I’d like to take a moment to talk about why I’m encouraging the YA community to participate in a boycott campaign to contact VOYA Magazine‘s advertisers. (A boycott action list is available here, with all their recent advertisers, e-mail addresses, and Twitter handles here .)
I had a very good conversation with a youth librarian who was concerned that we might be harming both teens and libraries by boycotting VOYA Magazine.
I’d like to say as a YA author and an editor, married to a children’s librarian, that I’m keenly aware of VOYA Magazine’s influence in the children’s literary community. For 40 years, VOYA Magazine has been an outspoken advocate for youth- ALL youth. Their reviews are important.
Many small library systems will buy exclusively from their reading lists, and many large library systems want to see one of their reviews, plus two more trades, when making purchasing decisions.
Five years ago, E.L. Kurdyla Publishing took over running VOYA Magazine. At some point during those five years, co-owner Lisa Frueh Kurdyla took over as the reviews editor.
Given their long history of advocacy for all teens, I think we all genuinely expected an apology for the biphobic positioning, a revision of the review, and a promise to do better in the future.
I’m not going to recount all of the bad faith behavior that came from that. I don’t skim over it because it’s not important, but because while tracking VOYA Magazine’s behavior is important, it’s a tracking the symptoms of the greater disease.
(I have compiled a non-comprehensive list of links at the end of this post, where you can read the backstory in full and see the screencaps taken.)
For now, I want to put the focus back on the books and the teen readers who deserve them. I want to explain why I think a boycott is necessary at this point.
First, the problem with the RUN review was not that it assigned a maturity level to the book as a whole. I think most of the YA community acknowledges that not every book is for every reader.
The problem was that the reviewer felt no need to assign a warning for the heterosexual sex that took place on the page, but did assign one due to foul language and the existence of an abstinent bisexual character.
This is the line from the review, which no longer appears on the VOYA Magazine site:
“The story contains many references to Bo’s bisexuality, and an abundance of bad language, so it is recommended for mature junior and senior high readers.”
Though the review identifies the other protagonist, Agnes, as blind in the review, the reference to Bo’s orientation is saved for the warning line.
Lisa Frueh Kurdyla admitted on Facebook that she is the one who made this change to this review. However, she refuses to acknowledge that the line conflates orientation with sex; she tried to disassociate the bisexuality mention from the bad language– but that’s simply not possible.
That sentence contains “Because X, so Y.” It explicitly states that the presence of an abstinent bisexual character is a reason to mark this book for mature readers. This conflation of orientation with sex, of orientation with mature content, actively harms LGBTQIA+ readers.
It hypersexualizes them simply for existing and it sets them apart from their heterosexual peers. It plays into the notion that LGBTQIA+ people are inherently sex-first/people-second.
LGBTQIA+ children have the highest rate of attempted and completed suicides of all children in the United States. One cause of this is the sense of isolation that many of them feel, which is increased because they do not see themselves positively represented in the world around them.
When trade reviewers add maturity or content warnings for the existence of LGBTQIA+ characters in YA fiction, we put those books out of the reach of the teens who so desperately need them.
Second, Kody Keplinger’s RUN contains both an abstinent bisexual girl and a sexually active heterosexual girl. The review doesn’t mention the heterosexual sex that takes place on the page, but it does warn for Bo’s existence as an abstinent bisexual girl.
After this review came to attention, and Kody Keplinger pointed out this discrepancy, YA author Phoebe North started pulling VOYA’s archived reviews to compare to this one. She examined a variety of books that she knew had sexual content of all kinds. While comparing these reviews, she discovered a pattern of bias.
She found no additional mature content warnings for heterosexual sex, for sex between boys, or for sex between humans and aliens. Sometimes this content wasn’t mentioned at all.
But there were mature content warnings for books featuring f/f relationships. It didn’t even require there be sex on the page between two girls— the mere existence of f/f romantic relationships were frequently being flagged for mature content warnings.
This is no way implies that the reviews were necessarily negative, or that they are the only reviews which contain mature content warnings. Another writer who wishes to remain anonymous also examined VOYA’s reviews for recent books. She instead took the approach of searching for mature content warnings.
