VOYA: A Case Study in Everything You Should Never Do When Criticized

If you were lucky enough to not have seen the wildly unprofessional conduct of VOYA magazine over the past few days, I salute you.  Also, I am curious: were you vacationing in a yurt (I want to do this mostly because I read that Erin Bow did it and now it is on my bucket list)?  Were you in Tahiti (I hear it's a magical place)?  Where do I have to go to get away from the giant garbage fire that is People Saying Horrible Things on The Internet?

And yet, as a librarian, I cannot step away.  I have to step up.  Rolling over and hiding when people say racist things (hi, Lionel Shriver) or biphobic things (VOYA) or whip out the ad hominem attacks (also VOYA) or go on a blocking frenzy against people who want apologies (also also VOYA) does nothing to improve the situation.  How are things going to get better if we don't demand that they improve?

People sometimes dub this "callout culture" and treat it like it's a bad thing.  There's that book So You've Been Publicly Shamed that details how lives were ruined after social media fiascos.  What we can't seem to remember about social media is the "social" aspect of it: it is available to anyone in our society with an internet connection.  When you post on social media, you are opening yourself up to criticism.

Please note that this in no way excuses or justifies the death and rape threats that women--especially women of color--receive on social media on a daily basis.  I would hope people see the difference between hate and criticism.  Often, they are conflated.  They are two separate things.  Hate is inexcusable.  Criticism is necessary.

Circling back to VOYA, if you missed the drama, it went down something like this:

Angie Manfredi pointed out that VOYA's review of Kody Keplinger's Run was problematic.
The review in question was more of a summary of the book than anything else (which puzzled me as a librarian--I know sixth graders who could write better reviews than this).  However, the reviewer suggests the book only for "mature" readers because one character is bisexual, there is sexual content, and also foul language.  Oh, dear me, an abundance of "bad language".

Here it should be noted that in Run, the bisexual character does not have sex.  However, the wording of the now-deleted review insinuates that the sexual content is only appropriate for mature readers because there is a bi person involved.

Readers wrote to VOYA expressing their disappointment, outrage, and disgust.

VOYA thought it would be a REALLY GOOD IDEA to post author Tristina Wright's letter and their response on their webpage (thanks to Debbie Reese and Heather Booth for the correction. I originally wrote Facebook page). First of all: no.  Do not post correspondence on a public site.  Said letter was sent in confidence and should be kept private.  Secondly, the response was six kinds of awful (actually more like a million kinds of awful--there were levels of awful in it that I didn't even know existed) in that the VOYA representative shamed both the author and her child.

Tristina shares the post.  So do others, like Colton Teske, who wrote and received similarly inappropriate responses.

Librarian and author and book Twitter demands apologies from VOYA.

VOYA responds by blocking everyone who said anything negative about them.  Including me.  Honestly, it's been a long time since I've felt that proud.

VOYA posts an "apology" on Facebook that contains the word "but."  Real apologies never, ever contain the word "but."  They also accuse Kody Keplinger of not speaking up earlier and insinuating that our response to the review was some sort of coordinated attack and/or publicity stunt.

The author of the original review and response to Tristina Wright posts on Facebook and says that she apologizes, but never says "I'm sorry."  Angie asks what VOYA is going to do to prevent this situation in the future.  MaryRose evades the question by pointing out how awesome she was on a committee on which both she and Angie served, effectively turning the question into an "I'm a nice person and I thought you were too but now you are a mean meanie how could you betray me?"  This does not go over well.

VOYA posts another apology on Facebook saying that it's going to take a long time to fix the problems manifested in the review and the subsequent nuclear reaction.  Author Hannah Moskowitz is blocked by VOYA because she called them out.

This is the world's most simplified version of what happened (and if I got anything wrong, I'm sorry.  Please let me know and I'll correct it!).  I only saw bits and pieces of it, so there might be many other interactions of which I'm not aware that also demonstrate VOYA is being run by people with the emotional intelligence of a toddler.  The entire display was like a giant flaming ball of poop snowballing down a mountain of even more flaming poop.

