Why Bestselling Romance Author Colleen Hoover Is Receiving Backlash
The controversy goes deeper than you think.
BookTok, the TikTok community dedicated to literature, has been make-or-break for the success of many authors, but few have gripped the community so thoroughly as Colleen Hoover. The romance author gained notoriety in 2012 for her self-published novels, including Hopeless, which became the first self-published novel to reach number one on the New York Times Best Seller list. Hoover has since landed a book deal with Simon & Schuster and published over 20 novels in total. Her popularity has become so immense that, in October 2022, she was responsible for six of the top 10 titles on the Times Best Seller List.
However, that popularity has not come without controversy. An increasing number of readers and critics have recently begun speaking out against the problematic tropes in her novels and the ways in which Hoover writes about romance.
Why some readers find Colleen Hoover’s writing problematic
Jeanette McKellar of The Tulane Hullabaloo says that, in Hoover’s work, “women are illustrated as passive objects, only able to derive agency when their male counterpart chooses them,” and her stories feature “romanticization of toxic masculinity, unhealthy codependent relationships and abusive, controlling behavior.”
Liora Picker of the Daily Targum indicates that this is likely intentional, and that Hoover uses abuse as a source of tension and conflict within the relationship: “Romance saturated with adrenaline has a high entertainment value and thus draws readers in and creates success for an author. As such, the trend in romance is to create intensely dramatic stories filled with abuse that leave a reader in suspense and wanting more.”
YouTuber Whitney Atkinson tweeted a photo of a passage from one of Hoover’s books, November 9, in which a character actually considers the use of “physical force” to prevent his love interest from exiting a vehicle, as well as attempting to emotionally manipulate her into staying with him. Further screenshots show the character blocking a door to prevent his love interest from leaving, and forcibly taking her car keys to get her to stay. All of these are abusive actions that are meant to control the victim.
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.
As Whitney Atkinson put it, “‘Romance novels are almost always read by women—in the new adult genre, particularly young women—and what authors depict in their books dictates how young women interpret love and relationships … Abusive situations and dialogue being normalized in romance novels tells women, ‘it’s okay to have a man control you, what you do, what you wear, and where you go, because it means he loves you,’ which I don’t think is okay.”
I think we’ve outgrown boys pulling on pigtails and ’80s protagonists who kidnap and harass their love interests until they reciprocate.
What does Colleen Hoover’s son have to do with the controversy?
These criticisms are also not helped by the accusation that Hoover’s 21-year-old son, Levi, exhibits some of the worrying behavior his mother writes about. In February, Hoover’s son was accused of sexually harassing a minor. According to a tweet from February 12, Levi allegedly harassed a young woman when she was 16, a fact she says the younger Hoover was aware of at the time.
The author addressed the accusation in a private Facebook group dedicated to Hoover:
“My son and a girl were online friends for several months. They never met in person. He said something to her in a message that made her uncomfortable (he asked her to send him a pic), so she messaged me about it. I did not read this message, but she thought I did, and it understandably upset her that I didn’t respond. She then posted on Twitter that my son asked her for a pic. AS SOON as I found out about this months ago, I reached out to her.”
Hoover went on to say, “We discussed what happened, I apologized to her and thanked her for bringing this to my attention, and I offered to send her our home address and lawyer info should she want it. I held my son accountable for sending a message to her that was inappropriate. I addressed it directly with her and with my son.”
As a result of these controversies, BookTok is split on the matter. While many users are railing against the unhealthy subject matter in Hoover’s romance novels, in a TikTok that went viral, one user responded to the controversy … by turning their Colleen Hoover books around so other people can’t see the title and author. The literary equivalent of burying your head in the sand.
I know dealing with reality sucks sometimes. But it’s also an important part of engaging with our media and the messages we take from it. Ignoring it won’t make it go away or make the problems any less prevalent. It needs to be dealt with, or else you’re not really engaging with the work so much as absorbing it.
(featured image: Simon & Schuster / The Mary Sue)
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