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Young Adult Fiction’s Online Commissars

In the late 1930s, more than 40 years before my family emigrated from the Soviet Union to the United States, my maternal grandmother had a chance to become a published children’s author. She had been writing short stories for her two children, and my grandfather encouraged her to send them to a publisher. To her surprise, she heard from an editor. When she came to see him, he told her he liked the stories very much, except for one problem: they lacked a Soviet spirit. But that, he reassured her, could be easily fixed: for instance, in the story where a young girl who befriends a hedgehog in the woods and promises she’ll always be his friend, she could just say that she gives her word as a Young Pioneer. (The Pioneers were the Soviet mass organization for middle-school-age children.)

My grandma was not a closet anti-Soviet rebel, but she did quietly rebel at being told how and what to write. She thanked the editor, picked up her stories, went home, and never tried to get published again.

In recent years, with the rapidly advancing progressive politicization of American and more generally Western culture, I have often thought of that episode from my family lore. The ideological battles in the Young Adult fiction community, first chronicled a year and a half ago by Kat Rosenfield on New York magazine’s Vulture site, are a particularly obvious parallel.

The latest skirmish in that battle is playing itself out right now, and it’s an ugly one. A Chinese-American immigrant, Amélie Wen Zhao, has been bullied and shamed into withdrawing her debut novel, Blood Heir, due for release in June, after a Twitter mob denounced it as “racist” based on snippets from advance review copies. Zhao, who had a three-book deal and had been hailed as an exciting new voice in Young Adult literature, posted an apology for the “pain” her book had caused:

Jesse Singal has the details in Tablet. Needless to say, the controversy was not about racism or bigotry as anyone outside the world of “social justice” activism would understand it, but about supposedly racist “coding” that requires the fine lens of critical theory to discern.

Blood Heir—which I admit I haven’t read, something I have in common with most of its detractors—is set in a fantasy universe where some people, known as “Affinites,” have an innate psychic ability to manipulate various materials including flesh and blood; they are treated as freaks, imprisoned and enslaved. The heroine, Anastacya, is a princess whose Affinity is kept hidden until her emperor father is killed and she is framed for his murder and forced to flee the palace. The similarity to the Anastasia story is obviously not coincidental; the story takes place in a “Cyrilian Empire” loosely based on Tsarist Russia.

The backlash apparently started because another YA fiction author, L.L. McKinney, tweetstormed a tantrum over the publisher’s blurb describing the world of the book as one where “oppression is blind to skin color.” “EXPLAIN IT RIGHT THE FUQ NOW,” demanded McKinney. “How is [this] part of the blurb? In Twenty FUCKING nineteen.” Apparently, Zhao’s fictional narrative in which people in a fictional world are enslaved with no regard to skin color amount to denial of real-world racism as well as appropriation of black suffering. (Presumably, that means any portrayal of the Spartacus rebellion is out of the question.) The outrage alert was also triggered by reports that a “black woman” in the book—actually a ten-year-old child described as having “tawny” or “bronze” skin and bright blue eyes—dies saving Ana’s life. On the basis of such things, Zhao was blasted not merely for insensitivity but for “internalized racism,” “blatant bigotry” and “anti-blackness.”

(My favorite part of this campaign is the comment, apparently now scrubbed from Twitter but reported by Singal, asserting that it was racist to “take Black narratives [of slavery] and force it into Russia when that shit NEVER happened in history.” In actual history, Russian serfdom, which was only slightly less odious than American slavery and had many similarities to it, was abolished just two years before the emancipation of slaves in the United States.)

At present, it’s unclear what’s going to happen to Blood Heir. Faced with widespread negative reactions, some of the mob leaders suggested that claims of the book being killed were ridiculously exaggerated and that Zhao was simply taking the time to revise it and make it “better.”

Whether that will work is doubtful. In a similar controversy a couple of years ago, the publication of Keira Drake’s young adult fantasy-romance novel, The Continent, was delayed for a rewrite after the book was blasted for having a “white savior” narrative and stereotyping Native Americans as savages. Drake’s book tells the story of a teenage girl from a vaguely British civilization who gets stranded during a tourist trip to a continent torn by tribal warfare and eventually finds love and discovers the tribes’ humanity. In the new version, the young heroine was given a part-tribal ancestry, the natives lost their darker skin hues, and a conversation in which a minor character makes bigoted comments about them was padded with lines rebuking such “outmoded” thinking. When the revised book was unveiled, the critics were unappeased. One blogger wrote that the heroine’s tribal background felt like “a shield that gives Drake a way to say that this is not a White savior story” (no kidding!) and that the new dialogue felt “forced.” It’s a bit like railing against nudity in a painting and then complaining that the underwear painted in to cover it up looks preposterous.

Notably, the YA culture wars are largely about the Left eating its own. The targeted books almost invariably get attacked for things intended to promote “social justice.” Drake apparently meant for Continent to be an exploration of “privilege” and blindness to the suffering of the less advantaged. Before the storm, Zhao wrote that she wanted Blood Heir to be a reflection on the mistreatment of the “different,” from her vantage point as “a foreigner in Trump’s America.”

Two other recent books that have sparked similar outcries, The Black Witch by Laurie Forest and American Heart by Laura Moriarty, featured young heroines who outgrew their society’s biases and rebelled against injustice—one in a fantastic universe where the racial prejudice was directed at magical races such as faeries and shape-shifters, the other in a future America where Muslims are interned in detention camps. Both received enthusiastic advance praise for their anti-bigotry themes, only to be gleefully trashed when a flagged as offensive: “[W]ritten for the type of white person who … thinks that they deserve recognition and praise for treating [people of color] like they are actually human,” jeered a review of The Black Witch.