As a professional, I rely on publications like VOYA for reviews of upcoming books.  And someone asked an excellent question: how many other reviews have been published that chastised a book for sexuality (especially if the characters are not straight) or foul language?  I admit that when it comes to professional reviews of books that are by authors that are popular with my teens, I don't always read the review.  It's automatically in my cart to order.  And that is a huge error on my part.  I need to be better.  I need to read the critiques and pay attention to how they are worded and what they draw attention to.  I don't remember reading the Run review in VOYA when it came out several months ago.  And I won't block you if you criticize me for that.

I won't be using VOYA for collection development because the staff has shown itself to be unprofessional and incapable of handling criticism--something that they purport to do on a literary basis.  I will follow the situation and see if any of the concerns raised by librarians (biased reviews, phobias, block-happy fingers) are addressed and rectified.  It saddens me to know that a journal that supposedly advocates for teens thinks that acting in this manner is acceptable.

VOYA reviews and other professional reviews are very different from what you see on my blog.  When I review here, I am giving you my personal reaction.  Often, the books that I rant about here are ones that I have purchased because I see why and how they would appeal to teens in my community.  For example, I know I've harangued at length about how much I hate love triangles.  And yet there are scads of books with love triangles in my collection and they are almost always checked out.  Just because I personally don't enjoy something does not mean that I restrict access to it.  Hello, censorship.

And right now I'm not even sure if any of this makes sense at all.  I've been having severe writer's block and my words aren't flowing like they used to.  It's like my brain is a drain full of manky hair and other unmentionable sludge and my words just get stuck.  But I am angry and I am not going to sit here and be quiet.  I can't stand unfairness and I don't take kindly to doubling down instead of shutting up.


  1. No, I haven't heard about this and not been in a yurt, just in Melbourne. I am unfamiliar with the publication you mention. And I run a much smaller library than you do, so I don't bother with professional reviews. I just get in the bookseller to leave her box for a few days so the kids can look at it. I buy the next volume of whatever series everyone is reading and go shopping with a student-generated shopping list. And I donate my review books. It must be awkward to have a publication you rely on pulled out from under you for its unprofessional behaviour.

    Yes, the Internet is a scary place. And you get all sorts of hate speech which insists it's just being critical of whatever/whoever. The people who make the most noise about freedom of speech are those who want to use it to be horrible to others. It's been a big issue in Australia in the last few years, after a favourite columnist of the right-wing government got into trouble for a column that breached the Racial Discrimination Act(in the event, it was because he hadn't done his research on the issue). He didn't go to jail. It's not that sort of Act. But since then, the government has been trying to scrap that part of the Act and the racist organisations have been drooling with anticipation.

    1. I think "not in a yurt, just in Melbourne" is brilliant. I think VOYA is US-only (like so many things, which is just odd, but okay). A lot of librarians need professional reviews per their collection development policy in case someone decides to challenge a book. Some policies require that a book have two professional reviews, etc.

      Also, the people who go on about freedom of speech don't really grasp the concept (at least as it is laid out in the U.S. Constitution, which is what they're usually quoting). People think it means "I can say whatever I want to whomever I want and there will be no consequences! La dee da!" Which isn't what the First Amendment says at all *sigh*

      Regarding the journalist you mentioned, why would the government try to scrap the Act because he violated it? I have a bad feeling that all racist organizations are watching what's going on in the world and all drooling. :/

    2. We get plenty of "freedom of speech" arguments here too, without need for the U.S. constitution. ;-) As for the journalist, he is a loudmouthed, sexist, racist, and he is very supportive of right-wing governments. That's why. They're not trying to scrap the whole Act, just the bit that got him into trouble. Look up 18C in Google some time. There's bound to be an article somewhere that will explain it to you. And yes, people who want to scrap 18C are very much the kind who don't get it... David Irving was screaming for his right to freedom of speech, then sued someone who used her freedom of speech against him. He lost the case, as I recall.

  2. 10 points to Gryffindor for the Coulson reference. And, yeah, VOYA really should have just used the apology that Sorrywatch.com offered up for them.


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