The Political Bias in Modern YA Literature

The following quotes have been taken from popular YA books published in the last fifteen years:

23 comments

The following quotes have been taken from popular YA books published in the last fifteen years:

“When we watch this moment on TMZ, and then again on CNN and MSNBC, and even for a dark minute on Fox News, my face is blurred because I’m only seventeen and still a minor.”

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“I turned the TV back on, only there was no CNN.

‘Maybe I’m wrong,’ Mom said. ‘Maybe the world really is coming to an end.’

‘Should I try Fox News?” I asked. 

Mom shuddered. ‘We’re not that desperate.’”

*****************************

“Wow, so he votes Republican and he tends to sexist Neanderthals on the side. Sounds like a real winner.”

*****************************

(on the main antagonist’s “evil policies”):

“Senator King will continue to fight for what he believes in: traditional American values, personal freedoms, and a return to responsibility.”

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“…there were poems about loving people even though they aren’t worthy of love and poems about how America doesn’t love Black people, or Native people, or immigrants, or women.

*****************************

“Royal weddings are trash, the princes who have royal weddings are trash, the imperialism that allows princes to exist is trash. It’s trash turtles all the way down.’

‘Is this your TED Talk?’ June asks, ‘You do realize America is a genocidal empire too, right?‘”

*****************************

“The invasion came when we were too distracted raging against our governments to notice. Terror had a face and we elected it, my mom said.

*****************************

(On a fictional “utopian” society wherein the “monsters” who had been in power were overthrown by the “angels”):

It was the angels who took apart the prisons and the police… it’s hard to build a new world without making people angry…. no revolution is perfect. In the meantime the angels banned firearms…. tore down those horrible statues of rich men who’d owned people….

“Instead, they put other monuments… for the people who died when the monsters sent drones and bombs to their countries (because as the angels pointed out you shouldn’t use a nation as the basis to choose which deaths to mourn; nations aren’t even real), people who died because the monsters took away their health care…”

“[The teachers] mentioned religious books, but with reluctance, not wanting to influence the children.

Ah, but we know how to handle any monsters we want…. we close them up, you hear? We lock them away.”
“Aloe, we’ve talked about this,” Bitter interjected. “Rehab centers are not the same thing as prisons.”

Where Are The Conservatives?

Ranging from fairly harmless, albeit petty jabs at mainstream conservative media to fantasizing about what sounds suspiciously like a communist revolution, I have noticed a lot of political propaganda– specifically left-wing propaganda– in YA books recently.

I would address right-wing propaganda in this post as well, but I was actually unable to find any in the mainstream YA sphere. Maybe this is because the online YA community, at least in my experience, seems to be mostly on the left, or maybe there is some other factor at play, but I’ve been noticing this for a while and it has become even more ubiquitous recently. (After all, everything is political in 2021)

And I think this should be given some attention. Not because including politics in books is necessarily a bad thing, but because getting only one side of the story means you will never be able to form your own uninfluenced opinions.

If your beliefs align with the political left, that’s fine. But you should not block out any opposition in order to feel secure; instead, evaluate the opposing perspective and think about why you don’t agree. That will help you develop your perspective and allow you to better argue your own points. If you don’t like Fox News, explain what you don’t like about it instead of dissing it in half a sentence.

Demonizing Opponents

That leads me to the biggest thing I have noticed about this trend recently: a lot of the political content in these books demonizes anyone who does not agree with the presented viewpoint.

America already has one of the most sharply divided political climates in the world, and I can’t see how writing about political disagreements as a good vs. evil situation will help this environment.

There are many explicitly political books that are still nuanced and provoke discussion among readers, such as Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, which despite its leftist bent has good writing, good characters, and a story that can broaden people’s perspectives even if they don’t agree with everything pushed by the book.

So we shouldn’t keep politics out of books– but complicated issues shouldn’t be simplified into a good vs. evil dichotomy. Because that’s not how the world works.

Do you notice politics in books? Does it affect your reading experience? If you don’t live in the US, have you had a different experience with this issue?

As always, thanks for stopping by my blog today.