Obviously, people who are either sincere “social justice” true believers (as Zhao seems to be) or want to be part of the “club” are especially susceptible to pressure. But that doesn’t mean young adult fiction writers can simply ignore identity issues—at least, not if they want mainstream publication and promotions. Many publishers now use “sensitivity readers” to vet manuscripts, which doesn’t always keep the mob at bay: American Heart was apparently cleared by not one, but two Muslim sensitivity readers. And there’s the matter of reviews: After the American Heart hate-fest, Kirkus Reviews, the premier publishing industry site, changed its earlier positive review of the book and took away its star.

The Blood Heir debacle is a stark reminder that objectionable tropes and “codes” can be found in virtually anything. White character helps a “POC”? “White savior narrative.” Black character helps white character, especially at some cost? The “Magical Negro” trope. White and “POC” characters are perfect equals? Colorblindness. Zhao was attacked for creating a fictional world in which most slaves are white; had she created one with black slavery, she could have been attacked as a racist who can’t imagine black people in any world as anything other than slaves.  (Meanwhile, less than four years ago, a short story cycle by the late Ursula LeGuin set in a world with white slaves and black masters was hailed as part of her “literary project of intersectional justice.”) The standards are so flexible and arbitrary that anyone can become the heretic du jour.

Speaking of “intersectional,” l’affaire Zhao is also a pretty potent demonstration of what a sham “intersectionality” is, at least if it’s meant to integrate all groups and identities into a joint liberation movement. Zhao’s status as an Asian-American and an immigrant earned her only stern lectures on how Asians are susceptible to “anti-blackness” and can be insensitive to the American cultural context if they grew up outside it. Zhao’s own cultural context—she has explained that the indentured servitude in her novel was based on human trafficking and forced servitude in Asia—was treated as completely irrelevant.

*     *     *

Is online bullying of writers who transgress against “social justice” norms a form of censorship? Some scoff at the notion, arguing that “anti-SJW” commentators are actually the ones attacking a basic form of free speech: criticism of a book. But there is a massive difference between criticism and public shaming.  A collective attack that includes such declarations as, “[R]acist ass writers, like Amélie Wen Zhao … you’re going to be held accountable” is less criticism than a show trial.

No, there is nothing wrong with criticizing books (or other works) for anything, including the way they deal with race, ethnicity, religion, and so forth. There is also nothing wrong with listening to critics. In the 1860s, Charles Dickens made changes in the second volume of Oliver Twist after a correspondence with a Jewish fan about his portrayal of the villain Fagin, toning down the constant references to Fagin as “the Jew.” But to even compare this to Zhao caving to the online mob over abstruse accusations of “coded” racism is absurd.

I don’t know how good Blood Heir is. (The excerpt posted at the book’s Barnes and Noble page, which is still intact, is quite well-written; on the other hand, the plot seems a bit heavy on cliché.) But its cancellation, even if it’s eventually published in revised form, is a sign of an alarming trend, one that is by no means limited to young adult fiction. The notion that books can cause “harm” if they don’t handle identity issues in accordance with ideological diktat is a prescription for censorship no matter how that censorship is carried out. It’s what George Orwell called “the prevention of literature”—quite literal prevention, in the case of Blood Heir.

Orwell’s 1946 essay is quite relevant here, since it ends with a warning that liberty of thought—and literature with it—is not only doomed under actual totalitarian regimes, but endangered when writers in free countries adopt a “totalitarian outlook.” Current “social justice” ideology, which insists that all attitudes or tropes that may “uphold oppression” in some form must be ruthlessly eradicated, is fundamentally totalitarian. It may not have guns or gulags at its disposal, and despite its considerable influence it is certainly very far from having total control of society. But its zeal to remake culture and consciousness is strongly reminiscent of China’s Cultural Revolution and Soviet Russia.

A hyperbolic comparison? To be sure, no Young Adult fiction writer is in danger of being shot, starved, or sent to work in the mines for political transgressions. And yet when dozens of people post denunciations of a “disgusting” novel while stressing that they have no intention of reading it—much as Soviet citizens once did in letters to newspapers denouncing Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago—and bullied writers express gratitude for the correction they have received, I find the Soviet echoes unmistakable. On the bright side, this ugly episode may serve as a wake-up call for a number of liberals who think “social justice” culture is fundamentally benign despite a few excesses. Between the censorship-by-pressure and the public vilification of young female minority immigrant, this scandal is not a good look for the identitarian Left. One can always hope for a silver lining.


Cathy Young is a Russian-born American journalist and author. She is a columnist for Newsday and a contributing editor for Reason magazine andArcDigital. Her work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, the Weekly Standard, Foreign Policy, and Slate. You can follow her on Twitter 


  1. Heike says

    It doesn’t matter that these SJWs haven’t read the book. What matters is that they get to prevent you from reading the book. It’s power.

    “The power to cause pain is the only power that matters, the power to kill and destroy, because if you can’t kill then you are always subject to those who can, and nothing and no one will ever save you.”
    — Ender Wiggin

    But as you correctly note, the far Left has gone from kidnapping people in the night to metaphorical book-burning. So, you know, progress.

    • jakesbrain says

      @Heike: Secretly they long to get back to the days of kidnapping people in the night. See the Austen Heinz case — the wish which they dare not speak aloud is to kill those who disagree with them, but they’ll settle for making it impossible to support yourself so you starve in the gutter.

  2. The thing I don’t understand is why these Twitter mobs can’t just be ignored? Don’t respond to them. Or how about don’t even have a Twitter account?

