What I’m Listening to Now: What if it’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

I have this audiobook courtesy of one of my local libraries. Huzzah! This is the pick for this month’s teen book group at the local Barnes and Noble (that is attended entirely by adults, many of whom are either employees or former employees, so the discussions are excellent). The meeting is next week, so I have to get a wiggle on with this one. (Which is both exciting and annoying because I’m really into Pachinko right now.)

Adults, Teen Books, Important Conversations, and Our Responsibilities

I’ve been reading a lot about John Green and the accusations of sexual abuse and since I’m already on record as saying I don’t like John Green (the persona, mind, not his writing) I’m thrilled to itty bitty pieces that the authors of twitter have already stepped up to defend John Green and I dont’ have to. But, the original tumblr poster made non-sexual abuse claims and they need to be addressed.

First, in case you missed it, tumblr user virjn posted on tumblr that they thought John Green was a creep. Then, a bunch of people reblogged it, someone added something about John Green being a pedophile. John Green was tagged in a reblog. And, then John Green responded by saying that he does not sexually abuse children. Which was a libelous claim and I’m willing to believe that he’s telling the truth. And, it’s totally not the thing I want to talk about. I want to talk about the original post, the post that was hijacked by people who are in love with the outrage cycle or are just trolls or are just terrible people. (The hijacking itself is probably its own post but I don’t want to talk about that, either.) I want to talk about how the original poster and their feelings that John Green is creepy. John Green’s online persona squicked this person out enough that they posted about on tumblr. And, it is probably a fair bet that other men, young and old are doing the same thing and don’t understand why women find them off-putting.

Everyone who saw the original post missed an opportunity to explore why John Green sometimes comes off as creepy. And, before you say, “If you don’t like it, just unfollow John Green.” And, you’re right. On the internet, that’s an easy option. If John Green is making you uncomfortable, don’t read what he posts. But, people are going to creep you out and you can’t always ‘unfollow’ them. So, exploring why people creep you out and what other things that can be done about it is invaluable.

Sometimes people make us feel uncomfortable and we should trust those feelings. We might even want to try to figure out why we have those feelings and what can be done about it. Art, literature, and the media we consume give us opportunities to explore situations and life experiences that we might have an interest in. They also give us an opportunity to explore feelings that we might have. An important part of creating and consuming art, literature and media is the need to critique it(and John Green’s internet persona is something that is different from him as a person and so I’m considering it worthy of critique). We need to thoughtfully engage not only in the creation of things but in considering the pros and cons of things after they’ve been created.

As Teresa Jusino of The Mary Sue noted, John Green could have read the comment and said, “right, okay. I didn’t intend for you to feel this way. Your feelings are valid. Let’s talk about this.” John Green, as an adult who writes books for teens, had a tremendous opportunity to start a meaningful conversation about unequal power dynamics, feeling uncomfortable, and how to deal with it. He missed it. The other authors who came to his defense and shamed people for making light of actual rapes and sexual assault missed an opportunity As Camryn Garrett HuffPo noted, we may have just told a young woman not to trust her feelings which might lead to terrible future consequences. (That HuffPo piece is a great read, by the way). This isn’t necessarily on the authors to do this work. They aren’t responsible for always being their to listen and direct their fans. We, as adult readers of teen books, need to make sure that we are not missing these opportunities to have meaningful conversations when they come our way. We might not create the art, but we consume it and our lives create the contexts that the art exists in. As adults who read teen books if we do anything, we should be doing what we can to make space for teens in our conversations so that they can thoughtfully explore art, literature and media and have good examples of how to respond when something is problematic or makes them uncomfortable.