Fair Warning: Unpopular Opinions Incoming!
About 2 months ago I wrote an Aside about Goodreads drama, and how some users have a penchant for rating books before they actually read them due to perceived slights they heard about from other reviewers. (Check it out here) I wish I could say that the drama has quieted after that, but of course things aren’t so simple in the YA community and after finding myself at the eye of the latest drama storm I felt compelled to write this post.
In my review for Rebel Spring, I voiced a lot of complaints about the quality of the writing being quite low. It was my intent to explain how the story suffered from poor plotting and badly drawn characters who swapped personality traits when it was convenient for the story. A certain reviewer on Goodreads came across my review and made it her personal mission to attack my character, both there and on Twitter.
To really understand what happened, I have to explain the aspect of the story I took issue with though, so there will be minor spoilers for the book below.
One of the examples I cited in my review involved the character of Nic. Keep in mind that this is the second book in a series, and that the moment I took issue with happened 900+ pages in. And that this was just one more out-of-character moment that ALL of the characters in this book experienced. Nic is/was a fairly under-developed character. His only defining trait from the moment he was introduced in the first book is that he’s Cleo’s best friend, and madly in love with her/jealous of her interest in other men.
Two chapters from the end of Rebel Spring, Nic is given a strangely out-of-place POV chapter in which he finds himself in a bar meeting with a prince from a faraway land. He and the prince share dialogue and drinks. The Prince encourages Nic to drink more, until he’s inebriated, and Nic ends up becoming frightened, thinking that the Prince is threatening him. He leaves the bar, and there’s a suspenseful chase scene in a dark alleyway before Nic is grabbed by the Prince. In fear for his life, you think he’s about to be stabbed or otherwise murdered, before the Prince kisses him and it’s revealed that Nic is into it, and the chapter ends.
My issue with this was the way that Nic’s sexuality was used as a final shocking twist 2 chapters from the end, and that it takes place when he is drunk and scared. It felt disingenuous, and it emotionally manipulative. Not to mention that it also felt like yet another moment where Rhodes attempted to create the biggest “GOTCHA” moment of the book for her readers.
Unfortunately, this complaint was then seized upon by one Goodreads user, who screenshotted my review and shared it with her Twitter followers with the following tag:
“I’m so angry, omg. WHY DO PEOPLE HAVE TO BE BIPHOBIC.”
Of course I was crushed. It was not my intention at all to be biphobic. I was merely calling out what I viewed as a poor plot twist, and more badly drawn characterization in a sea of bad storytelling. Could I have worded my review better? Absolutely. I immediately went back and made my review a bit more clear.
But when I took responsibility for that and tried apologizing/making clearer what I meant, this was the response I got from that person:
Fuck you and fuck that response.
She then went on to tell me again that I was being biphobic, harmful and that my opinion was not a valid one to have. On twitter, her followers meanwhile were ripping me to shreds with similar accusations and insults.
Let me make one thing abundantly clear:
My opinion of this book has absolutely no basis on my opinions in real life. When I write a review, I’m not talking about people in the real world and their many intricacies that make us so diverse and wonderful. I’m talking about the basic rules of writing: plot, pacing, and characterization being key elements.
The fact of the matter is: characters in books are literary constructs with no external life outside of the pages they appear on, so when you don’t grow a character naturally and organically, instead going for shock value 900 pages in, it rings false to readers.
This is the response I got when I tried explaining that on Twitter:
Is the fact that I’m reviewing a book not implication enough that I view a character as a literary construct and not a real person? Why do people allow themselves to take a review of a book so personally? And why does that perceived personal offense give you the right to attack, belittle and slander another human being over the internet?
I was also told by another person on Twitter that I am not allowed to critique a book because I have no best sellers to my name.
Which is of course ridiculous, because if we book bloggers need to be best selling authors in order to review books as a hobby, I think a lot of us are in trouble.
The original offended party even admitted that she agreed with me that the way Nic’s bisexuality was revealed as a plot twist was offensive – but that didn’t stop her and her followers from continuing to attack me for hours last night.
So if you agree with me, why then am I still the source of ire? Why am I still being belittled and threatened on social media?
I fully consider accusations of biphobia to be slanderous and offensive to me. It is really almost funny to me, how keyboard warriors on twitter will defend a badly written book (the majority of which admitted they had not actually read) while personally insulting and offending real human beings along the way.
I will admit that I lost probably 3 friends on Goodreads over this drama, one who privately messaged me to tell me that I had personally offended her. I apologized to her, and I apologize ONLY to those people who somehow took offense to my original review. My feelings about poorly written books have absolutely no basis on how I view my friendships with any of you – because you’re real people, not a character in a book.
But I’m not going to keep apologizing. I’ve said sorry countless times, and it’s enough.
So I’m done. I’m done apologizing. I’m done saying sorry for reviewing a book based on literary elements.
As member of the LGBTQIA community, I love and crave diversity, but not when it’s being inserted into a story at the 11th hour of a series right before a book ends. It felt like pandering to me, and I had to call it out, and I had to call out the mentality that attacking a book reviewer who is doing this as an unpaid side hobby with slander and insults/death threats is okay.
It’s not okay, and I refuse to be silent in the face of it, and I continue to encourage others to call out that hivemind mentality that makes it difficult for reviewers to discuss literary elements without fear of catching fire.