    • Dark Matter says

      Because, as in this case, the Twitter mobs control your possibility of being published. Or, more broadly in many other cases, of earning a living at all. When the online mob can destroy your life with but a few accusatory words, it’s hard to simply ignore them.

      • Dark Matter says

        By the way, my comment isn’t intended to suggest that the mob should be supplicated to, but that simple old-fashioned ignoring isn’t particularly effective when the mob wields as much influence as it does.

      • > the Twitter mobs control your possibility of being published

        By a publishing house full of SJWs. But she could self publish. Admittedly there wouldn’t be the advance or much of the other goodies and an editor might be harder to come by, but surely it’s better to get your hard work out there for people to see. It’s not exactly my choice of reading material, but I’d buy a copy just to help show she’s not alone.

        • david of Kirkland says

          Twitter “mobs” are just “lots of tweets.” You can ignore them. If you choose to engage because you say they have power, then they have power over you indeed.

        • V 2.0 says

          Yes. And since the Twitter mob has called attention to her, a self published book might do quite well especially since the tide seems to be turning a bit thanks to these demands becoming more obviously ridiculous.

    • Brill says

      “My commentary to this poem, now in the hands of my readers, represents an attempt to sort out those echoes and wavelets of fire, and pale phosphorescent hints, and all the many subliminal debts to me.”

    • Hyzenthlay says

      I think it’s unfortunate that this author caved in and apologized rather than taking a stand, or just ignoring the mobs. But the publishing world is heavily influenced by social media and counts on word of mouth through Twitter and such to promote books, so if a publisher is afraid a book might provoke controversy of this nature, they’ll reject it on those grounds alone. The Twitter mobs have power in terms of which books get published and reach a wide audience…so in a broader sense it’s not just a matter of ignoring them. That won’t eliminate their influence.

      Yeah, sure, authors can self-publish, but the average self-published book sells only a tiny handful of copies. YA novels, in particular, are now being very heavily monitored and controlled by the ideological police, which means the Twitter zealots are shaping the minds of a generation.

      But, like the writer of this article, I am hoping this incident serves as a wake-up call for the left. Because yeah, this is not a good look for them.

    • Justine Sacco. We can’t just ignore the twitter mob because of Justine Sacco. Basically she made a joke, got into a plane, de facto ignored the twitter mob and the outrage that was brewing and when she got off the plane she learned that she had been fired and of course there was at least a dude with a phone to document here learning the news. Apologizing to the mob doesn’t work as it’s never good enough, appeasing the mob by being the bigger man and changing the hurtful bit in your book doesn’t work as shown in the article, and ignoring the mob doesn’t always work either because the wave of outrage just builds up without checks.

      So… addressing the controversy while explaining why the outrage is ridiculous? Maybe that’s the path, the narrow, narrow path.

  3. Sally says

    This is called censorship. These mobs decide what the world is allowed to read and “burn” these works through social pressure. It’s disgusting. This is a fiction book, right? Fiction isn’t true. It’s made up stuff, and you know what? I can read it and decide if I like it. They don’t get to decide for me.

    There is no defense for this crazy thinking being given any weight. Who knows what great, thought-provoking works we’ve been robbed of because these people are playing mind police.

    In the end, it’s a scared, small intellect that acts the way these “warriors” act. I’m just tired of having their nonsense steal from those who can think in a way that expands and benefits humanity.

    • True enough, but Zhao and the other authors described here consider themselves to be social justice warriors, and as such willingly submit to the bullying in vain hope that they will be accepted as one of them.

      No, the ‘great, thought provoking works’ I want to read are by authors who gleefully give bullies, online and otherwise, the finger and publish anyway. Why pay any attention whatever to critics who can’t even spell their cuss words correctly?

      • david of Kirkland says

        Yes, if your ideas can’t be expressed because you fear twitter mobs, your ideas likely aren’t worth my time. As the other quillette story shows, these attacks often increase sales among those do not suffer tyrants.

  4. The novel’s plot sounds extremely derivitive and clichéd including the intended anti-discrimination message with what sounds like a fairly heavy handed metaphore for modern anti racist ideas. I have read such books since I was a young teenager more than forty years ago for example John Wyndham’s chrysalis. This makes the criticism even more inexplicable. It is only treading a path followed by the majority of such novels.

    The solution is:
    Never apologise to irrational criticism.
    Publishers to ignore this sort of criticism. The purchasing public don’t care and editorial judgements based on it will in general lead to poor sales.

    • You are making the assumption that the public does the purchasing of YA books. The major buyers of YA lit are librarians. You’ll never guess the demographic makeup of librarians in the US.

      Like most identity nonsense, YA lit depends a great deal on government support.

  5. Dan Love says

    Young adult fiction has been drowning in socially leftist ideological indoctrination and virtue signaling for quite awhile. That these authors are being punished for no longer being far enough to the left, by no movement of their own, gives me a welcomed chuckle.

    Poetic justice keeps tears from rolling down my cheek.

    Schadenfreude keeps the violin I play quite small.

    Those who eat others make for the tastiest meals.

    • Lightning Rose says

      I would publish the book(s), take the money, delete Twitter, and tell any critics if they don’t like it, don’t buy it. The only “power” online comment mobs have is the “power” you grant them. They also have the attention span of a fruit fly–if they don’t smell blood, on to the next faux “outrage.”

    • david of Kirkland says

      But socially rightist ideological indoctrination and virtue signaling keeps you afloat?
      Your disgust sounds like their disgust.

      • Dan Love says

        @david of Kirkland

        …Literally the first time in my life someone thought I was rightist. Anti-left does not imply right.

