“White Feminist” YA author throws a giant tantrum & all her YA author friends attack a college student & calls up their university & complains because her book got passed over for black authors in favor of a more mature curriculum. @floricomant on Twitter
It looks like #sarahdessen did a search and saw this than got caught up in white woman victimhood or thought it would be great PR for a upcoming book. @cherry_LA on Twitter
I wrote about the truly deranged case of the best-selling novelists who believe they are being bullied by an English major in South Dakota. Ruth Graham, Slate
“Sarah Dessen strategically selected what part of a quote — made by Brooke Nelson in 2017 — to include in her tweet and failed to disclose the full context because she was crafting a reaction that would favor her.”
I hope some or all of those people are asking Dessen why she manipulated the situation the way she did. Most of them jumped to her defense based on the snippet and she owes them an explanation as to why she didn’t post the entire section of the article.
#SarahDessen misrepresented the facts to push propaganda, gain sympathy, & target a college student simply because her rich white privilege didn’t win her ONE privilege ONE time & because the student fought for a Carnegie Mellon/NAACP Image-awarded book be read instead. FOH @andriabenet on Twitter
Interesting that only famous, bestselling, authors felt comfortable engaging in this pile-on. When honestly they should’ve cared the least bc they’re not the authors who have to worry about where their next dollar is coming from. @GenelleL on Twitter.
one of the main reasons i posted these screenshots is that the YA community, including aspects of the publishing industry itself is known to be very abusive & i think it’s important to point out & keep track of people who use their platform to facilitate & encourage abuse. @floricomant on Twitter
Very strange to watch a host of female authors pile on to show love to Sarah Dessen after Dessen threw a public hissy fit b/c a literal teenager offered some tepid criticism of her work. A TEENAGER. You are novelists. Facing (valid) criticism is part of the job. @HillaryKelly on Twitter
she “forgot” to mention that the book that was picked over hers for a college-level reading list was Just Mercy, a book written by a black lawyer regarding the flaws in the criminal justice system. @garahels on Twitter
Don’t forget you purposely cropped out the part that explained which book was selected over yours; one about racism and incarceration. You were mad that a student wanted to read about racism and memoirs of a black man instead. You spun it it benefit YOURSELF and dog pile. @LolitaAi on Twitter
@jenniferweiner turn their star power and their audience against a regular person quoted in a short article in a tiny newspaper at a small university is really ugly and disheartening. @unrequitedlo4 on Twitter
@jodipicoult takes up the standard of ‘this is anti woman’ over the reader’s comments and yet Sarah Dressen et al are attacking said reader in this fashion. It’s almost like white feminism is just a way to silence the voices of those who make us uncomfortable. @apocalypsenyet2 on Twitter
Finally reading about the sarah dessen situation and all I can say is 1. Wow white women really love to be outraged victims and 2. White women YA writers really think they’re writing for all “teen girls” when they really mean WHITE teen girls. @sunnybruin on Twitter
This made me sick this morning. I am so triggered by white women asserting their privilege for pity and causing trauma for other folks. So many other women, Black women even, piled on a college student (who did nothing wrong) to PROTECT this grown ass woman. Sick. @BrandiJeter on Twitter
The article Sarah Dessen quoted goes on to say…
New York Times best-selling author Sarah Dessen found a three-year-old article in which Brooke Nelson, then a junior in college at Northern State University in South Dakota, joined a committee that selects a book for Campus Read. This is a book that all the college students read and discuss with a social justice bent.
50% of the prisoners in South Dakota are Native Americans, while 9% of the population is Native. This is an issue that is virtually never discussed here, and a book on racism in the justice system is so, so relevant in SD. @franthetabby on Twitter
Dessen’s book, Saint Anything, was one of about 50 books on the list. Brooke Nelson said in the article that she joined the committee to prevent Sarah Dessen’s book from being chosen saying it was fine for teen girls. Brooke Nelson wanted a book on how the criminal justice system unfairly targets POC and thought this was more worthy for a Common Read because it’s far more challenging work than the Sarah Dessen book. The college responded by saying that, in fact, there was little to no discussion about Dessen’s book during the selection process. Dessen’s book was not chosen, instead, Just Mercy was the book that year. Dessen “lost out” on potentially 2000 book sales.
Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.
Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.
Winner of the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction • Winner of the NAACP Image Award for Nonfiction • Winner of a Books for a Better Life Award • Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize • Finalist for the Kirkus Reviews Prize • An American Library Association Notable Book
Dessen posted with a screencap from this article. In her tweet, she scribbled out Brooke Nelson’s name but also omitted that Nelson advocated for books about social justice. Dozens of New York Times best-selling authors joined Sarah Dessen’s pity party for herself, not realizing the context for why Dessen received “a bad review.” These authors collectively have millions of followers who also joined in the attack on Brooke Nelson. (It was only one click to figure out who Sarah Dessen referred to). Brooke Nelson, fearing for her safety, deleted all her social media accounts. She is now a graduate student studying linguistics, specifically online bullying.
