A.S. King and Subjectivity

Growing up, my reading tastes were somewhat pedestrian. In other words, if I really, really loved a book, chances were, it was already pretty popular. I liked some books, especially genre books, that weren’t to everyone’s taste, but if I adored a book, I felt confident recommending it and having it well received.

Obviously, by now, I’ve read several books that land on my favorites list—because for whatever personal reason to me, that book is extra special—but I already know not everyone will love it. (Winter’s Tale is one of those; I think it’s completely great, but know basically no else who has read it, let alone likes it, and the vast majority of my YA reading community wouldn’t care for it.)

One of the first times I was surprised by this revelation was reading A.S. King, specifically, Everybody Sees the Ants. Sometimes I would stop reading because sentences would startle me. They were so smartly placed, so plain and raw and lovely. I quickly read Please Ignore Vera Dietz, Ask the Passengers, and waited patiently to read Reality Boy. Today I finished her latest, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future. 


The thing is, nobody, nobody weaves magic into reality as well as she does (magical realism, get it?). I just—every time, I think she’s brilliant. And in a world of John Green and Rainbow Rowell, I could not understand why her books weren’t totally flying off the shelves. Don’t get me wrong, she’s still a successful and respected author (Please Ignore Vera Dietz was a Printz Honor), but she’s not as wildly and commercially popular as some of her contemporaries, and at first I genuinely did not get people who didn’t get A.S. King.

Anyway, it also took King a lot of years and a lot of books to get published, and I had the sudden thought of, “That must have been really hard, but hallelujah, she didn’t try to write something more mainstream or trendy.”

We all know publishing is subjective (which, by the way, does not mean arbitrary; hard work and talent still applies here), but I wonder if we remember that when we’re dreaming of our seven-figure book deals. You may have to let go of your dream of being the next Harry Potter, because it might be that your Ideal Reader, the one that will say, “My god, this book was written for me,” is in the minority. Even if the book in your heart is destined to make mad, sappy brain-love with a group of people too small to bump you onto the NYT bestseller list, don’t throw it in the trash for a hook. Readers respond to sincerity, to emotional truth, not to hooks. How many “quiet” books have taken off because readers (not big marketing budgets) love it?

True, publishing can be a little mercenary in that it prefers novels that appeal to a wide group of readers rather than novels that appeal to only a few. But before you ditch the quirky “quiet” book for a young adult love-triangle-story with probably-some-magic-of-some-sort, be persistent, wait for that agent or that editor who will catch a whiff of that emotional resonance, be excited about it, and get it published. (If the story of your heart is the YA love story with magic, then hurray!, you already have mass appeal.) Maybe someday someone will run around waving your book saying, “Read this! Why doesn’t everyone love it already?!”

By the way, go read A.S. King. I don’t know why everyone doesn’t love her already.

3 thoughts on “A.S. King and Subjectivity

  1. Thanks for all the suggestions. Didn’t find THE ANTS in my book store so read ASK THE PASSENGERS instead. Will read soon the two you mentioned. You are right that many YA novels imply Feminism, e.g., some say that THE HUNGER GAMES implies feminism because Katniss is strong. I’m looking for YA novels where the the heroine says clearly that she is a feminist not just implying it by her actions. In any case all the best for you and your novels.

  2. Thanks for posting about this and maybe you can help. I wrote one of the few Feminist YA fictions in the market place. It’s commercial and contemporary. In order to have comp titles I asked a feminist posting on Twitter for a Feminist YA fiction and she said that this book is the one. I read it and got confused with the futuristic premise of making laws against women and apparently more than a few people on Goodreads made similar comments. I also read there that people raved about her past novels. You also gush about her, so I wonder if you like this novel as much as her previous ones, and if you consider this as one of the best published Feminist YA novels. Thanks and congrats for getting an agent and being an editor and best wishes for your novel to be published soon.

    • My favorite A.S. King is actually EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS, and it’s certainly a good example of feminism, but that isn’t why I like it. You might try Laurie Hals Anderson for more YA feminism, I also loved RAZORHUST this year, which is chock full of female empowerment. It’s difficult, because technically you could categorize any YA book that tackles a feminist issue “YA feminism” and that is a pretty broad scope.

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