Recently in the book community, book bloggers have been calling out authors for misrepresentation and/or accuses their book as being ‘problematic’. But, what exactly makes a book problematic?
First, let’s see what the definition of problematic is.
Here’s a list of a few books that have been deemed as problematic in the book community:
– When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon – Abusive/unhealthy relationship
– The Black Witch by Laurie Forest – Racism
– Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth – Racism
– A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas – Abusive/unhealthy relationship
– The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski – Romanticizing slavery
There are loads more, but those are just a few I could think of off the top of my head. Also, I have only read two of the books on the list so I am merely guessing with the ‘issues’ the books are said to have.
Now, the real question here is are these books truly problematic? Are people just putting labels on something that isn’t there or are these books truly something with content that should either be censored or not even published in the first place?
This is a very difficult thing to discuss, especially me, somebody who has only recently in the last year begun to think about what problems or issues could arise from a book and it’s contents.
When an author writes about race, religion, sexuality, and relationships that could (potentially) be harmful and/or send the wrong message to the reader, issues arise and all it takes is one person pointing out the book’s flaws until the entire community goes up in flames.
Sometimes this happens before a book is even released, while other times it happens to a book that’s been out for years but people are just now noticing the possible problems in it’s contents.
Now let’s steer back to the original question: what makes a book problematic? I think I should rephrase this in a better way: how does a problematic book effect the people who are part of the minority represented in the literature they read?
The people who are faced with this poor representation and personally feel the impact the poor representation a certain book has on the group they categorize themselves in are the ones whom we should think about when we call out a book for being problematic.
If I am to be more specific, I’ll use an example I’ve only recently seen in the book community because it’s been brought to light the true problems the book holds by Whitney from WhittyNovels. If you’re a follower of hers on Twitter you’ll know that the book I’m talking about is The Bronze Horseman. I won’t go into specifics on the problematic aspects of this book here, but you can read Whitney’s review here where she explains it all.
Now, the point I’m trying to get across with The Bronze Horseman is the fact that countless people on Twitter – me included – have replied to Whitney’s tweets saying that she is the first person they’ve seen who has brought forth the problematic aspects the book has. This itself is a problem. This book has an abusive, controlling relationship but isn’t label as such. It romanticizes abuse and makes it seem normal to the reader.
If we aren’t able to call out a book that actually is problematic, but call out a book that isn’t, what kind of community are we? Read When Dimple Met Rishi – where people were accusing Dimple of being borderline abusive to Rishi – and then read Whitney’s review (or even just the snippets from the book she posted) – and tell me which book should be called out as being problematic.
The wrong books are being called out for being problematic and this is more – well – problematic than the actual books themselves. You don’t want to mislead readers into thinking that one thing is problematic when really it isn’t.
Most of the books we talk about here in the book community are Young Adult books. And what are Young Adult books? They’re books geared towards the younger audience about people their age.
If a book categorized as YA has an abusive relationship or some other form of harmful misrepresentation that could be considered problematic, but the reader doesn’t know that what they’re reading isn’t healthy or considered normal, then they won’t know any different.
This can cause personal harm to the reader because he or she won’t know the difference between a healthy relationship and a harmful one. The books we read influence the way we think and act in the real world. Keep that in mind the next time you recommend a book with problematic aspects to a friend.
When a book has a POC or a character from the LGBTQ+ community, the reader that isn’t part of either groups might begin to think of everyone that is POC or identifies as LGBTQ+ as the way they’re represented in the book they read. This can cause issues if they are written inaccurately.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t read these books or that we can’t enjoy them, but we need to be aware of the issues that could arise from them being out there in the world for young people to read and learn from.
I’m not an expert on what makes a book problematic, but I did want to talk about problematic books and what can happen when readers indulge in these books.
Also, before you leave, I just recently reached 500 followers on the blog and I’m putting together a Q&A post in celebration of that so feel free to leave any questions you have for me in the comments!