“Morally Complicated YA”

UPDATE: In the time it took me to write and publish this post, the folks over at B&N have posted a terrific list! Check it out!

UPDATE 2: As so often happens in a world that moves at the speed of light, I’m a day late! I thought the PW article was new — turns out it’s 24 hours old, and people have already been writing about great morally complicated YA (under #MorallyComplicatedYA). Many thanks to Zoraida (in the comments below), and Katherine Locke and Sara Taylor Woods on Twitter for cluing me in. (Clearly, I should look at dates before I post… I was reacting off-the-cuff to what was in front of me, not knowing that others had already picked up the standard and begun marching! I didn’t mean — even inadvertently — to denigrate their work.)

It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a controversy to argue about over the table. This year, rather than debating the Syrian refugee crisis, why not talk about today’s Publishers Weekly article on new YA author Scott Bergstrom?

The article has many in YA up in arms due to some comments made by Bergstrom that seem to, well, denigrate YA. Given that he’s a newcomer, it comes across a bit entitled and snooty. Especially since he’s got book deals in 16 countries, a movie deal, and a six-figure advance. In publishing, you can be a dick and people will shrug it off, but if you’re a successful dick, people hate you.

Here’s the bit that seems to have set people off:

“The morality of the book is more complicated than a lot of YA so I wanted to try doing it on my own,” Bergstrom said. “In a lot of YA, the conflict takes place inside a walled garden, set up by outside adult forces. If you think of those stories as a metaphor for high school, they start to make a lot more sense, but that was one thing I wanted to depart from.”

It doesn’t help that the photo Bergstrom provided is precisely the kind of too-serious, “I am an AUTHOR!” shot that makes other authors simultaneously cringe and howl with laughter.


Look, it would be easy to slag off Bergstrom, to call him a clueless dick who clearly hasn’t read any YA in the past twenty years, etc., but…

  1. I haven’t read all of YA. “A lot of it” really is in high school. Hell, that’s probably true, given the age of the characters. So, fine.
  2. Who knows what else Bergstrom said that PW chose not to include? That’s one thing to consider whenever you read anything about anyone — the publication makes a choice as to what to include and what not to include, and the subject is at their mercy. It’s possible that Bergstrom said many insightful (as opposed to inciting!) things about YA, but PW just didn’t include them.

So, hey — I could spend the day bashing Bergstrom (whom I’ve never met and who is probably a very nice, very talented guy), or I could do something productive.

I choose productive. I believe that the response to something that offends us is not to tear it down, but rather to build up something else. So…

Today and over the long weekend, share your “morally complicated YA.” Bergstrom didn’t invent it. Go ahead and tweet, Tumblr, Facebook, and blog about your favorite morally complex young adult novels. Post them in the comments below, if you like. Have a good time with it!

Trust me, bashing someone for saying something objectionable when you don’t know the context might feel good, but putting a list of great books out into the world will feel so much better.


  1. Everyone has been productive. We’ve been tweeting MorallycomplicatedYA suggestions since, like, yesterday. That BN post is old but amazingly appropriate.

    Everything happening isn’t bashing. It’s calling out an industry that has many things wrong with it.

  2. Kudos to you for focusing on the positive instead of joining the bash party.

  3. I think readers and writers a like are allowed to be a little bit infuriated by Mr.Bergstrom and his comments. Along with the comments from the people around him professionally.

    It’s not bashing, it is bringing attention to a very flawed system and not just within Publishing. He’s not writing anything people haven’t seen before, and for him to come out of the gate spitting venom all over the genre he’s trying to break into, seems not just careless but arrogant.

    So while my initial post about this on my blog is a little venomous in itself, it’s my personality. I am overly opinionated and I shoot off, but I wouldn’t take anything I wrote back. He deserves the backlash for coming out and dragging his fellow writers through the mud.

    Though I do plan to post a lovely list of YA Lit that everyone should check out.

    Glad you did those updates on this post as well.

  4. [Comment deleted. Disagree with me, fine. Be angry at me, fine. Hate me, fine. But if you just want to lob insults at me anonymously, kindly avail yourself of other options on the Internet.]

  5. Kate Coombs says:

    Poor guy. He doesn’t even notice that he’s an “ouside adult force” by definition. It’s kind of like the politicians who talk about how politics are evil, government is evil, but they are politics, they are government. So yeah, Bergstrom, you are an adult, a person outside the world you think you can represent from the inside somehow in a way that other grownup writers cannot. Whatever you have written is just one more walled garden, though I’ve yet to discover for myself how well you’ve depicted the plants and the walls.

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