If ever you’ve read one of the interviews that I’m asked to do or pester authors into doing (it’s just because I love your work, I’m sorry!), you’ll often notice that, if it’s applicable, I’ll ask them about issue books. Typically, they’re books that cover a certain issue, or an issue is at it’s central core. For example, you could say that Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli is an issue book, because Simon is gay and he is the main character. Or you could say If You Were Me by Sam Hepburn is an issue book because it confronts issues of terrorism and race.
You get the picture.
There’s a specific reason I ask this question of so many authors, and the author I most recently asked this in a published interview (there’s one in a currently unpublished interview, but I won’t share!) was Robin Talley, author of Lies We Tell Ourselves and What We Left Behind, both incredible books. I interviewed her for The Guardian here, and her answer was something along the lines of (I quote indirectly so I don’t upset Guardian lawyers with copyright claims) that she didn’t know what an issue book was, because really, aren’t all books issue books? But she’d prefer them to be called issue books than ‘girl books’ or ‘boy books.’
Here’s the problem with issue books: there is no problem directly with issue books, it’s their name that fails them. Completely. Fails. Them.
Issue books themselves are wonderful. They tread where schools, teachers and parents daren’t go, and they make gripping stories that leave you emotional wrecks afterwards. Robin’s own books are prime examples. Her first novel, Lies We Tell Ourselves, took the situation of integration in America. Plus, the main character falls in love with a girl, just to twist it even more! They’re fantastic, but no author likes their book being called an ‘issue book.’
They have such a negative name that it actually turns people away from them, and that’s not good. Fiction, as many authors have pointed out to me, has a duty to play in kindling the fire of conversation, and then making sure that fire burns for as long as possible.
It can’t be good then to have people turned away from books and authors hating the labels that people assign these books. It’s not right for someone to take one glance at a book, realise it covers an issue, and when I talk about issues I tend to mean that it’s a taboo topic that the book has covered, and then labelling it with this detrimental term.
It’s a slight rant for me, but I know many others hate it too. I hope that, just like age labels on the back of books (because they’re monsters too), soon they are condemned and never seen again.
Do let me know your thoughts on them though! Tweet @yalovemag with what you think and I’ll find the comments!