Welcome to one of the stops on the blog tour for author Leila Sales’ latest young adult novel, If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say! Read on for my thoughts about this timely novel…
If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say by Leila Sales
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group. Thank you!
Publication: May 1, 2018 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
A novel about public shaming in the internet age, the power of words, the cumulative destructiveness of microaggressions, and the pressing need for empathy.
Before we go any further, I want you to understand this: I am not a good person.
We all want to be seen. We all want to be heard. But what happens when we’re seen and heard saying or doing the wrong things?
When Winter Halperin—former spelling bee champion, aspiring writer, and daughter of a parenting expert—gets caught saying the wrong thing online, her life explodes. All across the world, people know what she’s done, and none of them will forgive her.
With her friends gone, her future plans cut short, and her identity in shambles, Winter is just trying to pick up the pieces without hurting anyone else. She knows she messed up, but does that mean it’s okay for people to send her hate mail and death threats? Did she deserve to lose all that she’s lost? And is “I’m sorry” ever good enough? Decide for yourself.
“It was just a stupid joke!”
In this era of social media, how easy is it to declare hatred for someone for something they’ve posted? Or to dismiss them outright as an evil person unworthy of another chance? And just how easy is it to compose a post on social media that might inadvertently change the course of your life forever?
“You probably shouldn’t have posted it online, though…”
In If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say, the latest contemporary young adult title from Leila Sales (Tonight the Streets are Ours), the author explores the breakneck speed and magnitude of internet shaming and the repercussions of a teen posting something gone unintentionally, horribly viral.
“…I’m asking, why did you put it up on the internet?”
And this was the humiliating part. Because there was no good reason for it. “I just hoped people might think it was funny,” I mumbled.
The morning after posting a comment online regarding the Scripps National Spelling Bee and the recently-announced winner, high school senior Winter Halperin wakes up to online pandemonium. Winter’s posted comment- just shared to her relatively small group of followers (i.e. mostly friends)- has gone viral thanks to an influencer’s share. Overnight, Winter Halperin has gone from (self-described) good girl, good student, good daughter, proud past winner of the National Spelling Bee, to a nationally known, supposedly evil, racist, thoughtless, spoiled individual who is now at the center of a maelstrom. An individual who is now at the receiving end of internet strangers making threats to her life, threats that she should be raped, threats that she should burn in hell. Winter has become, within a span of hours, a public disgrace and subject to a spectrum of harassment. As Winter tries to process what has even happened, and her parents and older sister try to assess and help, Winter’s previously comfortable life and life plans take one major hit after another. Winter experiences just how quickly the general internet public (as well as some friends) are able to vilify, condemn, and name-call (whether justified or not). The extent of the social media furor and outrage at Winter reaches a boiling point, leaving her college plans, and thus future plans, in relics. This is when Winter, to the initial skepticism of her parents, turns to Revibe, a ‘reputation rehabilitation retreat’ in Malibu, that seeks to help ‘victims of public shaming’.
“Here’s why [your apologies] didn’t work: because none of you were really apologizing. Or, I should say, you weren’t just apologizing. You were also explaining and defending yourselves. You were saying, ‘I’m sorry, but I didn’t mean to do it, and it’s not my fault, and it’s not as bad as you think it is.'”
I would argue that the character of Winter might incite feelings of deep discomfort, anger, bewilderment, sympathy and intense dislike. The character’s course of actions, especially in the last third of the novel, are, shall we say, surprising. Sales has written a complex story here, and how the reader processes Winter herself is also complex. Intention is a core concept of this story: Winter expresses multiple times that she didn’t mean her comment to come across as racist or mean-spirited in any way, she just meant to be funny- and Sales offers no simple truths or answers on whether the lack of intent is enough. Is the fact that Winter claims she didn’t mean any harm enough to excuse her? Does her comment- argued by a journalist to be “pretty thoughtless” but not “outright malevolent” – warrant the backlash, threats, public vitriol, and major fallout? Is her feeling and saying sorry enough?
While it is made clear that Winter is indeed sorry for her comment, how Sales writes and leaves Winter’s apologies and final actions makes for fascinating, if not vexing, reading. We are left, in the end, with a feeling of unease. Is Winter’s forever-changed life warranted given her course of actions post-Revibe rehabilitation? Sales does not necessarily excuse or forgive Winter, nor does she make her out to be irredeemable and contemptible, leaving everything uncomfortably unsettled…which I suppose, in the end, might have been what the author was aiming for!
“…It will keep happening forever, as long as there are humans and the internet and anonymity…”
Sales is at her best in the novel when combing the grey, often difficult and fraught areas that Winter has to wade into- especially notable during the course of Winter’s time at Revibe. The discussions and arguments involving intention, inherent privilege and internalized prejudice, sincerity behind apology, justified punishment and penance, etc.- all wrapped up in the chaos of social media fallout- are very well done and the standout here. The material is absorbing, quite compelling, and it is clear that Sales herself has spent much time thinking about these issues. In her acknowledgements, the author gives thanks to Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, YouTubers, writers and podcasters “who informed the ideas that appear in this novel”. Sales also makes it clear that “issues of privilege, microaggressions, and culpability are nuanced and complicated”, and recognizes that she “did not get everything right” in the novel. On the whole, If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say proffers thought-provoking, if not sometimes contentious, subject matter up for discourse. Readers interested in exploring these topics further in a complicated, reflective, contemporary YA novel, or those who have previously read Sales’ other titles, might want to check this novel out.
Blog Tour Schedule!
April 29th- Page Turners Blog
April 30th- Books and Ladders
May 2nd- Fab Book Reviews
May 4th- Alexa Loves Books
May 5th- The Book Bratz
I received a copy of this title courtesy of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review and for the purposes of this blog tour. All opinions and comments are my own.