13 Reasons Why has faced a lot of criticism for telling the story of a teenage girl via a white male author, but Why We Broke Up is also the story of a teenage girl told via a white male author. I was wondering if there is a difference between the way these two narratives are handled that makes Why We Broke Up a positive book for young girls, but makes 13RW a damaging one?
Ooh, that’s a good question. (Was this because of my MFA thesis that dealt with WWBU, or just because I post a lot about liking that book?)
When I say “The Other” here, I literally mean “writing any perspective
that is other than the writer’s own identity. When I write a bisexual
character or a heterosexual character, that is me writing The Other.
Women who write slash, for example, are inherently writing The Other.
ANY white author writing a character of color is writing The Other.
Able-bodied authors writing disabled characters are The Other.
Skinny/non-fat authors writing fat protagonists is The Other, and one
that is done poorly… a lot… in both YA and adult chick lit. Etc.
This DOES NOT PERTAIN TO “well, my protagonist is a vampire, so CLEARLY
they’re The Other,” because a) duh, and b) the paranormal is always an
allegory and the sooner you get that, the better your writing will be,
For more on the terminology of Writing The Other, see http://writingtheother.com/
So. Off the top of my head, to me, there are three main things that differentiate a Problematic Book About The Other from a Book About The Other That Was Done Respectfully, which both 13RW and WWBU are.
1) Does the author recognize their privilege with respect to the protagonist and subvert it with intention?
2) Does the author recognize the limits of their empathetic imagination and likewise limit their book’s scope in an effort to reduce harm?
3) Does the author recognize that their privilege does not give them the right to create/perform a narrative identity for the purpose of teaching the Other how to be/perform that identity?
Or more simply: do they recognize that their perspective is inherently different from their protagonist’s and allow for that difference in the actual craft of the writing, do they recognize their limitations when it comes to necessary gravities and empathetic imagination, and are they respectful of their character or trying to use their character as a megaphone?
In the case of WWBU and 13RW, I think WWBU comes out ahead on all three points, but #2 is the most important/biggest sticking point here.
Why We Broke Up is a story with a metric fuckton less gravity than 13 Reasons Why. Handler made the smart choice here. If you are going to write a story about any of the topics in 13RW on its own – let alone all smooshed together into one story – then it needs to be given the gravity of its full weight. An adult man writing about a teenage girl’s suicidal ideation is never going to accurately depict that experience because… honestly?
No person writing about someone else’s suicidal ideation is going to accurately depict that experience. ESPECIALLY ESPECIALLY ESPECIALLY so if you do not understand the perspectives that inform it and are informed by it. Even though I am a queer Jewish girl, I would never, never, never think that I had the right to write about a suicidal queer Christian girl. I do not understand how that feels. I do not understand the role of the church and the weight of Christianity in that identity. Even if I can imagine it, and I can put myself in those shoes with research, and I interview people who’ve been there and I read every memoir I can on the topic and immerse myself in going to church for a few weeks to be able to depict the setting and the flavor… the gravity of that perspective is just too heavy.
What do I mean by that?
I mean that the combination of those identities, together, and the stakes of the plotline – of the choices – are too fraught. They are life or death. If you’re writing The Other, and the “life or death” stakes AREN’T like, a “whoa is this minotaur going to maul us if I don’t swing this mysterious sword I inherited?” kind of thing, you are much, much more likely to fuck up. It’s not your story to tell. If those identities in themselves are what create the Life Or Death stakes, and you don’t share those identities, you just aren’t gonna get it right. Like. You’re just not.
The stakes in WWBU are… more or less nonexistent. Which I mean as a compliment! WWBU is a character study, and the character in question has an admittedly charmed life for a Jewish teenage girl. The worst things that happen to her in the book are consensual, if regrettable and regretted, sex – which I honestly which showed up more in YA, because lbr teenage sex is Not Good – and being cheated on. No one is going to die. No matter what Min chooses, no matter how Min reacts, no matter where Min is, no matter who Min talks to, no matter Why They Broke Up, everyone in the story is going to live. Handler is able to exercise his empathetic imagination fully, immersing himself in Min’s perspective of the world, because that is the whole story. The whole story is “what is Min’s perspective on why she and Ed Slaterton broke up.” That, in itself, is a challenge for an adult male writer to manage respectfully, and I think Handler recognized that when he chose not to pile on a bunch of extraneous Issues.
Which is Point #3. I have to preface here:
I fuckin’ hate Issue Books.
And I fuckin’ hate them because almost without exception, they’re really, really bad.
And they’re really, really bad because 99.9% of the time, Issue Books are borne of adults going, “I want to teach teens a thing. Those whippersnappers are gonna get off my lawn with their FEELINGS and their NOT UNDERSTANDING THINGS FROM AN ADULT PERSPECTIVE. Myah!”
Fuck that shit. It’s so 1985.
And also 1995.
And like. Okay, for a LONG time, like up until the late ‘90s/early 2000s, Issue Books were basically ~the point of YA, as far as the industry was concerned. Teens R Dum N Adults Teach Them That If You Drink And Drive You Will Have Sex And Die. Or something. Also that one joint is the equivalent of 9000 crack rocks.
