ‘outdated’ books that ‘wouldn’t resonate with her audience’. Truly a no win situation.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. KliScruggs

    I feel like the article was taking the same route people banning books take. Like outraged there’s sex, drugs, euthanasia what-have-you in a book, but completely disregarding the implicit message the book is communicating about those demon-spawning influences.

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  8. violetskiesandmemories

    This is crazy! I’ve always loved to read unlike some teens. What Zoella is doing is breaking down boundaries and encouraging millions of people, quite literally to read but they still attack her. I read ‘All the bright places’ way before she recommended it on her book club and i cannot understand how the telegraph could focus upon that one aspect of it as its approach towards mental illness and grief is really forward for a YA book. Why sex is such a social taboo still in this day and age will continue to astound me.

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