It's my policy to abstain from reading my reviews as much as possible. It's not because I don't care—it's because I care too much! I think it's really hard to do authentic work if you're always obsessing about what other people think about your writing, just like it's really hard to be an authentic person if you're always obsessing about other people's opinions of you!
But recently I stumbled across a semi-review (I say "semi" because it wasn't actually a review of my new book, Liesl & Po, which the author of the review had not read, but more of a review of my whole career thus far and Personhood) that I thought deserved a response. The author of the Semi-Review criticized me for genre hopping, and specifically seemed irritated that—after jumping from contemporary YA (Before I Fall) to YA dystopia/fantasy (Delirium)—I should now be so brazen as to "think" I can write middle-grade (Liesl & Po, coming out this October).
Well, you know what? She's right! I DO think I can. Maybe I read the story of The Little Engine That Could one too many times when I was a child, but I believe that if I work hard enough at something, I will eventually be able to achieve it.
Sorry, lady! That's just my sty-lo.
The Semi-Review also exhorted me to stick with what I already know how to do—i.e., contemporary fiction in the style of Before I Fall. This is problematic on a few different levels. First of all, it's arbitrary, by those standards, to say that I know how to do contemporary YA well. I only wrote one contemporary YA book—what if I ONLY know how to write contemporary YA books about a high school senior named Samantha Kingston who dies and relives the day of her death multiple times? Should I just kill poor Sam off another half dozen times?
Second of all, I was twenty-five when I wrote Before I Fall. Should I assume it is the best, and the only, thing I can ever achieve in my life? How can I possibly know what else I'm good at, unless I try a variety of things? If people never tried anything new—including things they might risk failing at—they would never learn to ride bikes, play tennis, SPEAK, kiss, do cannonballs into a pool…they would never learn ANYTHING! C'mon, now.
Doing something I'm already good at over and over sounds like a great big SNOOZE. I am writing because I love writing. I want to push myself, always, to be better and better at it. I think about craft and narrative; I read voraciously; I dream about writing and think about writing when I run and when I shower and when I eat and when I'm out at parties. I will write books that are good. I will write books that are not. I will—maybe, maybe!—get out a book or two that is great. But I will never find greatness if I am unwilling to embrace failure, too.
So anyway, thank you for your opinion. I really do value and respect it; in the immortal words of the cast of the Jersey Shore, it's important that You Do You.
I'm gonna do me…and honestly, I hope I don't yet know all of the things that doing me entails. In fact, I hope I never stop learning.