        Disgust, David? No. A chuckle could not be uttered with disgust. With poetically justified condescension? Yes.

        Laughter keeps me afloat.

        As for virtue signaling… You’re projecting. Nothing I wrote signals virtue, even on my terms. I simply wrote an honest description of my feelings, something virtue signaling defies.

    • Joseph says

      Great comment. Too many of the books I encountered as a teacher and parent were’worthy’ but boring. There always seemed to be a message

  6. Ginger says

    Not one popular book listed on goodreads has been immune to accusations of leaving out/giving a diminished role/poorly portraying/appropriating certain types of people or cultures. It’s inevitable.

    For some odd reason, people continue to give power to the SJWs, which is why they have become full time twitter outrage peddlers, who then embrace socialism, rather than consider why other people are capable of reaching the middle or upper middle class.

    Love Cathy Young, btw. The best.

  7. Alice Williams says

    I do not feel any pity for authors such as Zhao who are complicit in having created the monster which now threatens to devour them. By the way, what IS young adult fiction? When I was young there were books for children and then you were launched into the world of grown up literature.

    • Here, here. Most of us fifties kids were big readers – no TV or screen entertainment, books were it – and by the time we were 12, 13 we were into adult fiction. My parents allowed me to read anything I liked. No dreary socially purposeful dramas in various genres suitable for my age group was inflicted upon me. It was up to me to figure out the world from any books I cared to pluck off the adult shelves.
      As far as I can tell young adult fiction is mostly brain-washing whoolie-doollie which aims to show young adults the world of single parent families, gender dysphoric teens, indigenous misery etc while instructing them in the horrors of racism, islamophobia, refugee misery, sexism and so forth and so on.

      • Yes, and now, cable and Netflix are inundated with stuff inspired by this YA approach to narrative. All the young writers in Hollywood grew up with this junk and that’s all they know.

    • Unless you’re older than your late 60’s…Young Adult Fiction was around when you were growing up. Heinlein’s juvenile novels were published starting in 1947…and I’m sure he’s not the first.

      • Born 1944 – you work it out.
        And Heinlein’s take on life was vastly different to what’s around now. His big theme was freedom.
        Stranger in a Strange Land blew my 17 yr old brains out.

        • TarsTarkas says

          Heinlein pumped out a lot of what would be called YA SF (or even teen SF) well into the 60’s when he started branching out. Even Moon is a Harsh Mistress could be called YA despite the protagonist/narrator definitely not being YA. Pretty much all of the SF in his era could be called YA, because that was pretty much the market then.

          Personally I found SSL weird and pretentious and a bit formulaic myself.

          • Sure now, I probably would find faults with SSL as well but for a 17-year-old in 1961, it was a knock-out and highly original.
            Heinlein’s books could I guess be called YA if you want to nick-pick (except that term wasn’t around then) but adults went for them as well and I think his aim was a broad audience.
            He often used his fiction to preach (especially the later ones), which was off-putting but his preaching was freedom – quite different to the totalitarian socialist sludge/ virtuous identity politics infecting YA today.

          • peanut gallery says

            You’re probably right, but having read it when I was younger helped. I’d have to read it again to develop a new opinion.

  8. E. Olson says

    The story of 19th and 20th Century progress: Those who can: do. Those who can’t: teach.

    21st Century progress?: Those who can: do. Those who can’t: teach Social Justice against those who do (i.e. Males, Whites, Asians, Jews, Christians, Heterosexuals).

    • Dark Matter says

      In fairness, there are also plenty of black, latino, gay, muslim, etc. doers who are also “taught” social justice at metaphorical gunpoint.

      • E. Olson says

        There would be far more black, latino, gay, muslim, etc. doers if they weren’t brainwashed into believing they are all victims. After all, why should they try if the system is rigged against them? Much smarter to wait for all those reparation payments.

  9. Peter Kriens says

    The thing that puzzles me most about this story, and similar stories about the the pressure from the social media, is why is there no publisher standing up and say: “Bring us your books!” Not sure if Twitter is filtering the tweets I see but the far majority of reactions on her ‘apology’ are supporting her and not the activists. Reading the Guardian comments one often has the feeling that its readers are not particularly aligned with the social activism that its journalists seem to strive for. Interestingly, a lot of comments are not alt-right but feel the left started to mean something very different than what they grew up with. Notice that The Atlantic, Vox, The Cut, etc. have stopped comments, I expect that the journalists prefer that their business people do not see how wide the gap is becoming.

    Where are the companies that take advantage of this opportunity? Where is the Publisher that makes a stand, where is the movie producer that makes a good comedy about social activism?

    • Doctor Locketopus says

      > Reading the Guardian comments one often has the feeling that its readers are not particularly aligned with the social activism that its journalists seem to strive for.

      Considering that they’re constantly begging for money, I’m not sure they have all that many regular readers left.

      Apparently Ms Zhao has taken shots at “Trump’s America” in the past. Perhaps she’ll figure out eventually that it’s wasn’t “Trump’s America” that made a human sacrifice of her and her career.

      • JWatts says

        “Perhaps she’ll figure out eventually that it’s wasn’t “Trump’s America” that made a human sacrifice of her and her career.”

        This reminds me of the Super Bowl commercial last night for Hulu’s The Hand Maiden’s Tale. In the mind of the Left, “Trump’s America” is just one half step away from a theocracy.

        And maybe they are correct. But if so, the trend points to a Left wing eco theocracy.

        • TarsTarkas says

          It’s always funny how the only theocracies and wannabe theocracies out that are the ones too many progressives support or consider allies. Like Iran, the Taliban, ISIS, Al-Qaeda . . .

