Andrew Smith is not my friend.
He is my Facebook friend.
Like 1000 other people who claim him as such.
In short, he is not my friend at all, really.
I do believe he knows that I am a defender and proponent of his writing. I have taught his novels in my Young Adult Literature courses at Montclair State University for the last three years, and four times he has been the recipient of Boy Book of the Month honors on my site, BoyBookoftheMonth.com. But I can’t honestly claim him as a friend.
I say this because there are people who believe that social media gives them certain rights, like the right to claim a stranger as a friend, or the right to bully said stranger personally and professionally. That has happened recently to my Facebook friend Andrew Smtih. It should not have happened. It happened because Andrew Smith writes books for boys (there, I said it), though in no way do I think there’s ever any intention of excluding girls from his readership. They just often tell stories about boys trying to learn about themselves, the world around them, and girls. And so boys often gravitate toward these books. So, someone who read ONE of his books some years ago decided that he was a sexist somehow. I won’t belabor that point, mainly because I don’t understand it myself.
In short, a Andrew Smith got railroaded out of the virtual world because he dared to honestly answer a question. What did he say? He answered the contention that “there isn’t much of a way into your books for female readers” by saying “I was raised in a family with four boys, and I absolutely did not know anything about girls at all. I have a daughter now; she’s 17. When she was born, that was the first girl I ever had in my life. I consider myself comletely ignorant to all things woman d female. I’m trying to be better though.” What an awful thing to say, right? No, of course not! But to some people, apparently, this makes him a sexist.
After this online event, Andrew Smith cancelled his Twitter and Facebook accounts and his website is down, which means I have no way to tell him that I support him, and I’m sorry about what happened to him yesterday, and that it was the work of the ignorant who think they are arbiters of taste in the world. Right now I wish there was no social media, so people like Andrew Smith, who have done nothing but try to be a voice to disenfranchised young people (yes, usually teenage boys: you got a problem with that?), wouldn’t be hurt by people who think that because they are allowed to speak on social media that they actually have something worthwhile to say. I am not his friend, but I know enough about his life to know he is a sensitive human being who writes books about sensitive boys because he wants to help them understand their world better.
Anyway, if you are looking at anything posted on the internet today, Andrew, please read this: Do not let them silence your voice. Stay off social media if you must (although, where am I going to get new independent music suggestions?). But do not let them keep you from writing for those of us who were left out by mainstream trends that told us we had to fit our square edges into their round holes.
I was first introduced to Andrew Smith’s work four years ago by M. Jerry Weiss, the man who discovered Paula Danziger, and
always finds writerly gems for the world. “Here, read this,” he said, putting a copy of Stick in my hands. “There’s not
a school in America that can teach it. It’s wonderful!”
In short, Stick is about a boy who suffers at the hands of abusive parents and is forced to make his way through the world on his own. It’s about every kind of taboo—verbal, physical, sexual and psychological abuse; teenage sex; bullying; drugs; prostitution. After reading it, I understood what Jerry meant. It’s not a book that maybe anyone would want to read, but it’s a book many people need to read. It’s the kind of book that Andrew Smith has been writing ever since—a book for kids whose lives aren’t sitcoms. I could go on to more reviews, but that is not my aim here. All I can tell you is that Winger is, in my estimation, one of the four most important Young Adult novels of the 21st century, one which just might have the chance to change teenagers’ attitudes about—oh, hell: sexuality, homosexuality, bullying, friendship, open-mindedness, education, love, responsibility, loyalty, and maybe three or four more themes.
He is a writer who makes a difference, and I want him to continue to make a difference, despite some ignorant people’s claims that if you aren’t writing for them personally (whoever they think they are), you aren’t worthwhile. So, Andrew Smith is not my friend, so I can't call him, I can't email him. If one of his friends is reading this, though, maybe you can tell him for me:
The loud-mouthed bullies of the virtual world are wrong. You’re right. Keep writing, Andrew, and if you never return to social media, I’ll miss you, but I understand.
So, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go to the MegaBookStore and move more Andrew Smith (and David Lubar, Jason Reynolds, Benjamin Alire Saenz and Alex London, Matt de la Peña and a few others’) books to the top row of the first shelf so more people can see that there are writers who speak for them.