The latest story of conservative/liberal foes for lovers gets roasted by novel readers

Comedian Dulce Sloan reads a copy

Fighting for diversity in media, especially intersectional diversity, is all my schtick. While I try not to be the arbiter of taste — believe me, I love a lot of “bad” movies, TV shows, and books — I don’t have to disagree with or even dislike something to think it has no merit. So whenever there’s a controversy about the books, I’m on it.

The book

It's all right Cecilia Rabess
(Simon & Schuster)

The latest drama book on TikTok and Goodreads is the debut novel by Cecilia Rabess It’s all OK. Rabess is an experienced writer whose nonfiction has been published in McSweeney’s, Five Thirty-eight, Fast companyAnd Fluid data.

It’s all OK will be released on June 6 and is marked as an adult romance. In the book, the protagonist, Jess, becomes an analyst for Goldman Sachs and she notes that she is the only black woman working in her department. She then hurts even more when she has to work with Josh, the epitome of a rich white kid preparing for Ivy League college. This is a love story, so of course they fall in love:

Despite their differences, the strength of their attraction propels the relationship forward, and Jess begins to question whether it’s more important to be happy than right. But then it’s 2016 and the cultural and political landscape changes under them. And Jess, who’s just starting to discover who she is and who has a right to be her, is forced to question what she’s willing to compromise for love and if, in fact, it’s all right.

A stunning debut that introduces Cecilia Rabess as a blazing new talent, Everything Goes Well is a hilarious, heartwarming, heartfelt novel that doesn’t just ask whether they will, but…should they?

Simon & Schuster

So yes. A little anger.

What is Romance?

In theory, the romance genre is a popular form of escapism. Dating is hard. Maintaining a relationship is difficult. The work is hard. Sometimes you have to vicariously experience that magical moment of the initial spark of something new and fun without the stakes of real life. Then pick up a romance novel by Talia Hibbert or Emily Henry.

When the stakes of a story move away from romance and the act of being or falling in love, the book begins to dance into unique female fiction. When it moves away from love or relationships and focuses on larger social issues, then there’s a chance it’s not a romance book. This genre nuance has caused much discussion among booksellers, especially when classifying Nicholas Sparks’ books.

With the Purple Hearts critiques still fresh in everyone’s minds, it’s hard not to compare the two love stories. While the genre survives on its many tropes, there are good and bad ways to execute them. Ultimately, an enemies to lovers trope fails when the enemy is the oppressor.

There are reviews and they are not positive

Rabess’ debut is trashed on the Internet.

TikToks have gone viral and everyone has feelings. It’s all OK it’s undergoing a review bombardment on Goodreads and the book isn’t out yet. As of January 2023, the book has a 2.69 rating prior to its release, with 112 ratings and 63 reviews on Goodreads.

It is difficult to determine which reviewers received an Enhanced Reading Copy (ARC). Typically, people who receive ARCs are publishers, marketers, reviewers (of all levels), booksellers, and librarians. The people who get the book early are usually in the publishing industry and have a relationship with the publisher.

While a book with over a hundred ratings prior to its publication isn’t unheard of, it’s incredibly unusual for a debut book to have that many ratings so far from its publication date. Many ratings and reviews appear to be a reaction to viral TikToks or the book cover copy, which is typically used as promotional material.

Thankfully, it’s not too hard to find reviews from people who have actually read the book. A reviewer named Audrey describes Everything as a “challenging and slightly awkward read”. They go on to say, “What is captured so perfectly is her sense of being black in a white world and the comments made to and about her. And, knowing gaslighting and deflecting the wrongness of those comments but not being able to clearly articulate WHY it’s wrong.

Then there’s Samar, who seems to have the best performance:

Ultimately, Everything’s Fine takes on the liberal/conservative trope…

I’m… extremely frustrated with reviews that are a one star bombing without reading, and I’m extremely frustrated with bad marketing that makes it sound like something it’s not (the pitch of the marketing is dead wrong too!)

Samar

What went wrong?

Samar hits the snag with this book in the head: Marketing for this book is discontinued. The moment a book is classified as a love story, readers will have different expectations. One of the greatest expectations for romance books is a happy ending (aka HEA). Love that conquers all is the kind of escapism that makes romance such a popular commercial genre.

It doesn’t help that contemporary novels usually have a similar voice: upbeat, cheerful, quirky, and lighthearted. The stakes in the book typically only revolve around the two romantic interests and their communication. There’s always some sort of traumatic background, but the thing is, it’s in the background. It’s a thing of the past. Usually, the event that makes the tragic love interest so dark and torturous happens off-screen (or off-page).

The dust jacket copy makes the readers believe it It’s all OK is a contemporary love story. There’s no point in suggesting that this could be an exclusive fiction book critiquing romantic relationships.

The cover does a good job of trying to differentiate the novel from the contemporary romance genre, since people graphics have been the most popular design choice as of late. However, it seems the book is trying to appeal to two markets: fiction and romance. How could they not? Romance books are incredibly profitable, so even if they could get a sliver of that audience, the book could make insane sales.

The problem?

Simon & Schuster could support problematic (at least) and abusive (at worst) relationships where the conflict in the couple’s relationship is… racism.

As someone who works in publishing, I can tell you that publishers, marketers, publicists, and managers are generally white. In fact, 76% of publishing is white. So maybe a black person (other than Rabess) worked on the book. Maybe they just didn’t feel comfortable criticizing the marketing plan. Maybe they did, but their idea was recognized and never addressed. I don’t know, I wasn’t in the room. However, there will continue to be issues like this as long as the release stays as it is.

(featured image: Comedy Central)

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