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This pro-America book could buck the left-wing YA trend.

It’s hard to believe that a young-adult book about a male teenager on an exciting adventure might be considered controversial. But we live in increasingly contentious times when everything — from where you eat to what you wear — is suffused with politics. “Camp Valor,” a young-adult thriller by Scott McEwen and Hof Williams out...
Time: 13:13     Date: 14.07.2018
US Living News: This pro-America book could buck the left-wing YA trend. NY Post 24 - US News

“Camp Valor,” a young-adult thriller by Scott McEwen and Hof Williams out this month, tracks a secretive government training camp for troubled teens trying to turn their lives around. Plucked from prison after his arrest for a crime he did not commit, Wyatt Brewer is offered that second chance. The book tracks his, and other parallel stories, to their exciting conclusion.

McEwen co-wrote the No. 1 New York Times bestseller “American Sniper” which went on to become a blockbuster movie and a darling among conservatives. But his YA book — which has been out one week — has yet to set the youth market on fire. That may be down to the zeitgeist: For the last few years the young-adult genre has been dominated by books that aren’t just casually liberal but full-on “woke.”

“Camp Valor” is striking for what it is not. Race is not discussed in the book, gender is an afterthought. Several of the central characters in the book are girls, but their role is not expressly female. One of them makes out with the main character. Another kills and eats people. They’re both described as attractive.

The races of most of the characters aren’t specified either. The movie version of this book, should it be made, could easily feature a multiracial cast, but literary criticism website Kirkus made sure to note in its review that “with minor exceptions the cast defaults to white — although the hacker’s sidekick, Raquel, a barely restrainable psychotic killer, is Syrian/Lebanese.”

Marc Resnick, executive editor at St. Martin’s press, which published “Camp Valor,” told me there is space for all types of perspectives in the young-adult market. “If all we published were books with a liberal bent (or only conservative books, for that matter) we’d be doing the readers a terrible disservice. Let them decide what they want to read. It shouldn’t be me shaping their taste — or a bookseller, or a publisher.”

It’s a noble goal, but frequently the books end up being liberal by default. A 2016 piece in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, by a teenage writer from their children’s books site, explored why YA books are overwhelming left-wing. “Very few YA books are written with the intention of being politically correct; rather, these books seem to me to be the product of a publishing industry whose prevailing atmosphere is metropolitan and liberal, and therefore the vast majority of books published partake of the same moral, ethical and social values. It’s exceedingly rare, for example, to find protagonists in teen fiction with right-wing beliefs, despite the fact such teenagers must exist in reality!” Those teenagers do, of course, exist though it would be hard to tell by the YA bestseller list. “THE HATE U GIVE,” a book by Angie Thomas, about an African-American girl witnessing her friend being shot by a police officer, has sat atop the young-adult hardcover New York Times bestseller list for 70 weeks.

Second on the list is “Children of Blood and Bone” by Tomi Adeyemi. Vox’s review noted the book “is unapologetically Afrofuturist YA, a fantasy epic that centers on black characters and marks their power by making their skin darker and their hair curlier.” Another book on the list is “Ash Princess,” described as a “feminist twist on a traditional tale of a fallen heroine.”

Even the books that don’t have an explicitly progressive message are still tailored to be more left-wing. A best-selling YA author, who asked to be kept anonymous, told me he has been discouraged from writing from a boy’s perspective. Seven of the 10 books currently on the Times list feature a girl as the main protagonist.

All stories deserve telling but the YA market is saturated from one direction. A literary agent familiar with the young-adult space, who asked to remain anonymous, told me if one non-liberal book broke through we would see more non-progressive content in the YA world. “If there were major hits, I think you’d see more conservative content in the space” but that’s hard to achieve because “the industry is almost exclusively staffed at every level with very progressive-minded people,” he said.

A conservative book breaking through seems nearly impossible in a field that continues to shift ever leftward. Sometimes a book that is ostensibly liberal can still be punished for not being liberal enough. Last year the YA novel “American Heart” lost its coveted “starred review” from Kirkus after a public outcry that the book, about a white teen who comes to realize the racism around her, was insensitive to Muslims.

A piece last year by Rachel Deahl in Publishers Weekly on liberalism in the book-publishing industry noted “the existence of conservative imprints (at all Big Five publishers)” while “books espousing liberal ideas often land at general-interest imprints.” How many fiction writers want to take the risk their book will be limited to a smaller audience because of the political leanings of one of their characters? Why would any?

The anonymous author told me “the YA industry, like teenagers, goes to extremes. When the subject matter was open, it was wide open. Now that everything has to be PC, it’s gotta be totally PC.”

McEwen says it wasn’t his intention to write a conservative book. He and his co-author hope “Camp Valor” becomes a series, one that showcases a “patriotic view of action-adventure” and is “pro-US, pro-kids, pro-personal responsibility.”

The question for “Camp Valor” becomes whether ignoring politics altogether is doable in the young-adult book industry. “Camp Valor” will have to prove whether it’s OK for teenagers to read an exciting book where no one explicitly hates Donald Trump, none of the kids have a deep revelation about their sexuality, there isn’t some larger struggle around race, no parallel to our current political moment is drawn, no social issues are touched upon and the fantasy is kids getting to be more than kids for a little while. Half the country might be waiting for just that.

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