This is what she found:
POPPY by Mary Hooper
RUNNING GIRL by Simon Mason
LUCKY STRIKES by Louis Bayard
WAR CHRONICLES (nonfiction)
SCAR GIRLS by Len Vlahos
BURN BABY BURN by Meg Medina
In the issue before, February 2016, Both THICKER THAN WATER by Kelly Fiore (“This book is mature and is best for older teen readers”) and THE GREAT AMERICAN WHATEVER by Tim Federle (“mature teens”) have similar suggestions– she did not look beyond those issues.
I haven’t read these titles, so I can’t speak to their content. However, this is the VOYA review for THE GREAT AMERICAN WHATEVER:
Sixteen-year-old Quinn Roberts, aspiring screenwriter and closeted gay teen, has not returned to school since his older sister died in a tragic car accident last December. It is now summer, and Geoff, his best friend, is determined to get him out of the house. Quinn goes with Geoff to a college party where he is instantly attracted to Amir who later asks him out on a date. What follows is a fluid first-person narrative that shines with Quinn’s flippant humor and genuine teenage vulnerability. The narrative is interspersed with Quinn’s favorite movie moments and quotes, albeit somewhat obscure for today’s teens, and Quinn’s unique way of imagining moments of his life written as a screenplay. The reader cares not only for Quinn, but also for Geoff, who secretly dated Quinn’s sister before her death, and Quinn’s mother, an obese hoarder who was abandoned by her husband but who is loved dearly by her son. Quinn ultimately discovers, through a series of events—seeing Amir, talking with his childhood idol, a screenwriter who is in town on the set of his latest movie—that life is not like the movies, but it is worth living to the fullest. He is able to come out to Geoff and his mom, and he finally reads his sister’s last text message, the one she sent before her death. Quinn experiences sex for the first time with Amir in a somewhat glossed over sex scene. This is recommended for mature teens who want to be inspired. Reviewer: Christina C. Jones; Ages 15 to 18.
It notes a single, glossed-over sex scene, but otherwise fairly typical fare for YA novels. So I do wonder why this book is recommended for mature teens. Is it because the LGBTQIA+ teens are being considered automatically mature content, with or without sex on the page? Keplinger’s RUN has a heterosexual sex scene on the page that goes unmentioned. (The Fiore book recommends for a mature audience because it deals with teen drug use and abuse, murder, and familial violence.)
So, even if we could generously ascribe the line in the review for RUN as an editing error (though I do not believe it was,) I do think there is evidence that f/f relationships and LGBTQIA+ people and the sex they have is treated differently from heterosexual, cisgender sex and sexuality.
Lisa Frueh Kurdyla is a co-owner and the reviews editor for VOYA Magazine. All reviews flow through her. She has the power to alter their text before they go to print. Therefore, she alone is ultimately responsible for the systematic pattern of maturity warnings for books featuring f/f relationships.
Though Lisa Frueh Kurdyla is the final arbiter of all reviews in VOYA Magazine, she refuses to acknowledge that the phrasing in their review for RUN was biphobic. Neither she nor VOYA Magazine will acknowledge the pattern of bias in their reviews.
Every other harm done by VOYA Magazine stems from their refusal to acknowledge their lack of familiarity with LGBTQIA+ people and issues. It stems from their refusal to engage meaningfully with the YA community at large.
Over the course of the last week, VOYA Magazine was offered advice and explanations; they were offered media links to help them educate themselves. They were offered PR assistance from professionals.
Rather than accept any of that help, VOYA Magazine has repeatedly, even as recently as yesterday, tried to silence criticism of them. They have blocked and banned actual teens begging for acknowledgment.
They have banned and blocked librarians, literary agents, authors, activists and readers. They have allowed someone operating under Lisa Frueh Kurdyla’s name to threaten legal action against YA author Hannah Moskowitz and Bisexual Books.
They have remained silent, refused accountability and are actively trying to ignore this issue until it goes away. When they started to lock down their social media again yesterday, deleting critical comments from their FB again, blocking members of the YA community from their Twitter account again, it seemed clear to me that a full week of reasoning, speaking, protesting, and conversation has changed no minds at VOYA Magazine.