The point here is, there intrinsic problems with Issue Books like 13RW, and they all boil down to the characters not being characters. Instead, they are Ideas. (And not in an F. Scott Fitzgerald Daisy-is-the-unattainable-green-light way.)
You cannot write a meaningful, engaging book without characters. You can’t! You literally cannot. This is a thing that Laura Ruby was really strict about when I worked with her. Even if you know that your story is About More Than It Seems, with regard to allegories to the patriarchy and heavy themes and gravity and shit, your characters have to be characters. And if all they exist to do is teach the reader something? They don’t have the latitude for that.
Every character, every scene, every “reason why” is meant to be instructional. And for the era that the book came out – 2006 – that totally makes sense! That’s basically how YA that wasn’t about vampires WORKED in 2006! But that. Um. Isn’t.
The framework of 13RW – an adult male author using the violation and death of a teenage girl to teach a teenage boy, and ostensibly the female reader through that male main character, a lesson – is… icky. Especially when the mission is accomplished by a) repeatedly violating said female protagonist, which I understand is both unfortunately realistic and also given its due consequence via her suicide, but also b) by showing how that consequence affects a male character.
THE SUFFERING OF WOMEN AND GIRLS DOES NOT EXIST TO BE THE IMPETUS FOR CHANGE IN MEN AND BOYS.
THE SUFFERING. OF WOMEN AND GIRLS. DOES. NOT. EXIST. TO. BE. THE IMPETUS FOR CHANGE. IN FUCKING MEN AND BOYS.
“Now, V,” you say, “Did Min not write her whole letter to Ed in the hopes that he will change?”
“Perhaps,” I say, “But we never have to give a shit about Ed Slaterton’s future. We never have to give a shit about Ed Slaterton’s feelings. He doesn’t matter in the novel [Min’s letter] and – the whole resolution of the story is that he doesn’t matter to Min.”
Min’s only suffering – her pain at being cheated on – changed her. And only her. And in the scope of suffering, between Hannah’s and Min’s, they’re incomparable. Genuinely, their suffering is incomparable. Compared to Hannah, calling Min’s pain “suffering” feels flippant and gross to me. Min is hurt. Hannah is destroyed. Literally.
Which is kind of a big, and important, difference on its own between these two books. One male author created his female protagonist to exist, and to grow, and to thrive. IF Ed Slaterton has to be considered, as the recipient of the novel of a letter – even then, Min doesn’t exist to teach him a lesson. Min exists to teach herself a lesson and then go, “And fuck you, Ed, boy bye.” Why We Broke Up is squarely, intensely, almost redundantly about Min. It is Min’s story.
The other created a female protagonist to be raped, and demeaned, and to die. To teach a boy a lesson. The book isn’t about Hannah. It’s about Clay. It’s Hannah’s story, but it’s about Clay. Which… casts Hannah’s entire life, her entire existence, as having been… about Clay. She existed so that Clay could learn a thing. And that’s bullshit.
(And this is long enough, so, for why I think Handler succeeded at point #1 – writing Min as a genuine character he respected and subverted his own privilege in POV to allow her to be a realistic and empathetically crafted teenage girl – read said thesis.
This is probably a really pointless question that has been asked before (so feel free not to answer lol), but what anime (animes?) would you recommend and why?
!!!!!!! Oh my gosh, that is NOT a pointless question!
Friend! FRIEND!!! I have been waiting my whole life for someone to ask me for
Like, 90% of the reason why I even have this blog is because
I watch So. Much. Anime. And I kept wanting to talk about it with people, but
there was no one I could talk to about my deep love of anime, and how much I
wanted to recommend them things, but no one cared about my anime
recommendations, so it was like, “oh, ok, fine, I’ll just go obsess quietly in
this corner of the internet for a while…”
So, THANK YOU. Gosh, I will try and contain myself but I was
really so excited to be asked. (You are probably already regretting asking the
But I watch so much anime that I literally have
recommendations in any genre. You want to watch something that will break your
heart? Got one for that. You want something that’s just funny and dumb? Got
that too. Mecha? Historical fantasy? Shoujo? Shounen? I have them all!!
I’m going to try and limit my recommendations to my top
four. And I’m going to offer up a wide range, just for fun. I’m also staying
away from sports anime, because at this point, I just assume it’s a given that
I recommend all the Sports Anime Ever. (I apologize ahead of time for the length of this post).
The most important thing to me with anime I watch is the story; as a big reader in all genres, it
is not often I am surprised by where a story is going, and one of the reasons
why I love anime so much is because their stories do surprise me, all the time. All the anime I recommend here have
incredible stories and amazing characters. So here are the top four anime I
recommend, based on my deep love for them, how much I wish they had a bigger
fandom, and also how often I rewatch them:
1) Tiger and Bunny.
If you like: One
Punch Man and My Hero Academia, you should really watch Tiger and Bunny. I was
so excited to see it on my dash.