The most aggravating thing about this YA drama is the hypersensitivity over Brooke Nelson stating that Sarah Dessen’s books are “fine for teen girls” as if just acknowledging someone’s target audience is the same thing as denigrating that audience. @theoceanblooms on Twitter
When I think of what happened to Brooke Nelson, I realize that what Sarah Dessen did could have happened to anyone. It could have happened to my own teen daughters, for example.
My oldest, now in college, read Sarah Dessen … in middle school. By 10th grade, she had outgrown romance beach reads and moved on to weightier subjects, mostly of the non-fiction variety. She was curious about the world and upset to discover structural racism around her. She informed me, for example, that incarceration was a way to oppress black people. And she had done the research to back that up.
My middle daughter read Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner as a 9th and 10th grader. I actually get them confused so it’s probably one of them and not the other. By 12th grade, she was also done with this beach read genre of books. Not so much as she has moved on to more serious reading, but because when she wants to be entertained, she is not turning to books. (In fact, that’s the reason why reading is down for teens. See A Third of Teens Don’t Read for Pleasure).
When she wants to be entertained, she turns to her phone. She will watch YouTubers, binge watch Netflix shows, and watch back-to-back movies when she’s procrastinating doing her homework. Honestly, YouTubers provide the same elements entertainment at YA beach reads: relatable characters, drama, relationships. Except YouTubers are real people rather than well-drawn characters and you get more details on their life. I really think YouTubers have taken “market share” from YA fiction writers.
I think high school and college students read because they are assigned piles of reading. But reading for pleasure checks different boxes. It might not be for pleasure like it was for past generations; there are simply too many other options available to them. When my daughters choose to read for pleasure, it’s typically to learn about something. For example, my daughters purchased these books recently (I pulled my Amazon order receipts for this list):
So my point is that either of my two daughters could have joined a committee for a school-wide read (our high school did this in the past) and opted not to chose a beach read designed as entertainment. One year, for example, our high school “all-school” read was Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It was a difficult read for my then rising 9th grader, but she plugged through it even though she had to look up handfuls of words per page. It was worth it to her. It was a powerful reading experience that has shaped her world view. (I would also note that Sarah Dessen has never been selected as a high school All School read at my kids’ high school. Honestly, I don’t even think any of the English teachers include her books in their curriculum and I tend to check out the reading list from Back To School Night.)
So now imagine having one of my daughters called out on social media by a New York Times best selling author; an author that she’s read her books. And having other famous authors tell her to “fuck that fucking bitch.” And Sarah Dessen fanning the flames with an endorsement for that sentiment: I love you heart emoji.”
And Sarah Dessen’s encouragement now is rewarded with two more New York Times best-selling authors eager to one-up Siobhan Vivian.
There’s also Angie Thomas contacting Brooke’s alma mater and threatening to never work with them again. The alma mater tweeted an apology to Angie Thomas in a pathetic show of weakness. Her college definitely did not have Brooke’s back and she would be right to wonder if that will affect her career prospects.
Jennifer Weiner’s comparison of Brooke Nelson to Larry Nassar is another level of slander. Does she imply that Brooke Nelson is a rapist or should be raped? I mean, if you can take the statements above by Siobhan Vivian, Tiffany D. Jackson, Dhonielle Clayton to suggest sexual assault against Brooke Nelson. And certainly, with the millions of followers of these dozens of authors, you only need a few crazies for bad things to happen to her. Just look at Trump and his followers.
I would imagine that my strong self-confident daughters would be scared. And fear for their safety. And for their futures, since their careers have not started yet.
If this happened to my daughters, I’d go mama bear on this posse of mean girls. And by mama bear, I mean I would file lawsuits against them and Teen Penguin. I’ve been the plaintive in three court cases and I’ve won three times. The issue is that I wasn’t able to collect the money because it’s hard to collect against someone with no assets.
Factors in favor of the plaintive, in my opinion, (especially to find an attorney willing to take this on contingency) is that the defendants are wealthy. Also, they don’t want this bad PR to drag out. Funding their defense attorneys will also be a point of contention. Could they make, for example, Sarah Dessen, pay their legal fees? Or Teen Penguin who seems to have worked behind the scenes to coordinate authors to jump into this fray? The nice things are that they all have deep pockets so collecting if you win is a likely outcome.
