Ava is a slut.
At least, that is, according to a review of Salvage I read on Goodreads the other day. More interestingly, the person who left the review had sorted my book onto a shelf called "Slut." That's right. There were other books on the slut shelf, too. In fact, they were mostly YA books, some of them by other writers I know.
I was - to say the least - taken aback. Yes, Ava has sex in the book. Once. With a guy she loves and thinks she's going to marry. If anyone thinks that makes her a slut, what does that mean they think about real girls who are statistically pretty likely to engage in premarital sex? What does that mean they think about women like me? After all, even though I went on to marry my high school boyfriend, we didn't wait until we were married to have sex.
Now it's easy to laugh about my book ending up on the slut shelf, but I remember how hurtful that word was to me when I was younger. Someone wrote it on the side of my car once in college for some unknown reason, and it left me in tears. Part of why I wrote Salvage was to let girls know that their worth isn't tied up in their sexuality. Having sex doesn't fundamentally devalue you as a person. It doesn't change the fact that you have amazing things to contribute to the world.
I think this whole slut shelf thing points to a larger problem our culture has with expressions of female sexuality in literature. I've written before about how the most common reason that books are banned or challenged in the U.S. is because they contain references to sex. People have been horrified by something as common as girls engaging in a sexual relationship with a partner they love since Forever, by Judy Blume.
And the worst part is, women buy into this. We do it to each other. We've all been dismissed for wearing the wrong thing or dating the wrong person or putting on too much makeup or simply making mistakes in our lives. Every woman has been slutshelved at some point. We should understand how hurtful these things are, yet we call each other nasty things like slut and whore. We judge each other harshly for what we wear and whether or not we conform to another person's idea of what a woman really should be.
Something Lauren Myracle, author of the much-banned Internet Girls series, recently wrote really struck a chord with me,
"I want my books to make a difference, and though a novel I've written might be some adult's worst nightmare, it might also be some girl's small saving grace at a time when she's feeling teary and alone."
I want to make that kind of difference, too.
So, what do we do when something bad happens? When someone calls us sluts? We make slutty, slutty lemonade, that's what.
For the next month, I'll be holding a Slutshelf Giveaway. The winner will receive a package of books (including a copy of Salvage) that have been banned, challenged, or generally derided for including mention of sex and sexuality. For every person who enters, I'll donate one dollar to the Freedom to Read Foundation (up to $1,000), so please spread the word!
In addition to Salvage, the package will include. . .
Forever, by Judy Blume
Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
Across the Universe, by Beth Revis (signed!)
The Madman's Daughter, by Megan Shepherd
If you're a writer or blogger, I want to encourage you to set up your own Slutshelf Giveaway, feature a banned book, or talk about a time when you've been slutshelved. Let's show girls that women can support each other and build each other up, rather than tearing each other down. Let's show them what a ridiculous concept the slutshelf is.
UPDATE: My amazing agent Kate Testerman has agreed to match any donation I make to the Freedom to Read Foundation! Please keep your tweets and comments coming. Now your participation will go even further.
FURTHER UPDATE: Here are some other writers and bloggers fighting against Slutshelving.
Beth Revis - blog post, plus a signed copy of Across the Universe for my giveaway
Megan Shepherd - blog post, plus a signed copy of The Madman's Daughter for my giveaway (Thanks for risking scandalizing your mother for this, Megan!)
Blogging Between the Lines - giveaway and blog post
My agent, Kate Testerman - matching donation to the Freedom to Read Foundation.
A fantastic post by Book Riot.
Thank you, guys! You are the best.
UPDATE, PART III: Sharon Biggs Waller, author of A Mad, Wicked Folly, is joining us! She recently went though something similar when a reviewer slut-shamed the heroine of her historical novel for having a relationship outside of her arranged engagement. Sharon will be offering a choice of her book or audiobook to the winner of the giveaway. Yay for Sharon!
UPDATE PART IV: THE UPDATING: YA author Jessa Holbrook is donating a copy of her novel While You're Away, which deals with the issues of cheating and long-distance relationships, to the giveaway. Let's hear it for Jessa!
UPDATE, PART V: Hi guys! We still have three weeks to go, and it looks very likely we might hit my $1,000 donation limit. (That would be amazing!) Trish Doller has agreed to let me include a copy of her book, Where the Stars Still Shine, in the giveaway if we reach that goal. Trish is my agency sister and hers was one of the other books on the Goodreads shelf that inspired this giveaway/fundraiser. Here's a little more about it.
Stolen as a child from her large and loving family, and on the run with her mom for more than ten years, Callie has only the barest idea of what normal life might be like. She's never had a home, never gone to school, and has gotten most of her meals from laundromat vending machines. Her dreams are haunted by memories she’d like to forget completely. But when Callie’s mom is finally arrested for kidnapping her, and Callie’s real dad whisks her back to what would have been her life, in a small town in Florida, Callie must find a way to leave the past behind. She must learn to be part of a family. And she must believe that love--even with someone who seems an improbable choice--is more than just a possibility.
Trish Doller writes incredibly real teens, and this searing story of love, betrayal, and how not to lose your mind will resonate with readers who want their stories gritty and utterly true