      • Phoenix44 says

        Well I am not an American and i am not a big fan of Trump, but if Zhao cannot see the difference between Trump allowing her to say whatever she wants about him and her “friends” on the Left censoring her, then she is not going to get my sympathy.

    • “Bring us your books” indeed. If there is a market for SJW fiction, someone should cash in on it. Given that we don’t see that, it seems that the purchasing and book reading public doesn’t want it in significant quantity. So why would a publisher or author pander to an audience that doesn’t wield significant market power?

    • Robert Franklin says

      PK – My thoughts exactly. The fact is that, if a publisher stood up to the mob, the book would sell well (due to the publicity) and the mob would lose most of its power.

      • david of Kirkland says

        So why don’t you be such a publisher? Those who want others to carry out their best ideas are all of the same ilk.

        • TarsTarkas says

          Would-be authors need to converse with or meet with Larry Correia. He’s good at telling the SJWs, often unprintably, where to go. And he’s successful at it and at making money publishing books too..

  10. Emmanuel says

    When I see how eager left-wing activists are to devour one another, I have to assume they taste delicious.

  11. Doctor Locketopus says

    > “EXPLAIN IT RIGHT THE FUQ NOW,” demanded McKinney. “How is [this] part of the blurb? In Twenty FUCKING nineteen.”

    Ah, a foul-mouthed bully. Just what I’m looking for in children’s literature.

    • Dan Love says

      @Doctor Locketopus

      Lol. And what’s with the “Q”? It’s just strange. Like, why? Especially since he uses the “ck” in literally the few words that follows.

    • Barbara says

      And whiter than the average polar bear despite her black characters. Seems a bit of projection here.

  12. Its like this group of activists has taken the place of the 19th century Victorian moralists, except unlike those people the activist class has little redeeming qualities. Mostly underpaid and foul minded they exert some bizarre amount of pressure through a glorified version of IRC.

    I wish I knew a better strategy than to mercilessly mock them at every turn and visibly transgress their boundaries so that they know people think they are ridiculous, but that’s all that really comes to mind.

    • Alice Williams says

      SJWs have replaced religion with identity politics and everyone who does not toe their ideological line becomes a ‘sinner’ and all their misdemeanours ‘sins’.

  13. Oh. The irony of the YA readers’ sensitivity. You abhor communism but adores and worships damaging ideas of romance. Like Maas’ encouragement of “rapey romance” or Clare’s “romantic incest” that 13 year olds down to 8 year olds just luuuv. They love it so much, they make up a big bulk of those toxic navy of fanatics.
    How many of them will encounter predatory males/females, maybe 16 years old or older, who will abuse them with thier own dubious consent? Afterall, IT IS NOT RAPE IF THE PERP IS SOOOO HOT, AMIRITE? Even if that hot bad boy is an abusive drug addict who likes to use knives and bullets. And, don’t forget the handcuffs. Those are just soooo sexy. Like it is sexy to be handcuffed to a heater while he uses a teen sexually.
    But, noooo, we should ban and bully a book which probably shows how a very different culture works. Or, maybe, it just uses “communism” as an insignificant plot device, purely superficial compared to the “romance”. Like any YA novels nowadays who just uses the ideas of “communism,” “emperialism,” “slavery,” “famine,” “starvation,” and, the most favorite, “rebellion” to spice up the cheesy romance. It would have been much more interesting if any YA book shows how a Young Adult sees and experiences honest-to-goodnest “communism.” A book that invites a decent discussion and rhetoric not the acceptance and idolatry of indecent and downright criminal concepts.

  14. Barney Doran says

    This whole social justice apology syndrome is starting to remind me of those scenes from Vietnamese re-education camps after the war. South Vietnamese prisoners (and they were prisoners for no other reason than they were not declared communists) were forced to admit to a list of scripted ‘social’ crimes before other prisoners and their communist captors. After which they , of course, had to apologize. And then the re-education began.

  15. I keep hearing about these “sensitivity readers.” Couldn’t that be construed as racist? The implication is that one person can speak for an entire race to determine what is or is not offensive. That suggests that all members of that race feel and think the same way.

    • Dark Matter says

      I see a similar thing in my business (I work at a major entertainment company who does a ton of licensing). When we have, say, a film with predominantly black characters and license products based on said film, there is a black advisory group that’s brought in to ensure our licensing materials are acceptably sensitive to the black audience.

      I’ve always found it rather abhorrent – as if any one message or portrayal can acceptably capture all black (or any) people’s opinions, desires, or interests.

      • TarsTarkas says

        It’s a scam designed to placate the grievance activists using money originally earmarked for actual filming.

    • Sensitivity reading = institutionalized race hustling. $100/hr! You can also hire people to evaluate illustration “for sensitivity” since people are no longer permitted to portray other races in art. Of course, the mob will destroy people regardless.

  16. northernobserver says

    Just say no to ideological policing. Just say no, FU McNobody.

  17. Adam Prime says

    “Sensitivity readers” is an oxymoron. Someone with a job (even if that job is sensitivity reader) will never have access to the same insane realm that a shiftless tumblerina lives in all day.

  18. “An important section of the American intelligentsia has now completed the transformation of a real country in the Middle East into a parable for their own country’s racial problems.”
    Matti Friedman in a Twitter comment on Michelle Alexander’s 1/19/19 NYT op-ed about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict

    “The narrative and history of slavery in the United States is not something I can, would, or intended to write…”
    Amelie Wen Zhao, To The Book Community: An Apology

    The arrogance of viewing all the world’s complexities through the narrow lens of American Black/White conflict is astounding; it is also dangerously simplistic.