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Books Quoted:

  • Admission by Julie Buxbaum (2021)
  • Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (2006)
  • Moxie by Jenifer Mathieu (2015)
  • The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious #3) by Maureen Johnson (2020)
  • Love is a Revolution by Renee Watson (2021)
  • Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (2019)
  • The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow (2020)
  • Pet by Akwaeke Emezi (2019)

23 comments on “The Political Bias in Modern YA Literature”

  1. I love that you brought this up, Emily! I think it something that many readers simply do not even notice and
    I must say that although I am generally pretty aware with the books I read, I am sure there are times that I simply don’t notice either.
    I absolutely agree with you, “complicated issues shouldn’t be simplified into a good vs. evil dichotomy. Because that’s not how the world works.”

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Yes, I agree that sometimes people don’t really think about these things especially if what they read already aligns with their own opinions. I only started noticing it more when I began paying closer attention to politics in 2020. Thanks for the comment!

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  2. This was a really interesting post, Emily! I do tend to notice these things when I read, but personally, they don’t bother me. I actually like how it makes the characters seem more real and anchored in our time period when they voice their political thoughts, even if their claims are made on a purely emotional level. I feel like it gives me an insight into the way US society currently is, and what the most contentious issues are.

    Then again, maybe the reason these remarks don’t bother me is because they’re usually pretty close to my own views 😅 By European standards, I’d say my political views are left-leaning but still very center – but what is considered center here apparently already terrifies Americans into thinking we aren’t far removed from communists… Having lived in both countries for a long time, all I can say is that I like living in a place where citizens look out for one another. If paying high taxes means I get a free university education and don’t have to worry about financial ruin if one of my family members ever becomes ill, I’ll gladly pay up. I love that I can walk around without having to worry about someone possibly carrying a gun, and feel significantly safer knowing we’ve had maybe one school shooting in the past ten years. I like that our national media is not so far polarized that you could accuse it of being biased towards one political party. And I love that people openly discuss politics here and are able to get along even when their views don’t converge. (Although this is also changing, especially with the rise of Germany’s right wing AfD party.)

    Because I do agree with you that discussion is important! Which is why, even though I don’t agree with a lot of things current on the Republican agenda, I would still like to see that perspective represented. Watching from the outside, I’d say one of the biggest reasons the potlitical climate is so strained in the US right now is because people refuse to even talk to one another or listen to what the “other side” has to say. Because party lines are so divisive, the actual issues underlying the problems and people’s real fears are often never addressed because it’s more important whether someone considers themselves a Democrat or a Republican. I think if more Republican views were also reflected in books, it could help readers who lean more left understand better where these people are coming from. You don’t have to agree, but acknowledging a different perspective can be the first step to working together in spite of differences.

    Then again, I think it is only natural that writers put what they believe in into their books. I would also have a very hard time writing a right-wing character without having my own views bias how they’re depicted. And I do agree with you that the book community’s beliefs overwhelmingly align with the left. Which maybe isn’t that surprising when you think about it. Writers are, for the most part, voracious readers, and there are tons of studies showing that reading makes people more open-minded towards other ways of living and people from different cultural backgrounds than yours. And with Trump’s America First policies that largely favored WASP ideals and discriminated against, for example, Muslim immigrants or the transgender community, I can see why someone who reads widely and has lots of empathy for these people’s standpoints would be so frustrated by politics that they vent that anger into their writing. And for left-leaning readers, it can be very satisfying to see that they’re not alone in thinking what they’re thinking…

    So yeah, sorry for this monster comment 😅 As you can tell, I don’t have the answers, either. I want different perspectives in books, and I don’t want one side to be continously portrayed as evil without anyone ever addressing it, and yet I also want the characters to feel authentic. So I guess we just need some more Republican YA authors? Or US society in general just needs to learn to talk about its problems more, rather than immediately pointing blame at each other? I don’t have the answers either, but since you asked for a non-American perspective, this is mine 😉 (Hopefully, I haven’t offended anyone too much with my German bluntness 😅)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh thanks for your comment! I am so glad to hear the perspective of someone outside of the US bubble. I completely agree with what you said, “one of the biggest reasons the political climate is so strained right now is because people refuse to even talk to one another or listen to what the ‘other side’ has to say.” Absolutely, and especially with the groupthink/cancel culture situation in the book community. It definitely seems like, as you said, people are more concerned with which “side” someone is one than with what they are actually saying, and it would be more effective to try to find common ground than to attack people based on political labels. After all, most people have the same goal: to improve the country. The difference is how they think this would best be accomplished. I also agree that there just seem to be more left-leaning writers right now, and I definitely am not trying to silence them– I just think that especially with the young audience of these books, that people should be able to look at them critically and that the issue I take with it is not the politics itself, it’s the rhetoric they use about their opponents. Conservatives do the same thing, although there aren’t as many of them in this industry/particular side of the internet. The reason I wrote this post wasn’t to make a political statement, but to explain why I think these remarks are contributing to a climate where people are reluctant to speak freely