(ETA: As of 10/02/16, they have deleted very post critical of them on FB, and locked down their Twitter, leaving no record of this issue on their sites at all.)
(ETA: As of 10/03/16, they have deleted ALL of their posts about this incident, leaving no evidence of this issue on their FB at all. They are also actively deleting any comment that inquire about it.)
And because their co-owner and reviews editor was proud to post to her open, public Facebook account that young people are “fuckheads”, that she’s glad she’s old because she doesn’t have to deal with young people anymore, that young people are obsessed with their own bodies, and that millennials suck, I can only conclude that the main issue with VOYA Magazine right now is the stewardship of co-owner and reviews editor, Lisa Frueh Kurdyla.
(ETA: As of 10/03/16, it would appear the issue stems both from Lisa Frueh Kurdyla and Editor in Chief RoseMary Ludt (née Honnold), as they are posting on their public FB pages about being happy to just cut toxic people out of their lives. They posted these comments shortly after someone deleted all references to this incident from the VOYA Magazine FB.)
Because she is the co-owner, and appears to be trying to silence the YA community rather than engage it, because she refuses to even consider the harm that is being done to the young people that VOYA Magazine serves, I ask you to consider contacting the magazine’s advertisers, and asking them to withdraw their sponsorship.
Agent Barry Goldblatt led this charge, and has removed advertising for his agency from VOYA Magazine. I hope that the extensive list of publishers, distributors, and advocates currently still advertising with VOYA Magazine would pledge to do the same.
I don’t do this cheerfully; I do not celebrate this. VOYA Magazine has an extraordinary 40 year history. But those history’s children have already been served.
The children of the present, and of the future, deserve the same strong advocacy without border or limit. And I do not believe they will get that from VOYA Magazine while Lisa Frueh Kurdyla still holds the final power over the reviews they publish.
Contrary to VOYA Magazine’s e-mailed response to YA author Tristina Wright that ignited this firestorm, I am not in search of enemies to destroy in public.
I am not glad to ask for a boycott; I am not happy that this valuable tool may no longer be available to youth librarians everywhere.
Until such a time as VOYA Magazine is willing to engage transparently, and in good faith, with the YA community, to rectify their errors and put into place mechanisms in the future to assure this never happens again, I don’t believe we can trust them to fulfill their mission.
LGBTQIA+ teens and their peers deserve an ally and an advocate, and I no longer believe they can find that in VOYA Magazine.
You are welcome to reproduce this statement, in part or in full, on any platform, with attribution.
The titles featuring f/f relationships that Phoebe North identified with mature content warnings in VOYA Magazine, while other contemporaneous titles with sex on the page, heterosexual sex, sex between boys, and human/alien sex, did not receive warnings:
- ASH by Malinda Lo (I note that this book was reviewed in 2009, before the Kurdyla’s took over VOYA, but still under the stewardship of current EIC, RoseMary Honnold Ludt.)
- ABOUT A GIRL by Sarah McCarry
- ASK ME HOW I GOT HERE by Chris Heppermann
- FAR FROM YOU by Tess Sharpe
- GENA/FINN by Hannah Moskowitz & Kat Helgeson
- RUN by Kody Keplinger
- The Guardian: YA author calls out Run review’s ‘bad’ implications of bisexual character.
- Librarian Anna Elizabeth Mitchell’s initial call for a Boycott of VOYA Magazine
- Librarian Angie Manfredi explains how she came to point out the biphobic review for Kody Keplinger’s RUN.
- Alex Liddell: Bi week, VOYA and the art of the non-apology
- An Open Letter to VOYA Magazine from Ink & Locket Press
- Bisexual Books’ ongoing coverage
- Bustle: Library Magazine Faces Intense Criticism Over Controversial Review Of Book With Bisexual Female Character
- Petition to Boycott VOYA Magazine
- Refinery 29: Is Bisexuality Too “Mature” for Young Readers?
- School Library Journal: Sunday Reflections: Where Did You Go, VOYA?
- Splice: Progress in YA Fiction
- SorryWatch: OY, VOYA!
- Tristina Wright: VOYA’s Biphobia and My Response
- The Underground: Blocked by VOYA Magazine!
- Ventura College Library: Rumble in the Jungle… of Libraryland?