Discussion: YA, Literary Snobbery & Zoella

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Once again, an article has been published that that shames teenagers – especially teen girls – about what they read and who they look up to as role models. Zoella has most recently been criticised, being blamed for a ‘decline’ in literacy skills. The Daily Mail‘s article ‘Is Zoella to blame for falling reading skills? Decline blamed on pupils sticking to basic books rather than more ‘challenging’ texts’ is highly offensive, and blames teens for sticking to books like Harry Potter and Girl Online for the decline in literacy skills. They state that:

‘Teenagers are falling dramatically behind in their reading because they stick to children’s authors like JK Rowling rather than more ‘challenging’ books, a major study shows…’

‘…Vlogger Zoe Sugg’s books were ‘not as challenging’ as he would like ‘given that they’re popular with secondary aged children’.’

Another article from The Guardian reads less as a criticism of Zoella in regard to her supposed part to play in ‘declining teen literacy’, but reads more like a hate piece filled with jealousy and sexism with little evidence to back up claims that she is to blame for teenager illiteracy. Instead, the article seems to diverge completely off the point of teen literacy and instead spends the entire time painting Zoella as self-absorbed and vain. This barely talks about declining teen literacy, and instead more about discrediting Zoella for a reason I cannot even begin the fathom.

Zoe Sugg, best known as Zoella, is a NYT best selling author, has over 11 million subscribers on YouTube, is an influential social media presence, an advocate for mental health, and also runs a highly successful book club which encourages teens to read. Her book club with WHSmiths features important books such as If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo (trans M/C + author) and A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness(dealing with grief + loss). Someone please explain to me how can this possibly be a bad thing? Yes, her reading picks could be more intersectional and diverse but she’s has encouraged teens who aren’t big readers to pick up a book. Forcing teens to read what educators and the government deem as ‘challenging’ books demotivates teens to read. It wasn’t Shakespeare or Of Mice and Men that got me into blogging and reading, it was YA books. YA books are inclusive, relatable and helps teens to learn to love reading. Isn’t that what’s the most important thing? YA books are complex, and they often tackle important themes and issues. An example being The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas to be released tomorrow. Educators and the media more often than not deem YA literature as juvenile and uncomplicated. We all know that the opposite is true. Such criticisms reek of sexism as YA is primarily dominated by women, in terms of both authors and readers. Even though YA was and is spearheaded by women such as JK Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, and Suzanne Collins, it is John Green that people still think saved YA literature.

Teenagers want to read about people and teenagers like them – not middle aged white guys. And adults believing they know what teenagers should read – or believing they have a right to dictate what they read is insulting to teenagers and shows just how out of touch they are. They have probably never read a YA book in their life.

Belitting and shaming what teenagers read won’t make them want to read what YOU want them to read – they will just choose not to read at all. We need to foster that relationship teenagers have with books into one that is positive and fun – where they read out of pleasure and enjoyment not obligation.

Zoella is boosting young girls confidence and giving them a voice. It’s important – don’t dismiss it.

All of this isn’t to say that isn’t to say that there isn’t a decline in teenage literacy. I don’t follow education policies and studies such as this to know whether or not it is accurate, but Zoella is far from blame as she actively encourages reading and I’m sure many teenagers are picking up a book right now because of her. However, perhaps the education system and government need to look from within – look at their outdated syllabus that doesn’t engage teens, look at the horrific funding cuts to schools, look at their funding cuts to school and community libraries. Access for a lot of teenagers is a big thing – not everyone is privileged enough to afford to buy books and cutting funding to libraries is detrimental to teen literacy – not Zoella. Place the blame where it actually falls.

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