A local news item out of Aberdeen, South Dakota has sparked outrage from a slew of famous authors, who are infuriated by a quote from a recent college graduate who does not care for the work of YA author Sarah Dessen.
In a completely innocuous article about how Common Read books are chosen at Northern State University, the Aberdeen News quoted Brooke Nelson, who served as a volunteer on the selection committee her junior year of college: “She’s fine for teen girls,” the 2017 Northern graduate said of Dessen, “But definitely not up to the level of Common Read. So I became involved simply so I could stop them from ever choosing Sarah Dessen.”
College is traditionally a time for engaging with new ideas in order to form tastes and opinions. Many writers champion this engagement. But not all. In response to the news item, Dessen tweeted a screenshot of the quote to her 268.4k followers, saying she is “having a really hard time right now and this is just mean and cruel. I hope it made you feel good.” Dessen obscured the recent college graduate’s name, but Googling the quote easily brings it up.
One of nine comments on the article is from an unverified user account with the name Jennifer Weiner, uncannily the same name as New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Weiner, also a supporter of Dessen. The comment, which is far longer than the quote, reads:
“It’s hard to know what’s sadder: that Brooke Nelson has internalized misogyny to the extent that she can see nothing of worth in books beloved by “teen girls” but is presumably impressed with the merits of a book centered around video game culture that is beloved by teenage boys; that Nelson joined the committee not to champion a book or a genre but to keep a specific author’s work out of contention; that she bragged about her actions, as if she’s done some great service to literature, or that Nelson graduated with an English degree, is pursuing graduate work in English, and will someday be foisting her sexism and elitism on the next generation of readers.”
While it’s impossible to tell if the account is genuine, Weiner also expressed support for Dessen on her verified Twitter account.
Also jumping into the Twitter conversation to defend Dessen’s work is another bestselling author, Jodi Picoult, who retweeted Dessen, calling her “one of the loveliest women you’ll ever meet.” In a thread, she explains that the two-sentence quote expressing the opinion of one young woman “suggests stories about young women matter less. That they are not as worthy or literary as those about anything but young women. That their concerns and hopes and fears are secondary or frivolous.”
Despite criticisms suggesting that Common Read selections leave women out, Northern State’s booklist actually includes a diverse array of women’s perspectives. Of the ten books chosen over ten years, half are authored by women including Manoush Zomorodi, Angie Thomas, Ruta Sepetys, Suki Kim, and Jeannette Walls.
Following the outpouring of support from friends and fans for her decision to publically protest a single mention in a local newspaper, Dessen tweeted, “your kind words have lifted me up today. I have so much to figure out, always and still. But knowing all those words on pages meant something to so many people...it’s humbling and an honor.”