The children's book world has responded quickly to the allegations of sexual harassment leveled against YA authors Jay Asher and James Dashner. While the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators rescinded Asher's SCBWI membership and he will not be appearing at future conferences, Dashner's publisher, Random House, dropped him; Asher and Dashner's literary agents dropped them as clients as well. Booksellers, however, have had a complicated response to the scandal. Responses from several bookstores contacted by PW have ranged from one bookstore pulling books from its shelves while others say they will let the market decide whether to keep stocking their titles. While one California bookseller criticized how the Internet derailed these two authors’ careers, another bookseller, in Maine, points out that the discussion should focus instead upon changing the culture of an industry in which sexual harassment seems prevalent.
Lynn Mooney, co-owner of Women & Children First in Chicago, told PW that last week, the feminist bookstore pulled Dashner and Asher’s books from its shelves after “high numbers of women” had come forward with allegations against them of inappropriate sexual behavior, and “we find [them] to be credible." Store manager Jamie Thomas added that the store decided to act after both Asher’s and Dashner’s agent had dropped them, followed by Dashner’s publisher. “It was an obvious decision to take a similarly quick decision ourselves,” she wrote in an email.
Thomas added that the store is “carefully monitoring” other authors who have been accused of sexual harassment in anonymous comments made on social media, in the comments section for a School Library Journal article on the subject, and elsewhere.
Another feminist bookstore, Charis Books & More in Atlanta, decided not to pull Asher or Dashner’s books from its shelves, although bookseller E.R. Anderson was uncertain as to whether Charis even has any titles by either author currently in stock. Store personnel have had “difficult conversations” about Dashner and Asher, she said, and have also discussed how to respond to off-the-record allegations of inappropriate behavior exhibited by an author popular with customers. “We believe the women who say they’ve been harmed,” Anderson said, “We [also] believe art is separate from its creator,” but that the conversations taking place as to whether or not to support the creative work of alleged predators should continue.
Anderson added that Charis Books prefers to “spend less time banishing people and more time lifting up people.” She and her colleagues, she noted, would rather concern themselves with promoting such books as The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, than debating whether or not they should carry Dashner’s Maze Runner series.
Children's specialty bookstores PW surveyed say that their customers will decide whether they will continue to carry Dashner and Asher's books. 4 Kids Books & Toys in the Indianapolis suburb of Zionsville, Ind., says that there are no plans to pull books by either Asher or Dashner. While the store currently has no books by Dashner after a book club ordered them all before the scandal erupted, "that wouldn't matter," owner and PW blogger Cynthia Compton said. More copies are on order and the store will continue to carry them.
Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, Minn., also reported that it has no plans on pulling books by either author. "It's so complicated, and a slippery slope. Where do you draw the line?" owner Holly Weinkauf asked, noting that she considered Dashner's apology for any past malfeasance to be sincere and reason enough to keep his books in stock. Regarding Asher, the issue is further complicated for her because Asher is the co-author with Jessica Freedburg, a Twin Cities resident active with the regional SCBWI affiliate, of the graphic novel, Piper (Nov. 2017). "She's a local, so we're definitely going to keep that book on our shelves," Weinkauf said.
Hooray for Books!, a children’s bookstore with a small YA section in Alexandria, Va., reported that it has only a small number of books by either author on its shelves, and intends to keep them there, returning them only if they are recalled or if they do not sell within a reasonable amount of time. Owner Ellen Klein says, however, that going forward, Hooray for Books! will only fulfill special orders for books by either Asher or Dashner.
Jack and Allie's in Vernon, Conn., another children’s bookstore with a small YA section, reported that it had not given “a tremendous amount of thought” as to how it will respond to the allegations made against Asher and Dashner. Owner Barbara Haggerty Khan disclosed that her “gut reaction is to pull everything and be done,” in keeping with the store’s mission of being “very girl-power oriented.” Store personnel are considering making “something positive out of this negative” by scheduling programming to educate and empower their young customers.
The most emotional response to PW’s query came from a Los Angeles bookseller who requested anonymity. Describing herself repeatedly as "flummoxed,” the bookseller disclosed that she knows Jay Asher on a personal level, as he lives in the general area and has come into the store several times. "I don't want to believe this of him,” she said, adding that, before PW’s call, she did not even consider whether or not to pull the books of either author from store shelves. Explaining that she is taking a “wait-and-see approach,” she complained about anonymous accusations being posted online, such as those in the SLJ comments section. "Anyone can write anything,” she said, and thus ruin someone else's career. Before she can arrive at any conclusions regarding either of the two accused authors’ guilt or innocence, she said, she would "want to avail myself of information that is credible."
PW blogger Kenny Brechner, owner of Devaney, Doak, and Garrett Bookseller in Farmington, Maine, who recently appeared on a lively Winter Institute panel about “sensitivity readers,” where he voiced his strong opposition to censorship, declined to state for the record whether or not he intends to pull books by Asher or Dashner. Brechner noted that the issue, however, is greater than simply two authors (or more) behaving badly, and that the discussion should focus upon the imperative to change the culture in an industry in which predators are able to harass vulnerable members.
"Everyone in the children's book industry has a personal responsibility to put the safety, human dignity, and well being of other members of our industry above every other consideration when we have the opportunity to interact with each other at conferences and other professionally contrived social settings,” Brechner stated. “Any opportunity to prevent or address the exploitation of vulnerable young writers and booksellers, whether proactively or in the moment, needs to be seized. Changing the culture that supported these cases is all that matters here."
Representatives from Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million had not responded to emails about what action, if any, they are taking on the books by the two authors by press time Wednesday morning.
An earlier version of this story stated that SCBWI rescinded James Dashner's membership in the organization. Dashner's SCBWI membership lapsed in November 2016 and was not renewed. This story has been updated.