Why: It had a new
take on the Super Hero trope that I hadn’t seen before. It also has an amazing
cast of well-developed, interesting characters. And it has one of the most
inclusive casts I have ever seen in any show: kickass ladies, kickass people of
color, kickass canonically gay characters—and all of them were well-developed,
complex people. The story itself had a lot of interesting twists and has a
really refreshing look into the Revenge Motive. The villains are all kind of
fascinating too. Plus, Kotetsu and Barnaby are married af, and that’s always
(Also, I just watched the Movie for the first time last
night and I’m still sobbing. I have never seen such a respectful focus on a genderqueer
character in a movie/show where being genderqueer was not the focus of the
2) Princess Tutu
If you like: Fairy
tales, or you’re interested in story-telling, you really have to watch this
periodically rewatch this anime because I just love it. So. Much. It really is
like watching a new fairy tale. It’s also an amazing metafictional look into
what it means to tell a story, and what it would be like to rebel against the
story and the role that is written for you. And it’s probably the only anime
I’ve ever watched where the ships I shipped in the beginning are definitely not
the same ships I shipped at the end. Also, you should watch this AMV, if you’re
If you like: Time
travel, or complex psychological dramas, this anime is for you.
Why: Yes, I am
slightly biased, because I just wrote a fanfic about this show, but I really do
think it’s amazing. I think in so many stories we are used to hearing, the
story is about how things started out Right and then they all went Wrong. And
this anime is the story about how things were Wrong, and one man does
everything he can to make them Right again. And I really like that.
I saved this one for last because it’s going to be long.
Largely because I just re-watched it and I have ALL THE FEELS. And I’ve been
wanting to talk about it.
If you like:Pure, fluffy, romance. This is the
anime for you.
Why: This is the
story of how Two Cinnamon Rolls Too Pure, Too Good For This World, fall in love
with each other. And their salty asexual friend who will shank anyone who gets
in the way of his cinnamon roll friends’ love.
So, OK. I have read a lot of romance, either in shoujo
manga/anime or in YA lit, or chick lit, or just unrepentant romance novels. And
my biggest, biggest problem with romance (especially in shoujo manga and YA) is
the fact that I almost always hate the love interest hero. Because I just hate,
hate the trope of “beautiful,
mysterious man who is an asshole, but everyone falls in love with him anyway.”
And I hate that these women keep falling in love with beautiful men who are
assholes to them. And I also kinda hate how there’s never really a reason why
the beautiful asshole likes this woman in particular? It’s always like, “Oh,
this girl. She’s different than the rest.”
Because of course everyone is in love with the beautiful asshole, but
only the heroine Can Win His Heart.
Takeo completely subverts that trope. He is set up as a guy
who is not good-looking, no girls ever fall in love with him, but he is just genuinely kind. He’s nice to everyone,
he’s 1000% respectful towards women, and he’s always happy to help anyone in
I also love Yamato, because you never wonder why he would
fall in love with her in particular. She is pure sunshine, but at the same
time, she is also very assertive, and that is *so* rare in romance stories.
This girl sees her man, wants her man, and does everything she can to *get* her
man. Like, damn, Yamato. Girl knows what she wants. And I just love how she is
always the one to make the first move in their relationship. I also love the
fact that she clearly has a libido and openly lusts after her boyfriend. It is
amazing how often women aren’t allowed to feel sexual attraction in their own
This show also challenges the idea that established
relationships are boring. And the idea that a good romance story has to have a
lot of drama before the couple can get together. These two refreshingly love
each other, trust each other, trust other people, and communicate their
concerns when they have them and it is just So. Nice. Not to have needless drama
in a love story.
Equally important, I love asexual best friend Suna. One of
the things this anime does is that it emphasizes that Takeo’s friendship with
Suna is as equally important to him
as his relationship with Yamato. And I just wish that was emphasized more in
romance? Because it really seems that in a lot of other romance stories, True
Love is the most important thing, and everything and every one else can go to
hell. But Suna’s platonic love for Takeo is as defining as Yamato’s love for
Takeo, and Takeo’s love for both of them is the most important thing to him.
And I’m going to have to stop myself there, because I could
seriously go on and on and on about how Ore Monogatari!! Is the best love story
ever and I could keep going. (And I want to, I waaaant to) but this post is
already long enough and I apologize to everyone on my dash.
Thank you again for asking! Please ask me for
recommendations! I have so many!! Also, if you want to recommend me anything,
please do so!!
So everyone is always asking me for book recommendations so I decided to make a master post of books (Most are YA books because a large majority of people on here read them). Each book is linked to the goodreads page for it (for series I linked you to the first book) and next to it are the main genres.
You’ve got your shit together, you’re not scared of anything. I’m scared of everything. And I’m crazy. Like maybe you think I’m a little crazy, but I only ever let people see the tip of my crazy iceberg. Underneath this veneer of slightly crazy and socially inept, I’m a complete disaster.
The complaints about books where the romance is the primary plot everything revolves around regardless of a corrupt government frustrates me. 90% of the time y'all are eyeballs deep in YA, NA, or chick lit. Many genres do not focus so much on romance and it is either nonexistent or a subplot. There are always exceptions in every genre, but if you are sick of the repetitive romance, then try something new?!