Okay, so I don’t usually recommend that authors respond to negative reviews. (I probably shouldn’t even be responding to this one, but when did I ever take my own advice? DO AS I SAY NOT AS I DO, KIDS.) Authors don’t have much to gain from highlighting negative reviews, though sometimes negative reviews are themselves incentivizing in terms of selling the book for you (“I hate how every time I open the book it dispenses free liquor and cookies and I hate liquor and cookies!”) I mean, reviewers have every right to not like a book for whatever reason. Even if that reason seems ‘wrong’ to the author, hey, whatever. This isn’t academic criticism. This is the Internet. Open to whomever to say whatever.
And even the review I’m about to showcase — which is a review for my upcoming YA, Under the Empyrean Sky — is a review that the reviewer has every right to maintain. This person doesn’t like certain things, hey, so be it.
Oh, also, as a caveat, this is not not not a winking nudgey unspoken suggestion for you to go all Internet Crusade on this reviewer. Author-led pitchfork mobs are creepy and constitute a kind of low-grade bullying and I’m not a fan — I just think this review offers up some stuff I wanna talk about. Please don’t go and respond or start shit with this reviewer. Kay? Kay.
So, the review:
“I was totally looking forward to this book as the plot sounded very interesting with the genetically modified corn angle. I almost stopped reading after just a few pages because I found the language extremely offensive. The teen lingo used by Cael and friends ruined this book for me. It wasn’t just a word here or there but very extensive in the first part. It does ease up as the book progresses but yuck! Could’ve been cleaned up and then very enjoyable as the plot is good.
The teen sexual content I also found offensive and with the language and sexual content I can’t recommend this book to anyone unless they especially are looking for that flavor of writing. This is the kind of book that kids read and think… well everyone’s doing it…. when they’re NOT. Not talking like that and not the other stuff as well.
[cutting one sentence due to a very light spoiler]
If 4% of the population is truly gay, I find it very contrived to find so many gay characters appearing all of a sudden. It’s only unique for the first how many times?”
Let’s talk a little bit about this book.
It has some profanity in it. Some of this profanity is of the “made-up” variety. Like, there’s a parlance these characters use in this world — they might say “Lord and Lady,” or “Jeezum Crow,” for instance. But they also use some mild profanity — crap, piss, ass, shit. (I don’t recall if I drop the f-bomb in here, but let’s all remember that PG-13 movies let you get away with one good f-bomb per film, by gosh and by golly.)
It has some sex in it. Mostly sex by suggestion — I’m not writing hardcore teen orgies. It’s sex painted by negative margins — more about what’s inferred rather than what’s explicitly described.
Further, the “gay character” thing. Yeah. I don’t know what the percentage of gay people in the world is, and in this case, I don’t much care — I think it helps to make sure that writers are thinking about characters who don’t all live on Heteronormative White Dude Mountain, and I wanted this character to be gay and it made sense to have that in the world and to make it reflect a part of the world (boys and girls in my sunny dustbowl dystopia are forcibly married off at the age of 17, and purely in heterosexual couplings).
Thing is, I think young adult books should reflect what it’s like to be a young adult.
I remember being a teenager. It was fucked up.
That time is frequently painted with this rosy kind of nostalgic glow (“These are the best times of your life”), but dude, dude, that’s so not true. It’s hard. Your brain is a cocktail of anger and sadness and lurching sexual need and confusion and fear and freedom and giddy anarchic expression. You’re still half-kid but now you’re also half-adult and nobody knows how to treat you — more kid or more adult? And just when they treat you like an adult you still prove you’re half-kid and when they treat you like a kid you show them how you’re capable of being an adult.
Throw that all into the context of an agricultural dystopia and… well.
Just a head’s up, Parents Who Think Their Kids Are Chaste Little Angels —
Teens have sex. Teens curse.
And that’s reflected in the book.
It’s a book I want adults to like, but it’s a book I want teens to read. And that means speaking all that pesky “teen lingo” (?!). YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED, PRUDISH HUMANS.
A few more quick tidbits on the book —
The book has a new tagline:
It also has a Booklist review:
The first book in Wendig’s Heartland trilogy sets the stage. Flotillas, peopled by the wealthy Empyreans, float above the Heartland, allowing the lowly Heartlanders to grow only Hiram’s Golden Prolific corn. This monstrous crop has taken over everything, leaving deformed, malnourished farmers and their families to survive on the government’s stingy handouts. Eighteen-year-old Cael and his longtime enemy Boyland and their crews are constantly pitted against one another, striving to earn the title of best scavengers. When Cael discovers an amazing row of real garden fruits and vegetables, he unearths not only a possible death sentence for him and his friends but also torture for his family and other Heartlander citizens. It’s a tense dystopian tale made more strange and terrifying by its present-day implications. The Heartland teens understand that they are pawns in the hands of the powerful, fed an insidious combination of hope and coercion to keep them all under Empyrean control. Escape only brings retribution to their families and friends. Cael has two more books to conquer this perversity, and it will be interesting to see how he does it.
Finally, I don’t think I listed this blurb the last time I talked about the book, but —
“Wendig brilliantly tackles the big stuff—class, economics, identity, love, and social change—in a fast-paced tale that never once loses its grip on pure storytelling excitement. Well-played, Wendig. Well-played.” —Libba Bray, author of the Gemma Doyle Trilogy, Going Bovine, and The Diviners
(Holy crap! Libba Bray! If you have not read The Diviners, holy shit, fix that, stat.)
The book comes out July 30th.