Q:Hey John, I was just wondering what your explanation was for asserting yourself and appearing to be a very forward-thinking writer and I guess general social rights advocate, but yet you heavily play into the troped ideal of what's essentially the manic pixie dream girl, not to mention romanticizing extreme illness & suicide to your very young and definitely impressionable reader base.
Have the people who constantly accuse me of this stuff read my books? Paper Towns is devoted IN ITS ENTIRETY to destroying the lie of the manic pixie dream girl; the novel ends (this is not really a spoiler) with a young woman essentially saying, “Do you really still live in this fantasy land where boys can save girls by being romantically interested in them?”I do not know how I could have been less ambiguous about this without calling the novel The Patriarchal Lie of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Must Be Stabbed in the Heart and Killed.
When do I romanticize mental illness (or physical illness) in my novels? Pudge romanticizes Alaska in LfA, but the novel discusses in detail the way that his failure to imagine her complexly proves so disastrous to him and to her.
Who is made more special than they otherwise would be by illness? The characters in TFiOS talk about this fetishization of the ill constantly and with considerable vitriol. If I were hearing this from actual chronically ill people, it’d be one thing, but instead I’m hearing it from people who literally only seem to have read plot summaries. (Witness, for instance, the Daily Mail’s “sick-lit” article, in which no one who is quoted even pretends to have actually read the book they feel so comfortable attacking.)
The other attack going viral on tumblr at the moment is that I write novels about broken people who need saving, and that this encourages the romanticization of brokenness. Well, maybe there are wholly self-sufficient unbroken people who are able to thrive in complete isolation, succeeding solely by the sweat of their own Randian brows, but those are not the people I know or am interested in writing about. So yeah. I write about broken people who need other people in order to go on. But those are the only kind of people I know to exist. We are all broken. We all depend upon each other for support and compassion. That web of interconnected yearning and need is essential to my understanding of human experience, and I don’t find celebrating it problematic.
There are a lot of weaknesses in my books! I am not that great of a writer. I am happy to acknowledge these weaknesses: I tell too much and show too little. My plots are thin. I’m too fond of turning phrases. Imagistic stuff gets fogged up by inconsistent usage, especially in my first few novels. I care too much about ideas and not enough about story. There’s a kind of emotional disengagement in my work, like I’m always trying to make you conscious of the fact that this is a fiction and look at all the things this fiction is doing, which leads to people seeing the strings on the puppets and feeling pulled out of the narrative. They can get thematically obvious and repetitive (as when I disembowel the evil construction of the manic pixie dream girl twelve ways to Sunday in Paper Towns).
But all this crap about how I fetishize brokenness and lift up misogynistic constructions of young women and romanticize suicide is just (I think) totally unfair.
Books belong to their readers and you can do whatever you want with my stories. But I am super tired of being accused of contributing to suicidal ideation among young people. That’s a very serious and hurtful thing to say.
Sorry, I usually wouldn’t even reply to this stuff, but it floats around tumblr with tens of thousands of notes and that’s really frustrating to see and also I just got oral surgery so my mouth hurts so I’m cranky.
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