By now the story of Amelie Zhou and the YA Twitter storm are fairly well known. Other commentators have posted their thoughts on the matter, some safe for work, others rather blunter. Zhou has asked her publisher to pull the book, and as of Sunday evening, it is no longer available at Amazon, B&N, or Powells. The author has confessed to her ‘crimes,” which seem to be daring to write about slavery that does not take place in North America. There have been two accusations of plagiarism, both referring to scenes and tropes that are found in lots and lots of other books, going back to Tolkien and before.
Guess what? There were a whole lot of places that practiced—and still practice—slavery, sometimes in ways that resemble North America, other times rather differently. The practice was supported by law in some cases, custom in others, but pretty much every culture has had some sort of slavery-like system of unfree labor at some point in its history. However, that’s not my point. My point is the power of the e-mob, especially in the Young Adult category.
Some of my books could be considered YA. I do not market them as such, in part because of the lower sales rates, in part because of what I have read about the YA market in general. Those active on YA related social-media incline toward political correctness, woke-ness, and being oh-so-careful not to offend, at least until the definition of offensive shifts and they get caught. This is twice now in a year that a YA book has been attacked for not sticking with the proper narrative about slavery only happened to people of African descent.
Last year, the book had been published and had gotten very good initial reviews before someone began screaming about how incorrect, insensitive, hurtful, and horrible the book was. The e-mob stormed up with pitchforks, and the reviews changed to condemnations. But the book had been released, and was for sale.
This time, the author and publisher pulled it before it could be read by more than a few pre-release reviewers.
One of the things that made England so odd compared to Europe in the early 1700s was that censorship only began after printing. Someone could publish a work, a few copies got out, and only then did His Majesty’s government decry the work and order it removed or censored. On the mainland, pre-approval was the rule. We seem to be returning to the bad-old-days, where the king’s censors must give their imprimatur for a book to be released, and even then the author has to be wary. The goalposts move quickly and often, and today’s approved work might be offensive tomorrow.
This is one of the best reasons not to participate in social media to date. Orwell’s Two Minute Hate is alive and well. Struggle Sessions right out of Mao’s China and Stalin’s USSR have been resuscitated and are staged in 140 characters or less, as well as on other sites. It doesn’t matter that a young woman’s dream is destroyed, that a young man’s reputation is ruined and his life possibly endangered. That someone dared to express wrong-think and failed to remain in line is all that matters. Everyone must pile on to show their right-think and ideological purity. Over, and over, and over.
Next, people will not dare write anything that varies the least bit from the current Truth. And will wonder why young adults no longer want Young Adult books.