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m glad I was able to provide some insights within all that rambling 😂 I think remembering that everyone is trying to improve their country is probably a good strategy for all of us when faced with differing political opinions, no matter where we live! And I definitely agree that the rhetoric in books has a big influence on how readers might perceive politics. Don’t worry, I never got the feeling you wanted to silence more liberal authors or make a grand political statement – I think your point came across really well! Thanks again for writing this post and making me think!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Are there teens reading these books? I’m pretty sure there are but, from what I heard it is mostly women in their 20s and 30s in the book community that is reading these YA books.

    I don’t usually read YA books but, I do know the book community has a curtain leaning and they heavily promote YA books. I don’t mind some politics in books and it can have a place to provoke discussion.

    It is when a fictional book keeps on hitting the reader over the head with one sided views, it is alienating to an audience. People are not going to come together when one side is being alienated.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well, I am a teen and I do read YA, although not as much as I used to, but yes there are a lot of older people reading these books especially in the online community. I definitely agree that when the politics is entirely one-sided and pushing an agenda very aggressively it can alienate readers and you’re right, this makes it impossible for people to find common ground and for progress to be made. Thanks for your comment!

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  4. I haven’t been reading as many YA books because even though I’m a Liberal, they’ve become too politicized. I actually like middle grade better, which ironically has a lot more subtlety in the way that it handles it’s issues. I bought the book ‘Pet’ and after reading the first page it went STRAIGHT in the Goodwill bin.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, even though I’m the target audience I have recently started to actively avoid YA for this reason! I don’t read a lot of middle grade, but the ones I have read, as you said, are more subtle even if the overall message is political. Pet was definitely the worst example I found when writing this post, yeah…. thanks for you comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I wonder if part of the reason why YA political messaging leans more to the (American) political left, as you’ve identified, is because of demographics. Research shows that young Americans are more likely to be Democratic than Republican. Also, people with more education (eg. college graduates) also tend to lean Democratic over Republican – and many writers tend to have one if not more college degrees. In the US, I wouldn’t be surprised if that has a strong impact on the political leanings of authors and on the content that most YA readers want to consume.

    Personally, political bias in books doesn’t really bother me. I actually study politics in university (I’m an international relations major) so I’m used to reading *a lot* of politics-related literature! I’m also Canadian, so maybe that makes me more detached from these issues than an American reader might be.

    To an extent, I think that YA books – and books in general – have always been political. Some books are more political than others of course, but political content is not necessarily new to the genre. “The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton has themes of inequality and class, for example. Perhaps it’s just that political content is becoming more explicit. In a world where people are increasingly aware of politics, whether on the right or the left, I think it’s natural that political issues become more central in people’s writing. Whether it’s handled skillfully or not is a different question.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very true; I definitely agree that demographics has something to do with it. The politics itself, as you said, is definitely not a problem– it’s impossible to rid books of politics and I wouldn’t say that’s a good idea; however a lot of it isn’t really handled as well as I think it could be

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  6. American publishing definitely leans left, and I’ve also noticed that the books that are published tend to have certain ideologies that match that, whether directly stated or not. Sometimes I agree with the things in the books I read and sometimes not, but I do think it would be interesting to mix things up a little once in a while. Obviously there are people who DO watch Fox News, so there’s no particular reason not to represent that in a book. The author doesn’t even have to personally like or watch Fox News to write a character who does.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you for this post! It’s great that you brought it up. You’re absolutely right that we’re only getting one side of it all. Honestly, I’m seeing some adult fiction as well that’s making leftist comments just to throw the author’s views in there. The entire publishing world is influenced by the left (or it’s starting to, anyway). I’m not saying the left-wing writers need to be silenced, but I bet if book publishers were forced to make a choice, they’d choose books on the left over right. It seems like it’s more of a people-pleasing tactic than anything.

    Anyway, if you ask me, fiction books are a place to escape. Why do we need to bring politics into them? We have enough non-fiction for that. As well as real life.

    Liked by 1 person

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