      • Doctor Locketopus says

        People who have read something besides Marxist heresies (i.e., the various “victim studies” pseudo-disciplines) have a variety of analytical tools at their disposal.

        Even if they’re Americans.

  19. Morgan Foster says

    I would have had more respect for Ms. Zhao if she had immediately responded to L.L. McKinney’s tweet with an even greater degree of foul-mouthed aggression.

    But instead she responded to the mob by getting down on her knees and offering a false apology in hopes of being spared. It didn’t work, as it never works, and she can be written off as having been too weak to survive in this world.

    Let this be a lesson to the Chinese community in the United States.

  20. C Young says

    > it was racist to “take Black narratives [of slavery] and force it into Russia when that shit NEVER happened in history.”

    Beautiful example of the mono-cultural nature of multiculturalism, of the provincialism of the left’s internationalists.

    Reminds me of the time a US news anchor referred to Nelson Mandela as an ‘African-American leader’.

    • david of Kirkland says

      There is irony in the breathless declarations of love for immigrants and multi-culturalism, and then attack immigrants for not staying in their cultural lane.

    • Pretty shameful for a writer not to know word origins: ‘slaver’ comes from ‘slav’ referring to slaves kidnapped by the Turks. Who did indeed not differentiate all that much as to whom they enslaved.

      • TarsTarkas says

        They preferred Christians because they found that converted Christians fought more fiercely for Allah than native-born Muslims. The original Mamluks and the Janissaries were mostly foreign-born.

  21. Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

    I wish I could find a copy of a cartoon I once saw from the time of the French Revolution. It might have been in Punch. Several frames, the first shows Robespierre guillotining all the Enemies of the Revolution, then all the revolutionaries themselves, then everyone else in France, then the executioner, then finally him guillotining himself.

    Seriously tho, since the forces of sanity seem impotent to resist the still rising tide of SJW madness, perhaps we might yet be saved in sort of deus ex machina way by the woke simply eating each other, as many have commented. Maybe deus ex machina isn’t the right trope, but you get me — the salvation at the last moment, when all hope was thought lost sorta thing, like in War of the Worlds when all the Martians catch cold and die.

  22. Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says


    “Asians are susceptible to “anti-blackness”

    We are seeing something interesting: the loss of Victimhood. It will soon be official: Asians are White. Jews have been White for some time now. The holy anointing oil of Victimhood cannot be spread around too liberally. Even homosexuals seem in danger of loosing Status. As eagle chicks try to push each other out of the nest so as to have mom and dad’s sole attention, so the Victims want all the Oppression of the Patriarchy for themselves. For ‘Oppression’ read affirmative action, quotas, special privileges of all kinds, etc.

  23. Here’s what is always missing in these discussions: Why do a tiny fraction of people have so much power?

    Every time someone publishes something alerting us to the SJW social media mob – whether it’s college campuses, a single Tweet by a random person in a country of 100s millions, and here, a few tweets by crazypeople – the Gatekeepers cave. This is not inevitable. Why does it happen?

    WHY? Why does anyone care what a few crazypeople say?
    The answer is most people don’t.
    But the people who have the *most* power – politicians, university intellectuals and high ranking bureaucrats, billionaire owners at Silicon Valley – inevitable cave in two seconds to literally 3 random crazypeople.

    What is the mechanism? Why?

    IN part the media amplifies it for reasons of their own – it’s cheap news, it gives them an illusion of control over social media nad most of all, it gives them power in the Club.

    But why are people such cowards? Why are we succumbing to these bullies who have no real power? They are not the government (yet)? Why did this Asian writer even apologize?

    • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says


      It may have started out as three crazy people, but the disease is contagious and we have a cascade effect. I’d like to know how it became so virulent too. Like the emporor’s new clothes, belief is compulsory. But the Warriors now have real power. Real people are having their lives ruined.

      • Robert Franklin says

        RA – It’s become a cascade effect because people do what Zhao did. These people have zero power but what we give them.

        • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

          @Robert Franklin

          True. All to true. We let this happen. I recall a powerful post on another article that hit the nail on the head when it said that our desire for civility has kept us civil long past the point where sane people should have put their feet down.

    • TarsTarkas says

      Bots, bots, bots, bots, bots, bots, bots, bots, wonderful bots, wonderful bots!

    • Doctor Locketopus says

      > What is the mechanism? Why?

      I commend Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer to your attention.

    • Rev. Wazoo! says

      @ d

      Use Occam’s Razor to cut through the camouflage: the cry-bullies haven’t much power but are essential cover for bosses, HR staffers, Diversicrats, faculty who are (or aspire to be) part-time Diversicrats and general rentiers. Writing off the occasional promising book or well-qualified candidate for a position is a small price to pay for the power to advance yourself and your friends at the expense of anyone outside your self-aggrandising circle.

      The creed they espouse allows them to exercise essentially arbitrary power thus allowing them to hire their old school friend with the justification they fit the diversity goals or hire one which doesn’t fit those goals by declaring them an “ally” because they recite the approved cant. Either way, objective criteria can be ignored and personal in-groups prioritised which is a boon to management empire builders. It takes a long time for the systemic spread of this corruption to topple an organisation though BuzzFeed, Huffpost et al seem to be facing a day of reckoning. Universities and other subsidised orgs. might never reach that day without intervention.

      Interestingly, this corruption shows the strength of post-modernist theory not despite but because of its hypocrisy, inevitably deleterious effects and outright mendacity. Control of language and narrative indeed confers power to benefit one’s self and in-group if all others (including whistle-blowers) are silenced by the threat of social ostracism, termination of employment etc., hence the zealous suppression of all other speech. Believe them when they declare that words are power.

