Colleen Hoover drafts problematic narratives for young adults

Jeanette McKellar, Contributing Writer

According to Elle Magazine, Colleen Hoover, a Texas-born author, has spent a total of 120 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list over the past 10 years. She is also the third most-followed author on Good Reads behind Stephen King and Bill Gates. On TikTok, videos with #colleenhoover have garnered over 441 million views. Chances are you have heard of her bestselling titles, “It Ends with Us,” “Ugly Love” or “Verity.” 

Colleen Hoover is lauded for her take on the contemporary romance novel, crafting characters that readers love and hate and devising emotional scenes which bring readers to tears. One could argue that Colleen Hoover is one of the foremost leaders of the contemporary romance genre. 

Vilma’s Book Blog said, “Colleen Hoover’s one-of-a-kind style of storytelling shines with November 9 … I dare you not to fall in love with Ben and Fallon.” Similarly, Cat, the Cat Lady said Hoover is, “An American writer of new/young adult and romance novels. Her work is completely idolized on Tumblr. Everyone seems to not only have read all of her books but also loves them to death.” 

Romance novels generate around $1.08 billion per year. They gather the same number of annual profits as the mystery and science fiction/fantasy novel industries combined. 

Susan Ostrov Weisser drafts commentary on the romance genre in relation to the pornography industry in her book “The Glass Slipper.” According to Weisser, the romance genre acts as a model of reality; it is separated from actual life and is characterized as being for entertainment value or escape. However, there is no true escape from fiction when it comes to romance. Weisser wrote that traditional narratives are threaded into our experience; fiction becomes real to us as we try to live with and through them, while ‘reality’ becomes fictionalized. 

Fictionalized romance provides individuals with a mechanism of making sense of their feelings and connections through a medium that denotes those feelings as being both ordinary and universal. 

I was frankly horrified scanning through reviews of Colleen Hoover’s contributions to the romance genre after reading “Ugly Love” and “November 9.” To begin, Hoover’s work represents women in phallocentric terms;  women are illustrated as passive objects, only able to derive agency when their male counterpart chooses them. 

In the novel “Ugly Love,” Colleen Hoover introduces the reader to the characters of Tate and Miles. There is little to note on Tate’s character, as the reader only possesses the information that she is a nursing student. The “important” and only fully explored theme of the novel is the relationship between Tate and Miles. They initiate a sexual relationship — at the beginning of which Miles outlines the rules he expects Tate to follow. Miles says in Hoover’s “Ugly Love” that Tate is not allowed to question his past or expect a future from him. Thus, their relationship discourages emotional intimacy. 

Tate develops an intense infatuation — an obsession — with Miles. She finds herself unable to advocate for her emotional needs, saying she feels like a liquid that is unable to remain firm or stand up for itself. Tate’s character development, of which there is little, is only described in her relation to Miles. This represents a phallocentric culture which is built on the idea that the world is legitimized through male presence. 

At the end of the novel, Miles has what can be described as a light-switch revelation that he does not want to be without Tate, as he states that she loved him back to life. This scene further suggests that women exist to repair their male counterparts and men decide the ultimate terms of a relationship. 

Hoover’s work is also problematic in its romanticization of toxic masculinity, unhealthy codependent relationships and abusive, controlling behavior. Scenes from “November 9” depict the male protagonist, Ben, saying that he wants to push Fallon onto the ground, preventing Fallon from leaving a room, and continually touching her after she has explicitly uttered the word “stop.” 

In Hoover’s “November 9,” Ben said, “I’ve never wanted to use physical force on a girl before, but I want to push her to the ground and hold her there until the cab drives away”. 

In a later section of the novel, Hoover depicts the interchange between Ben and Fallon following Ben’s discovery that Fallon is on a date with another individual: “‘That’s nice, Ben. I need to get back to my date.’ I try to push past him, but he leans in closer, sandwiching me against the wall. His forehead meets the side of my head. He lets out a sigh and feeling the breath fall from his lips and rush through my hair forces me to squeeze my eyes shut.’”

Given that romance performs as an outlet that both informs and is informed by young adult women’s sexual and emotional endeavors, Hoover’s popularity is disconcerting. Young adult-geared media with subject matter relating to sex and relationships should teach healthy lessons about consent, boundaries and sexual pleasure, and Hoover’s work does just the opposite. 

#Booktok, please promote healthier narratives on your platform.

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