As for the stomach for fighting a legal battle, I’d put my money on Brooke Nelson. Authors, I’ve noticed, can be so brave on paper on via Twitter, but tend to be non-confrontational face-to-face. It would be easy with some participants angry at being dragged into a lawsuit, to get them to turn on Sarah Dessen and her publisher.
In terms of calculating damages, I would use advertising-speak for that. “On average, a thousand views on Twitter costs anywhere from $9 to $11. Clicks run around 25 to 30 cents each, and engagement is about the same if a cent or two cheaper.” From Follows.com
You can calculate the number of views by the number of tweets x followers for everyone involved. And retweets should be counted. And that’s a big pool of “everyone” because it’s not just Sarah Dessen or the authors who were involved but anyone who engaged in their tweets. And it’s the number of followers PER TWEET. Then multiply this gigantic number (probably in the billions) by $9 to $11 and there you have your damages.
I tweeted about it today, but here’s what I think Brooke Nelson could sue for:
- I think Brooke Nelson should sue #sarahdessen and some of the other authors for damages. I’ll bet they just want this to die down and would try to avoid a court case. They’d settle. Attorneys willing to take this on contingency should contact Brooke Nelson.
- I would think the apologies show consciousness of guilt. And @PenguinTeen coordinated a smear campaign with their authors so it wasn’t just an organic Twitter toxic response. And #sarahdessen fanned the flames with her “I love you” response to an attack on your character
- I would save all emails and phone messages that are threatening to show the harm done by millions of ya fans encouraged to attack you. So even authors who made mild statements of support for #sarahdessen can be included in the lawsuit because perhaps it was their followers.
- So you could sue for damage to professional reputation, pain, and suffering, loss of social media channels and the time spent to build them, etc.
- I would also suspect that there is a lot of behind the scenes messaging between #sarahdessen and the participating authors who are angry with her. Her apologies to them are further proof to you of damages. These would come out in depositions.
- I would also sue the three authors with the “fuck that fucking bitch”‘tweets. They are clearing escalating violence towards you. One could interpret their tweets as a missive of violent sexual assault against you.
- I also think all the deleted tweets by #sarahdessen and the other authors involved shows consciousness of guilt.
As for who should be sued, it would up to the attorney but here’s the list of some of the participants:
- Roxane Gay
- Ruta Sepetys
- Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan
- Sarah Watson
- Alwyn Hamilton
- Megan McCafferty
- Laurie Halse Anderson
- Jackson Pearce
- Jennifer Weiner
- Adam Silvera
- Angie Thomas
- Saundra Mitchell
- Julia DeVillers
- Julia Murphy
- Simone Elkeles
- Alyssa Day
- Margaret Stohl
- Meg Cabot
- Rita Williams-Garcia
- Melissa Walker
- Katie Heaney
- Diane Duane
- Kathleen A. Tucker
- Indigo Teen (book retailer)
- Jodi Picoult
- Kiera Cass
- Morgan Matson
- Celeste Ng
- Ed Mcdonald
- Jennifer Lynn Barnes
- Amy Giles
- Michael Northrop
Here’s a list of the articles published so far:
From The Guardian: Hey, young adult authors: writing for teenagers is no excuse to act like them
From Newsweek: Young Adult Writer Sarah Dessen Apologizes for Tweet Rallying Fellow Authors, Fans Against Northern State Graduate
From Slate: The 2017 College Grad Who Got Attacked by a Horde of YA Authors Had No Idea What She Was Getting Into
From Spectator USA: Sarah Dessen and the thin-skinned world of Young Adult fiction
From Washington Examiner: Young adult fiction authors bully a woman in the name of feminism
From The Guardian: War of words breaks out after YA novelist’s fans go after critical reader
From The Washington Post: A student opposed a YA novel for mandatory college reading. The backlash from famous authors was fierce.
From Jezebel: Bestselling Authors Band Together to Dunk on a College Student
From Vulture: Famous Authors Drag Student in Surreal YA Twitter Controversy
From The College Fix: Alumna who criticized a college Common Read book gets blasted by school, social media
From Jezebel: The Strawman of the Teenage Girl
From Medium: Regina George And The YA Pile On
From Aberdeen News: Common Read hits 10 years at Northern
From Mel Magazine: College Kids Are Not Your Problem
From Lipstick Alley: YA author Sarah Dessen (49) & her posse have breakdown after college student didn’t like her book
From The Guardian: It’s the era of the Twitter pile-on. Isn’t there something healthier we can do with our rage?