      They’re sincere in their belief that words are power and that everything is about oppression and know which side they are on: the oppressors. To the degree they can get people to believe and act on their verbiage, they get the power to advance themselves and their in-group. Again, Occam’s Razor shows this to be simplest explanation so the most likely.

      So, this is why apparent powers that be appear to kow-tow to the twitter mob, student activists etc; participating in such public lynchings is chilling to potential antagonists who would dispute their power in their own domains. That occasionally some profit – or even a “friend” – must be sacrificed to exercise this power the rest of the time is immaterial to them.

      PS: Don’t think gender studies degrees are useless, they’re now a path to HR departments *everywhere* and all the other places quickly being colonised by Diversicrats: universities, government agencies, high tech companies etc.

  24. “Before the storm, Zhao wrote that she wanted Blood Heir to be a reflection on the mistreatment of the “different,” from her vantage point as “a foreigner in Trump’s America.”

    Irony, it aint no river in Egypt…

  25. Farris says

    The point is to remind everyone who are the untouchables and the guardians of the untouchables. These perpetually offended persons hunt and prey upon persons who will not fight back. That’s what bullies do. Ms. Zhao should have fought back and called out her critics. The remedy for bullies- -counter punch.

    • TarsTarkas says

      Ah, but to counterpunch would be so Trump-like! Can’t channel Trump!

  26. Mark Beal says

    “It’s a bit like railing against nudity in a painting and then complaining that the underwear painted in to cover it up looks preposterous.” – Excellent!

    On the issue itself, since practically everyone working in publishing today has been to a university that taught them to view literature through the lenses of structuralism, post-structuralism and deconstruction, postmodernism, psychoanalytic criticism, feminist criticism, lesbian/gay criticism, Marxist criticism, new historicism and cultural materialism, postcolonial criticism and ecocriticism – and probably a whole host more since I was exposed to this – it’s a forlorn hope that publishers will suddenly become the adults in the room telling the infantile mob where to stick its outrage.

    What aspiring writers should learn from this is to steer well clear of the SJW-cliques and grow a mind of their own. Between starting and finishing a book, their “friends” will have moved the goalposts several furlongs further left in any case. Self-publish if necessary. No big advances, but as more and more people tire of the woke output of publishing houses there probably won’t be all that much money floating around anyway. No doubt failing publishers will blame the patriarchy or something, but to the extent that they’re all implicated in the SJ-cult, good riddance.

    Sensitivity reader, noun: A pointless but sinister occupation carried out by a person with a degree in cultural studies but no talent of their own to speak of; invented because people with useless degrees nevertheless need to feel important, and also earn a crust, somehow.

  27. Greg F says

    “Blood Heir—which I admit I haven’t read, . . .”

    Then why are you qualified to comment on the substance of the book? This is intellectually lazy.

  28. Tatiana says

    To me, the problem here lies with the disassociation between what the author did (wrote a book no one cared about much) and what the publisher and marketing team did (how they chose to promote the book — by generating an outrage and everyone falling for it).

    In an ideal world, the author should be always left untouched by the critics of her subject material, because she and only she chooses what to write about and what her characters represent in themes and concepts. That authorial decision should never be questioned like it had been during Soviet propaganda regime, for instance. At the same time, without having read the book (since it’s unavailable at the moment for most of us, unfortunately), just from the premise and naming of the characters, I can still see that the author didn’t do her research well concerning the cultures she wanted to represent. In short, a cursory Google+Wiki research could have helped A LOT. I can go in depth about this obvious lack of research done (its approach seems to be tokenistic and virtue-signaling at best and lazy at worst), but I won’t here because it’s not very important to what I want to say overall.

    Amelie Zhao has been a victim here, yes. It was her choice to not research her subject matter well, but a lot of YA authors choose the same approach. (“Beer commercial” diversity to fit in with the trends vs the actual effort). No one would have noticed this because that’s how most YA books are in general. If only Blood Heir had been marketed correctly, there wouldn’t be any controversy at all. However, the marketing of his book intentionally promoted it as the ~Second Coming of Christ in terms of foreign-culture representation and progressive liberal issues. It isn’t — any SJW with experience would see it isn’t, and any person who can think critically would as well. It may be a very wonderful book, but should not be advertised for something that it appears not to have. The advertisement also ignores and dismisses myriads of other writers who work on the same topics, but do care to research their subjects better.

    I will never agree with the pile-on of the author. But the publisher deserves a slap on the wrist for kicking their own author under the bus like this. It’s their fault for pushing this book where it doesn’t belong. The second problem with the advertisement is the line about “oppression is race-blind”. In the SJW world, such a line would prompt a very specific reaction, censorship or not, because the majority of SJWs are a ruthless, mindless mob, and they attack whatever you put before them if it has that particular bright-red rag on it. It’s sad, but also true. And the publisher knew it — like Gillette knew what reaction their new ad would generate online. There’s no chance they didn’t. They ignited this ugly controversy and backlash themselves. It might cost the author her career, but I’d say the publisher doesn’t give a damn about her. To them, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, right?

    The YA market is a cutthroat business, and the only way for them to squeeze their book to the buyer attention’s front line is to turn it into a controversy. The premise sounds very much common to the genre otherwise, and I don’t doubt the book would have joined the ranks of year’s best YA easily had it not been for the overpraising of its author for doing the minimum possible work on representation prior to the latest announcement. Blood Heir’s distinguishing feature at the moment is the controversy surrounding it.

