A friend of mine recently sent me an article entitled Why Bestselling Romance Author Colleen Hoover Is Receiving Backlash. In it, the author writes:

I know what some people might be thinking: It’s fiction, it’s not meant to be real or unproblematic; it caters to fantasies.

But the problem with that is that fiction, especially fiction read by younger audiences, can have a large effect on how people perceive topics like consent and healthy relationships. While Hoover is not a YA novelist, she has cultivated a base that is largely made up of young people through BookTok.

Besides all of that, I have a degree in creative writing, and as such have spoken with other romance novelists who have insisted that consent is a very important part of romance. These books are meant to be fantasies to a certain extent, but if they are going to depict abusive behavior, it should not be in a way that doesn’t address how abusive and unhealthy it is. Otherwise, you risk creating unhealthy love interests like Edward Cullen or Christian Steele.*

I read this and thought a world of no. This, I’m sure, is why my friend sent it.

For starters, at what age do we stop curating children’s/young people’s reading? Colleen Hoover is wildly popular–like Stephenie Meyer–with Gen Z, typically defined as being 11 to 26. At what age do we trust the next generations to assess art on their own terms? For me, those in their late teens and later can read what they choose. Of all the things I’m worried about for the next generation, exposure to the likes of Bastien Toussaint or Alex Markov is not on my list. I simply don’t believe that the bazillions of young people who read Twilight came away with dangerous ideas about love.

I’m also leery of who decides what a healthy relationship looks like. I used to feel a truly awful relationship was like obscenity: To quote Justice Stewart, “I know it when I see it.” But now, when so many things can be called abusivemarriage writ large, teasing, chivalry, and more–and when we do not have any clear agreement as a culture about what our lives should look like, I’m unwilling to say romance novels with certain tropes or behaviors are bad for us. In relationships, as in most things, YMMV.

Thinking about this made me wonder if there were any romances I’d say we should, as a culture, work to get out of the hands of readers. I just hate read Sea of Ruin–it’s full of torture, rape, and violence–and while I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to a 16 year old, I also wouldn’t yank it out of her hands. The bodice rippers I grew up don’t hold up as good books, in general, but I can’t really think of any I’d want pulled from the library.

I do deplore the many of the themes in super dark romance–to this day I wish I’d never started reading Pennies. I still get queasy when I think about parts of it–and it’s possible I’d have kept such prose away from my kids. But Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey? Those, I’m happy for young people to read if they so choose.

What do you think? Are romance novels with problematic leads/tropes dangerous, especially to young people? Are their romances you think should be kept out of their hands? Am I utterly off-base here? Inquiring minds want to know….


*Who is Christian Steele?

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Impenitent social media enthusiast. Relational trend spotter. Enjoys both carpe diem and the fish of the day.