From Pajiba: Okay, Let’s Talk About Sarah Dessen And the Latest YA World Drama
From Argus Leader: South Dakota university apologizes to young adult author for alumna’s comments
From Entertainment Weekly: A timeline of 2019’s 5 biggest YA controversies
From Forge: What Every Artist Can Learn From the Latest Scandal in Young Adult Literature
From Wear Your Voice Mag: What Celebrities Get Wrong About Criticism
From Slate: The Angle: The Yelling Edition
From Bitch Media: When Authors Behave Badly on Twitter
From Dela Doll: Celebrity Cyberbullying: When Influence and Power Become Weapons on Social Media
I know that Sarah Dessen has a daughter. Perhaps she’s a teenager. I wonder if the daughter will read any of these articles about her mom cyberbullying a student? I wonder if her friends will find this on social media and call the daughter out on it? I wonder how those mother/daughter talks on bullying go down? Because I know that Brooke Nelson isn’t a “fucking bitch” but karma is.
p.s. Angie Thomas told the college not to use her books in the future. The Hate U Give was a Campus Read selection.
I’m so disappointed that @angiecthomas, an author that centers young black women in her work would join in hating on a young black woman, who wanted to center black stories on her university & for them to focus on texts that challenged readers. I read #SarahDessen at 12. I’m good. @Bra_shiya on Twitter
So Angie Thomas deleted her tweet snitching on that student to her University, but otherwise hasn’t said shit about just how awful her response was. At least that’s a more honest response than the fakepologies from Dessen and co. @ferozdestino on Twitter
apologies 3 days later after they all begin to realize they may face consequences. @floricomant on Twitter
It’s important to reflect on how much grace is extended to white fragility and how little is required for full redemption when a white person weaponizes that fragility to hurt others. Many of the replies to this “apology” are a perfect example of that. @cathytown on Twitter
White apologies always read as: “I’m sorry I got caught doing x. Moving forward I’ll try to do better(not really, I’ll just do it privately). [insert self-victimizing paragraph]. [insert half-assed apology while conveniently forgetting to mention the ppl involved]. Thanks” @maxvonfelden on Twitter
Many of the participating authors apologized, but most were weak apologies. Some were even “ditto” retweet apologies; as in: “I’m a professional writer but I can’t be bothered to craft a few sentences or paragraphs of my own apology.” Sarah Dessen’s apology reads like a crisis PR firm wrote it for her. A crisis PR firm probably did and did not do a good job. (In fact, this is the worst “crisis PR” handling that I have seen. Penguin Teen should hire a different firm.) Sarah Dessen doesn’t actually apologize to Brooke Nelson, she only apologizes for those who presume to be offended. It’s a classic “sorry, not sorry” apology.
I completely forgot to add the Ditto Apology Tour. Celeste Ng and Jodi Picoult ditto’d Roxane’s apology tweets. They RTed the black author and rode off her sad effort. Here is Celeste’s from yesterday morning.
Here is Jodi’s, also from yesterday morning. Hers kind of crack me up bc that’s a white woman dittoing Chinese American author and Black author. Kind of reflects the state of YA drama of this past week. @CyborgGoblin on Twitter
@emythee on Twitter characterizes the apologies as:
“Sarah Dessen apology”
These authors who cyberbully young women who read their books then have the nerve to offer a half-apology in the form of “I’m just a normal person who happens to write books. I had a momentary lapse of judgment and I forget that I have an audience.” @briasoboojie on Twitter
Interesting that the apology came after it made it to the Washington post/the Guardian/slate. Nothing like media coverage to make you contrite. @everydaylovely_ on Twitter
Sarah Dessen and friends apologize not really…
p.p.s. The saga continues. Sarah Dessen sends her best friend, Bianca Ramsey, to shut me down on Twitter: #SarahDessen PR Debacle.
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5 thoughts on “Sarah Dessen: Cyberbully and Her Posse of Mean Girls”
This is the best article I have read on this horrific situation. Thank you.
I love Just Mercy and it was the best choice. Bullying has to stop. Not everyone has to like or live our books. And the bullying has come from all sides. No one wins when people jump in without gathering the facts. Great article.
I missed this entirely (maybe because I read less YA now), but my goodness, this is so horrible… Great article that is making me think about everything… How can anyone think it’s okay to behave this way, on the internet or anywhere?
I have teen daughters; they inspire me to be better.
My daughter was a S.D fan in 9th and 10th grade. I had read some of the tweets but disgusted by the name calling so I didn’t read on, or comment, on the long thread.
Thank you for providing context to this incident and calling out bullying.
i apologize for responding so late, but i only heard about this whole thing recently. My one comment is that I find it bizarre that Dessen would care about her reception by a university with an enrollment the size of a large city high school. An uncharitable read is that she was googling herself…