    So, to me this is mainly the issue of the establishment that makes people clash in ugly outrages for no reason whatsoever other than to generate money and attention for the company. My sincere condolences to the author of Blood Heir and everyone who had been caught in marketing ploys in this same way, only to be discarded later. But there is no need to push the blame entirely on the author as the YA mob does, or on the YA mob as the author of this article does. Sorry, but the blame is on those who benefit from this (the publisher in this case). Everyone else is just pre-programmed chained dogs barking at each other from their master’s yards.

    • TarsTarkas says

      Why should it bloody matter whether or not she did research on slavery in the United States? Or anywhere else? Or on any subject whatsoever? She wrote a bloody fantasy novel! They’re her characters, they don’t belong to the sensitive readers! If the sensitive readers don’t like her damn book, shut up and write a better one! Or maybe they can’t, which is why they have to destroy someone else’s book.

    • Rev. Wazoo! says

      And where should this author have done her recommended “research” on the fantasy world she created? In her own imagination.

      She *wasn’t* writing about narcissistic North America and therefore under no obligation to research that particular corner of the world despite its ego-centric belief that all art should be viewed through its lens.

      If it’s true that most YA books are bought by librarians, as asserted above, perhaps these funds are being misspent and Marvel comic books would be a better investment. they too are young adult fiction, are generally congruent with liberally inclusive ideology while (until recently at least) develop the themes of an individual finding their moral compass in a world of difficult, nuanced decisions where they must face the consequences of their own imperfect actions and learn from them.

  29. jakesbrain says

    “How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?”

    Winston thought. “By making him suffer,” he said.

    “Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”

  30. I can’t believe no one during the editing/publishing process offered Ms. Zhao the standard advice never to use her real name and never, ever, ever, no matter what respond to reviews. Fan fiction writers know that much! Her publisher lost my final ounces of respect once I saw they gave her such a cheap book cover. They didn’t pay more than a two digit amount for that thing!

  31. Duncan Idaho says

    All those people graduating with gender and race studies degrees had to get jobs. So they made up some that have zero social value. We would be better off having resilience readers than sensitivity readers. The world needs to HTFU.

  32. Cellarius says

    They criticize Young Adult books because, despite their allegiance to critical theory, that’s where their intellectual competency is at.

    • Cellarius says

      If they were more talented, they’d write literature for grownups, instead of feeding into this never-ending infantilization.

  33. I had to look up who LL McKinny was. At first I thought it was a white woman – one picture shows her with straight red hair. In her goodreads profile she’s probably half to a quarter black, barely enough to claim oppressed victim status, which she uses to tear down others. For all we know she didn’t want a Chinese girl threatening her own status as a Minority Writer. What a vile b—–.

  34. Medium Poppy says

    Kinda seems like many of the most vicious censors are aspiring writers themselves. Perhaps they imagine they are making room at the top for themselves to move into. Or maybe it’s just sour grapes. Or maybe they are enjoying being social media celebrities, and have no loftier aspirations than to endlessly type mean stuff into their phones for the hollow approval of their peers and whatever bots are programmed to amplify their particular flavor of controversy.

  35. Kristina says

    Particularly awful that this censorship is happening in fantasy/science fiction/alternate world fiction. This type of fiction used to offer actual “safe spaces,” where ideas and characters could be explored freely without being chained to realism. Metaphor, allegory, and symbolism are intensely powerful tools to help readers understand THEIR world, even as they read about alternate worlds. These censors cannot see that in destroying the actual safe space of fantasy, they are making the real world more dangerous. They need a crash course in one big literary concept: irony.

  36. Montulator says

    I just went down the Young Adult Fiction writers Twitter rabbit hole and will now endeavor to tell you why you should not let young adults read the drivel that comes from these people.
    First of all, they care about indoctrinating your children by not letting them read anything they consider harmful. They believe that bigotry can be learned by reading books. This betrays a remarkable ignorance toward human behaviour and the effectiveness of their own writing.
    I can only imagine the arrogance that leads to that mindset. The authorial guideline of the day seems to be the dogma of diversity. If a black person dies in your book, it propagates an anti-black narrative.
    Except of course if you are black, then you are allowed to write such things. Slavery, experienced by no one on YA Twitter, can also only be written about by people who carry the genetic memory of their forefathers to justify this horrendous insensitivity.
    In other words, you have to be black in America if you want to write about slavery. It’s no longer a discussion about the timeframe available to the author of the novel for the story to unfold, or the narrative structure of what you write.
    Diversity sets the guardrails of the day and going counter to this dogma will earn you the scorn of your peers. And it does not matter who gets killed or portrayed favorably, but what race and gender he was in relation to the authors race and gender.
    And beware if they do not align. To the casual observer this seems racist of course, and if the thought of indoctrinating your kids with the ramblings of benevolent racists who want to bubble wrap your child into early psychosis frightens you, I have this advice:
    Buy a book with the most gruesome fairytales you can find. Stay away from the young adult section of the bookstore and give them adult fiction instead, they can handle it, trust me.
    If your kid would be old enough for Hunger Games or Twilight they are old enough for 1984 or Dracula. YA fiction is a genre invented for emotionally stunted people who want to pass on their emotional deficiencies to your kids.
    Seriously, just hand them Tolstoy or Tolkien, Dahl or King, Bukowski or Phalaniuk and they will come out less damaged by the experience.

  37. Pingback: Young Adult Fiction’s Online Commissars - Nerdcore

  38. This is just pure insanity. Books do not exist to boost one’s sense of moral superiority. Book characters do not have to be good and righteous. Books tell stories. Most humans (including young adults) can reason perfectly well, so there is no need to shelter them from anything.

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