Wednesday, November 11, 2009

In Defense of Maggie Stiefvater

The Rejectionist, an anonymous editorial assistant whose blog we follow, posted something called "Today's Book Review." The book up for review was Maggie Stiefvater's SHIVER. As fans of The Rejectionist and SHIVER we were really excited to see what she had to say. But we were surprised when instead of a review, we found a post and subsequent comments that seemed like book bashing. We felt that our thoughts and concerns were too many to be contained in a single comment, and we wanted to bring this post to the attention of our readers.

Here's the link. Read it now if you'd like, or just continue on to our assessment.

Before we begin, we'd like to state that we totally support the freedom of speech, and the freedom for everyone to have their own opinion. Will everyone like a certain book? No. Will every book on the best seller list appeal to you? No. And that's cool. We love SHIVER. It's ok if you don't. We have no problem when someone states why they didn't appreciate or enjoy a book. However, we feel this post became something else altogether.

1) The post presents itself as a review, but basically becomes a diatribe against "the Enfeebled Heroine" in Young Adult literature. And we quote, "Stiefvater's heroine Grace is even more insipid and insulting than Stephenie Meyer's Bella." (Yes, Bella gets her share of the attack too. But Grace gets it worse.)

2) IF The Rejectionist wanted to write a post ranting about this Enfeebled Heroine, that would've been fine. We don't like Enfeebled Heroines either. But singling out this one novel and writer was unwarranted.

3) We're also concerned by the comments. At the time of writing this post, there are 33 comments. Only TWO even remotely contradict The Rejectionist. 31 others either vehemently agreed, or at the very least, wrote something neutral. Many of these 31 commenters were writers, both aspiring and published. What happened to support in the writing community?

4) The Rejectionist points out a number of strong, female heroines as counter-examples. Katniss, Katsa, Clary (ALL AWESOME). We agree that those examples are very positive heroines. However, there are different types of strength, and some of them include vulnerability.

5) We feel as though the estimations of SHIVER were pretty far off the mark in a few ways. Our complete opinions can be found in our co-review of the novel, but here are our major disagreements. Please be aware, these are just our opinions:
-- Grace is not a pushover. Nor is she insipid. She's a reserved but capable person who doesn't complain about her absentee parents and who has a strong friendship with two other girls. Even when she thinks Sam's dead, she carries on with her life. That is not weak and is a far cry from the reaction of another popular YA heroine that Grace is juxtaposed with. We have no intentions of turning this into a Twilight discussion, however, it is one thing to go catatonic after the loss of your soulmate and quite another to continue living and forming relationships and making plans for the future.
-- Grace is not a victim. In fact, though Sam provides her emotional support, she saves him many more times and in many more ways than he ever saves her. His supernatural abilities do not turn him into a strong alpha male who makes every decision for the heroine and who must protect her at all costs. His supernatural abilities are presented as a disease. It weakens him and Grace must be the strong one.
-- Sam is not a Bad Boy. Sam is a multi-dimensional, poetic character, quite different from the "charismatic male figure who seems to carry all the personality in the relationship."
-- Their relationship is not baseless and simplistic.
"Shiver is the story of a young lady who is attacked by (were)wolves as a toddler and is rescued by a young (were)wolf pack member who is Mysteriously Drawn To Her and subsequently lurks about her premises for a few years until! lo and behold! she Hits Puberty and the Impassioned Forbidden Werewolf Romance begins." and "love that is self-abnegating, all-consuming, and totally erases any kind of independence looks a lot more like domestic violence than fabulous romance, and doormats aren't actually very interesting as protagonists"
As the novel progresses, Maggie goes in depth about their connection and the reasons behind it. Sam saved her as a girl, and because she was bitten, he hung around to make sure she had support if she changed. Grace was bitten, and thus felt a connection to the wolves.
--"Grace thinks, I need this to live, the very first time her werewolf paramour kisses her." This line is used to prove that Grace's life revolves around Sam, however, anyone who has read SHIVER should be able to see that it is simply one of those lines that anyone is capable of thinking when they first fall in love. Grace's thoughts and actions are a far cry from that one impassioned sentence throughout the rest of the story. It was used very much out of context.

In conclusion: As YA writers and strong, confident females, we respectfully disagree. We're disappointed that someone chose to name a specific novel in connection to a post that called it and novels with supposedly similar heroines "shit" and "the same old crap."

"Can we maybe aim a little fucking higher, please?"

Yes, we think we can. And we are. While we support the expression of opinions and love to hear rants on weaknesses in genres or trends, maybe next time there can be another way to show this without singling one author out (in this case we believe unjustly) as the scapegoat.

