The Colleen Hoover controversy, explained

Colleen Hoover best books

BookTok, TikTok’s community dedicated to literature, has been instrumental in the success of many authors, but few have conquered the community as deeply as Colleen Hoover. The romance novelist gained notoriety in 2012 for her self-published novels, including Hopelesswhich became the first self-published novel to top the chart New York Times List of best sellers. Hoover has since signed a contract with Simon & Schuster and has published over 20 novels in total. Her popularity has become so immense that, as of October 2022, she has been responsible for six of the top 10 titles in the Times List of best sellers.

However, that popularity hasn’t come without controversy. A growing number of readers and critics have recently begun speaking out against the problematic tropes in her novels and the way Hoover writes about romance.

Why some readers find Colleen Hoover’s writing problematic

Jeanette McKellar of The Tulane Clamor states that, in Hoover’s work, “women are portrayed as passive objects, able to derive agency only when their male counterpart chooses them”, and her stories feature “romanticization of toxic masculinity, unhealthy codependent relationships, and violent and controlling”.

Liora Picker del Daily plate indicates that this is probably intentional and that Hoover uses the abuse as a source of tension and conflict within the relationship: “Adrenaline-saturated romance has high entertainment value and therefore attracts readers and creates success for an author. As such, the trend in romance is to create intensely dramatic stories full of abuse that leave the reader in suspense and wanting more.

YouTuber Whitney Atkinson tweeted a photo of a passage from one of Hoover’s books, November 9th, in which a character actually considers using “physical force” to keep his love interest from exiting a vehicle, as well as attempting to emotionally manipulate her into staying with him. Additional screenshots show the character locking a door to keep her 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 think: It’s fiction, it’s not meant to be real or problem-free; turns to fantasies.

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

On top of all that, I have a degree in creative writing and as such I have spoken to other romance novelists who have insisted that consent is a very important part of romance. These books are meant to be fantasies to some degree, but if they depict violent behavior, it shouldn’t be in a way that doesn’t address how violent 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, especially young women – and what authors describe in their books determines how young women interpret love and relationships… Abusive situations and dialogues are normalized in romance novels they tell women: “It’s okay for a man to check you, what you do, what you wear and where you go, because it means he loves you”, which I don’t think is the case Well.

I think we’ve gotten past the guys who pull cornrows 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 aren’t even helped by the allegation that Hoover’s 21-year-old son Levi displays some of the troubling behavior his mother writes about. In February, Hoover’s son was accused of sexually molesting a minor. According to A February 12th tweetLevi allegedly molested a young woman when she was 16, a fact she says the young Hoover was aware of at the time.

The perpetrator addressed the allegation in a private Facebook group dedicated to Hoover:

“My son and girlfriend have been friends online for several months. They have never met in person. He said something in a text that made her uncomfortable (he asked her to send him a picture), so she messaged me about it. I didn’t read this message, but she thought I did, and she understandably upset her that she didn’t respond. She then tweeted that my son had asked for a photo. As soon as I found out months ago, I contacted her.

Hoover continued, “We discussed the incident, I apologized and thanked her for bringing this to my attention, and offered to send her our home address and attorney information if she would like. I held my son accountable for sending her an inappropriate message. I addressed it directly with her and with my son.

As a result of these controversies, BookTok is divided on the issue. While many users rail against the unhealthy subject of Hoover romance novels, in a TikTok that has gone viral, one user responded to the controversy… by flipping her Colleen Hoover books so other people can’t see the title and the author. The literary equivalent of burying your head in the sand.

I know dealing with reality sometimes sucks. But it’s also a big part of engaging with our media and the messages we get from it. Ignoring it won’t make it go away or make the problems less prevalent. It has to be addressed, otherwise you’re not really into the work as much as you absorb it.

(featured image: Simon & Schuster / The Mary Sue)

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