We here at BPR love a good countdown list. (We’re basic that way.) The first year that Mandy created BPR, it was filled weekly with little lists that made really no sense, but Mandy cherished dearly—lists with good books, interesting books, horror books, and more. Book lists are a must—even those that are not so good.
We had the unfortunate fortune of reading some quite bad books in 2018, including some quite problematic works of YA and MG. Today, we’re listing some of the most problematic books we read in 2018 (not necessarily *published* in 2018) and a few reasons why problematic = not what we want in 2019.
*this post is not intended to bash authors OR to put down readers who enjoyed these books. it was created to share book moments that Mandy and I were *personally* offended/uncomfortable with. our goal is to create discussion so that future pubs are more inclusive /and/ we are critical readers.
with this in mind, we are not including any author names in this post. (though yes, we know you can guess what book we are talking about by the title/summary.)
BEWARE. SPOILERS AHEAD.
BEAST: A TALE OF LOVE AND REVENGE
Beast is a fantasy retelling of beloved Disney/Brothers Grimm classic “Beauty and the Beast.” In Beast, servant Lucie is enamoured of the the castle’s master Jean-Loup, despite witnessing his cruelty. (Problematic #1: Cruel people do not deserve adoration.) Early in the book, without a hint or trigger warning, Lucie is raped by Jean-Loup in one of the most descriptive and aggressive scenes I have read in YA. (Problematic #2: Lack of CW.)
The “beast transformation” scene happens at this point, and Lucie sees a different Jean-Loup, a kind one who tends flowers and writes poetry. Over time the couple fall in love and magic is then used to explain that this second “version” is not actually Rapist Jean-Loup, because that first person was an evil entity. The second version is the *REAL* Jean-Loup.
This all makes up what I found was (Problematic #3: Rape as a Plot Point, Romanticizing Rapists). As much as it was explained away that no, that was a *different* person OR you can look at it like Lucie is forgiving her rapist… It’s all just extremely uncomfortable and to me, a no. I don’t even understand WHY sexual assault was needed in this book. There is no contributing lessons, or greater value.
THE AGONY HOUSE
Mandy picked this book up for the ghosties, the creepiness, the graphic novel factor, and basically just ghosties. That is always the reason for why Mandy picks up books. The book itself is dry, boring, and includes a ginormous lack of suspense and logical conclusions. I might have just snoozed off to sleep until I spotted some truly odd and uncomfortable comments in regards to race.
First comment that made me uncomfortable: “When she got her food, she picked a seat and tried not to feel weird about being the only white person who wasn’t working behind the counter.” Still trying to figure out what that even MEANS.
Second item that made me uncomfortable: the main character who is white is made to be the victim in a verbal spat with a black character in a completely pointless and weird exchange. Third item (and the worst of the bunch), comes from an exchange between the main character and her stepdad.
Denise: “You want me to ride a bike in this heat? Through this neighborhood?”
Stepdad: “The heat, I’ll give you. But don’t crap on the neighborhood. Don’t be one of those white kids who’s weird about being around black kids.”
Denise: “I’m not. I’m trying not to, and…that’s not what I meant. I’ve…I’ve got black friends in Houston. Kim’s black.” She knew it sounded dumb even before it left her mouth, but there it was. “But that’s not the problem, I don’t think. Well, I don’t know, maybe that’s part of it. The point is, I don’t have any new friends.”
Yeah…I still don’t have any and all words for this one. No thank you, and 2019 will be a year without agony houses for this girl with these incredibly uncomfortable and wrong statements.
DARE YOU TO LIE
My biggest struggle with this book is its high rating despite my extreme dislike and discomfort. When I left my low-rating and compared my singular dislike to the many, many positives I thought, “Okay, I must be nitpicking, and wrong, and this book is actually amazing.” But then I chatted out my feelings with Mandy and I realized (or really remembered) that no single opinion about a book is right. Nor is it wrong. We’re all entitled to feeling how we feel.
How I felt about this book: the main character is not only very poorly behaved, she’s unlikeable and hateful. (Problematic #1: Bad role model). If a protagonist is pitched as a “good guy” (not anti-hero, or villain) then they should project good values. Kylene literally insults teachers and beats up other classmates (and is celebrated by her friends for this.)
What really got me was Kylene’s saviour mentality. Despite her extremely rude behaviour, she still goes around telling herself she’s better than everyone. Instances are scattered in the book where people are unable to defend themselves until Kylene comes on the scene. There are ways to help a person without coming across as superior, but Kylene’s character just didn’t do that. One scene in particular, Ky spots a girl getting assaulted by her boyfriend only to swoop in to help the girl who *clearly* cannot help herself without Ky. (Problematic #2: Abuse as a Device to Flatter MC).
THE LOVE AND LIES OF RUKHSANA ALI
Mandy picked this book up at Yallfest 2018, and, well, she didn’t know a single thing about it other than it was a) free and b) free. And I mean, are we gonna say no to free book? No, we are not. So she snatched it up, and she had absolutely no clue what was coming for her.
In the blurb on the back, it promised her an epic f/f love story with a lot of emotions but heart! humor! feel goodness! So, of course, Mandy was allllllllllll the way downnnnnnnnnnnn. This sounds like all the fluff and feels and swoons. However, what she got instead of was a wholeeeeeee bunch of incredibly large triggers with many leaving her sick to her stomach.
And I do mean a WHOLEEEEE bunch of triggers. Since there were so so many, there was not nearly enough time to do anything with them and give them the importance that they needed. My review was a million years long, because I give them a huge amount of detail to let you know what’s coming but here’s a few of the triggers:
- Graphic death of a LGBTQIA+ character in a hate crime
- Homophobia to the extreme
- Conversion therapy
- Molestation of a Minor
- Drugging a minor against their will
There honestly could have been more, but that already was a lot in a book less than 300 pages that promised me heart, fluff, and humor…and far more.
ALL OF THIS IS TRUE
After three best friends leak their darkest secrets to famed author Fatima Ro, the author publishes their secrets in a new book. The three friends are shocked when the book’s release leads to an assault that puts their friend Jonah in a coma. Much of the book is spent agonizing over whether he will survive and going through flashbacks where Jonah admits to being the victim of a sexual assault. In a plot twist almost at the end of the book, it comes out that Jonah was actually the perpetrator of the sexual assault. (Problematic: victimizing the abuser).
And there are some of the more problematic books we encountered in 2018! Again, can I reiterate that A) our opinions/feelings do not have to be your opinions/feelings and B) we mean no hate to these authors, they just didn’t create things we enjoyed and C) I can’t think of anything else.
Here are some of the tropes/book moments mentioned in this post. What are your thoughts on them in books? (And these books are faaar from the only ones that use them, don’t think we’re pointing all fingers at these five books alone.)
→ Lack of Content Warning
→ Insufficiently Exploring TW/CW Topics
→ Loving Cruel People
→ Rape as a Plot Point /*edit: this should have said “rape as a plot twist”
→ Victimizing Abusers
→ Abuse as Means to Develop MC
→ Bad Role Models
What are some problematic books you encountered in 2018? What are some problematic tropes/book moments you know of?
How can we, as readers and book bloggers, ensure future publications are more inclusive for all readers and all reading experiences?