-- Donna and Frankie


  1. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant post.
    Don't take this in a weird way (it's totally not intended to be creepy), but I love you guys.
    And Shiver is wonderful.

  2. Thanks Steph! And don't take THIS in a wierd way but we love you too!

  3. Props to you for being able to support your opinion in a mature, logical way. I followed the link and read the other post myself, and I do agree with you: that post was definitely edging on book/author bashing. Personally, I enjoyed Shiver. On the other hand, I hated some other popular books, but I don't believe in book bashing. A critical, honest review is fine, but book bashing is just immature and unprofessional. Thanks for this post!

    Natalie @ Mindful Musings

  4. I agree with you both. I read that entire post and commented.

    How very rude of them! Goodness. I will NOT be following that blog.

  5. I haven't read Shiver yet (I ordered it two nights ago, but it hasn't been dispatched yet) so I can't comment on the contents of Shiver - I own and love Lament and Ballad though - but what I can say is this: while I understand the point that they were trying to make, that this upsurgance of weak and feeble heroines is not a good thing, the way they went about their comments on this was not the right way at all.

  6. Personally, I hate that people feel the need to define "heroines" as only intrepid. Why can't a heroine sit back and cry sometimes and let other people help her and still pull through when the time calls for it? Why is that "enfeebled?"

    We can't all be Katniss Everdeens, and I don't think we should have to be to be ruled as a "heroine." And, lets not forget that while Katniss is strong and brave and we love her for it, she's also cold and more than a little calculating at times. That's the downside of her strength, and something a so called "enfeebled" heroine rarely has a problem with.

    I don't mean to say there's no such thing as an enfeebled heroine, or that it's bad to have a girl be strong, but I just take exception to people who make it seem like having a character with vulnerabilities is a bad thing and a bad role model.

    Anyway, thanks for an articulate, well thought out post!

  7. I just wrote a comment over there. I was a little saddened by a comment by an author complaining that Shiver dwarfed her book sales.

  8. Hey Najela--that author was me, and I was TOTALLY just joking. But in retrospect it was a tasteless comment and I shouldn't have said anything.

    This was a brave post for you to write and I'm glad someome took this standpoint. Again, I haven't read SHIVER (or TWILIGHT, for that matter) so I can't make judgments on either one of the works, but I do think this is a disturbing trend. Although I do agree with Shannon--I think saying female characters HAVE to be strong is just as damaging as saying they HAVE to be weak.

    Basically I have a lot of conflicting viewpoints on this issue, and I do think it was unfair that SHIVER was used as a stand-in for a larger problem.

  9. I haven’t read Shiver, but I went and left a comment anyway. I will cut and paste what I said below.

    “I haven’t read this book, and while I am unsure as to whether or not I'll like it, it seems like your whole review was bashing the book. I can respect that you didn’t like this book, but was really necessary to go on a hate rant against it? In my opinion, even the most ‘despised’ book on my list will have some good points. I have a never written a review, but it is an implied assumption that a review should include the high and the low, both sides of the coin, not just one. And while I DO think it would be nice to have more GIRL protects helpless GUY scenarios, surely Grace has her bouts of strength and bravery. The harshness with which you judge this book is your opinion, this I understand and respect, but again, was really necessary to go on a hate rant against it? I think you should tone it down, at least a little. After all, everyone is different, and everyone will have different opinions, and as a reviewist, it should be important to consider that some people will not see things your way, and that someone may be upset/angry/offended by your blunt harshness.”

    I tried to be as neutral and unjudgmental as possible, since, as I said, I haven’t read the book, but I feel that reveiwist didn't accurately review the book. And since I’m a nice person who always tries to look at both sides of the coins, I wasn’t even mean about it.

  10. (even though I really wanted to yell at the reviewist.)

  11. Thanks for posting this! Shiver is amazing, they don't know what their talking about :)

  12. Good for you for posting this. I too was quite shocked when I read that post from the rejectionist.

  13. I haven't read the post but I'll go after this and check it out but I think that's awful they are resorting to book bashing and singling Maggie out. I loved Shiver and I think they are completely off mark when it comes to Grace, and speaking of Twilight, Bella gets a bad rap but she really does do a lot for herself and she's just fallen in love with this guy. But in general, they are both independent and have been taking care of themselves and so what? I just hate when people take certain books and rip them apart. There really is good in everything, whether you liked it or not.


