But while some of the social justice concerns percolating within YA fiction are legitimate, the explosive manner in which they’re expressed within YA Twitter is another story. Posing as urgent interventions to prevent the circulation of harmful tropes, the pile-ons are often based on selective excerpts pulled out of context from the advance copies of books most in the community haven’t read yet. Often, they feature critics operating on the basis of idiosyncratic ideas about the very purpose and nature of fiction itself, elevating tendentious interpretations of the limited snippets available to pass judgement on books before they have been released.
…Most adult readers across genres understand that representing a morally repugnant position as part of a broader narrative is not the same as endorsing that opinion, but this is the sort of obvious-to-everyone-else point YA Twitter tends to confuse or outright reject.
…Further heightening the drama, these pile-ons are often accompanied by claims that those who have been selected for dragging or excommunication have not only sinned against social justice, but pose a safety threat to others in the community.
…If a confused friend ever asks you to sum up the culture of YA Twitter in one sentence, “Imagine a white woman explaining that she is spreading unverifiable rumors about a first-time author of color in order to protect people of color” will do nicely.
…“….someone explain this to me. EXPLAIN IT RIGHT THE FUQ NOW,” she tweeted. “I don’t give a good god damn that this is an author of color,” she said later in the tweetstorm. “Internalized racism and anti-blackness is a thing and I…no.” The argument, such as it is, appears to be that because in our world, oppression isn’t blind to skin color, to write about a fantasy world in which it is is an act of “anti-blackness.”
…[T]o put something that resembles chattel slavery SO CLOSELY is distasteful,” opined another, the implication being this simply isn’t a subject to be written about. Among other critics, there seemed to be a lack of understanding that “slavery” doesn’t mean “American slavery” and that the concept has a broader context and history than that. “[R]acist ass writers, like Amélie Wen Zhao, who literally take Black narratives and force it into Russia when that shit NEVER happened in history—you’re going to be held accountable,” said one contributor to the pile-on. “Period.” (Parenthetical after the period: Russia has its own recent history of what is certainly one strain of slavery).
…The problem with this line of interpretation, again, is that it insists on viewing every fictional reference to slavery or indentured servitude, or to characters with dark skin, through an American lens, and judging them by that standard. It feels like an act of trope-colonization.
None of these details mattered to YA Twitter, anyway. Soon, many in the community, or those within it tweeting publicly about the controversy, at least, had reached the consensus that Blood Heir was undeniably, obviously racist, that it was a sign of something deeply wrong within YA publishing that it was going to be unleashed on the world, and that Zhao should be held responsible.
…According to Zhao’s own account, she simply wasn’t writing about anything like American-centered chattel slavery. Rather, the slavery references in her book stemmed from her concern with modern-day indentured servitude and human trafficking in the part of the world she grew up in. This, of course, renders even more questionable many of the critiques of her supposedly ham-fisted treatment of (the fantasy equivalent of) American slavery, and makes it even less likely she intended for May to be the approximate fantasy equivalent of a black character, rather than the approximate fantasy equivalent of (perhaps) an Asian one.
…We don’t know where Ana’s story might have led, but here is how this tale ends, for now at least: with a group of mostly American writers pillorying a novel few of them had read out of the misplaced conviction that the book was ‘about’ American slavery and handled that subject inappropriately; that therefore it was deeply racist; and that, further, its author was not only an offensive writer but a maniacally screenshotting danger to others. They spread those claims far and wide to the point where they were echoed and amplified by influential members of the literary community in question. As a result, the book, which was intended as a comment on contemporary slavery in a part of the world most Americans know nothing about, probably won’t be published and won’t give American readers a chance to read the perspective of an Asian writer inspired by an issue of urgent importance to many Asian people.