  14. U are totally correct. I have not liked books in the past, and I have told so in my review, but not by bashing or putting the author down. There is a professional way to say you didn't enjoy the book. That post was just horrid. I will not be following The Receptionist anytime soon.

    I also believe in freedom of speech, but I do not believe in bashing.

  15. Thanks for all your comments! I'm sure they mean a lot to Maggie. You guys made a lot of great points, too.

    One thing that's good about this whole situation is that it stirred up a lot of debate, which is always a positive thing -- especially when differing opinions are shared respectfully. It's awesome when people get passionate about books!

    Just want to mention that we aren't asking you to boycott The Rejectionist's blog by any means. This post was not at all the norm for The Rejectionist, and I still follow that blog because I find it worthwhile and frequently funny. As always, follow whatever blogs you like! (And we hope you like ours!)

  16. I didn't think Grace was completely feeble, but honestly, she could learn a thing or two (or three) from Sookie Stackhouse.

    The romance in Shiver is ridiculous. Come on! I know Sam saved Grace, but honestly, translating that into romantic love doesn't make any sense at all. And how can they be so completely lovey-dovey so quickly? They were together for a couple of hours, and it's not like those hours were spent learning about each other.

    Oh god, not to mention the numerous plot holes, the sad excuse of a conflict, and the cop-out parents...

    I wanted to like this book, I really did. I think the reviewer was just getting really frustrated because the book is so hyped and people are so obsessed with Grace and her obsession.

  17. Very well said. I agree with everything you said. I might add that SHIVER made me cry. That's how strong and powerful this novel was. I haven't cried over a book in ages... not since Charlotte's Web if I'm not wrong.

    I'll link to your entry on my blog! =D

  18. Great post! I don't like weak heroines and I loved Shiver, so therefore Grace was not weak :) I thought The Rejectionist's post was very harsh and in poor taste. There are better ways to make a point.

  19. I agree with bookmagic. I, too, hate weak heroines, but loved SHIVER. I never saw Grace as weak. She really comes through for Sam. And the writing alone is gorgeous.

    I'm a bookseller, but I only review books on my blog that I liked. If I don't like a book, I don't MENTION it. (As a struggling writer myself, how can I write a nasty review of something that someone put a lot of years and tons of sweat and hard work into?) Is it any wonder The Rejectionist is anonymous?

    Besides, not every book will appeal to every person.

    Thanks, Donna and Frankie, for the thought-provoking post.

  20. Whoa, wanted to read the post but, whoa, this blog is killing me. The black background and gray/blue/purple text is sooooo difficult to read.

  21. Oops! I guess i didn't wait long enough for the page to load - I see now the background/text colors as they were intended.

  22. Thanks for talking about this subject. I've been following this and posting on the The Rejectionist. I've tried to ignore some of the more outrageous comments because that will just devolve into a flame war. I do get way skittish, even angry, when someone, even in the industry, insists I write my books a certain way. The story is the story. It is my hope (and my publisher's as well) that the readers will enjoy that story. And that's about as far as that goes.

  23. I liked SHIVER. Others may not; intelligent debate on books can be fun.

    When a reviewer gets the basic facts of the book wrong, I cannot trust either the review or the reviewer.

    We are told in SHIVER, several times, that Grace is a junior and was attacked by wolves six years before. She was not a toddler. I'd also argue that Grace is now out of puberty; but when someone wants to rant, why let facts get in the way?

    It's a shame that the rant had to center on one book and one author. Especially when the book wasn't read closely enough to determine Grace's age when she was first attacked.

  24. This comment is coming long after your post, but I wanted to send a big THANK YOU for your rebuttal to The Rejectionist's diatribe. Admittedly, I'm biased as a big fan of Maggie Stiefvater and her work, but I thought their post was mean-spirited and ill-informed. I especially like your point #3. The Rejectionist's post left nothing but a bad taste in my mouth toward the authors who posted unsupportive and self-aggrandizing comments about how their books were "better."

    Thank you for responding in a mature and informed manner.

  25. I agree. I agree that female protagonists need to be able to be realistic and good at something does not mean they have to be Superman.
    And they seriously crossed the line with how they did that. They went too far with their last few paragraph. They should be able to express opinions, but they just went too far as to bashing female protagonists with this book as an example.

  26. Ok sorry for randomly commenting on really old posts, but I was searching up similarities between The Hunger Games and Spartacus, etc. and this came up and I kept reading and LOVE your blog. It is seriously awesome. I might even want to write a book now :P Anyway, I read the Rejectionist review and noticed that it has 92 comments now, and heaps more disagreeing ones, probably thanks to this post :)


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