Ever since I walked into the library of my elementary school and picked up the "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" series, I've loved reading. I get to live a hundred different lives through the characters I meet, and some of them have stayed with me for many years.
That being said, there are some super problematic plot lines, characters and authors that have rubbed me the wrong way. I’ve compiled a few of them here, so read ahead, only if you don’t mind spoilers!
"The Mortal Instruments" by Cassandra Clare
Okay, I’m going to be completely honest and say that it’s been a while since my "Mortal Instruments" days, and I still haven’t gotten around to reading the final book in the series. But, this series that left a bad taste in my mouth is still fresh on my mind.
The story revolves around Shadowhunters (and lovers) Clary and Jace, who are sworn to protect the world from demons, and at the peak of the story, they find out that they're related. Ew.
Later on in the series, these two discover that they were mistaken and aren't related at all. Numerous fans of the series will invoke this later plot point to try and cancel out the uncomfortable issue around the whole incest thing.
But, when these two thought they were blood-related, they still maintained and tried to suppress feelings for each other (double ew). Clare still expressed the message, as explained so well in this article by Young Adult Books Daily, that “it was perfectly fine for these two to remain in love – their feelings were just so strong, they were always meant to be together no matter what, etc.”
I can't speak on the nature of Clary and Jace’s relationship, since I didn't read the fifth book, but the article mentioned before explains how the relationship between these former siblings turned abusive. Promoting this type of relationship as desirable, especially to a young teen audience, is extremely problematic.
"Anna and the French Kiss" by Stephanie Perkins
One of the funniest book reviews I've ever watched was on the LilyCRead's rant review of "Anna and the French Kiss" by Stephanie Perkins. When I began watching the video, the book was one of the most memorable books of my preteen years, but when it ended, I had to seriously reexamine my love for it.
The story follows Anna, who's attending an American boarding school in France for the duration of her senior year, and her relationship with Étienne. Étienne, portrayed to be every girl’s dream guy with good looks to match, basically falls in love with Anna from the first time they meet.
There’s one glaring issue with this seemingly charming love story: Étienne has a girlfriend, and Anna knows about it.
“Perkins manages to encapsulate misogyny and girl-on-girl hate all in one book,” according to Cardinal Points. “They emotionally and physically cheat and receive no repercussions for their actions simply because everyone can see how 'special' their love is.”
Their soulmate connection is used as justification for all of the people they hurt, from Étienne’s ex-girlfriend to their mutual friend Meredith (who had feelings for Étienne long before Anna transferred to their high school — trust me, it gets a lot messier in the book).
Along with promoting emotional cheating, this book also gives voice to Anna’s belief that she’s not like other girls. Her decision to remain a virgin somehow translates to moral superiority, which is simply a falsehood — being a virgin doesn’t make you better than anyone else. Just ask Anna, a character who managed to cheat and lie and hurt others all while thinking she’s better than everyone else.
"Crown of Midnight" by Sarah J. Maas
While Anna was a “not like other girls” character I needed time to identify, the disappointment of Maas’s "Crown of Midnight" (book two of her "Throne of Glass" series) hurt immediately.
I loved the first installment of the series. Even though the main character, an assassin named Celaena, was the typical tough fighter girl, the plot was super fast-paced. In the first book, the readers are also introduced to Nehemia, a rebel princess who is devoted to serving her people.
Nehemia is depicted as smart and capable. But, she would mainly use her own magic to save Celaena’s life on multiple occasions. Her storyline is only valued in connection with Celaena’s, even though there was potential for this character to be so much more.
She is one of the only BIPOC characters in the entire book. Young me really saw herself in this intelligent princess. So, when she died a horrible death in "Crown of Midnight," I was sad to have to let her go.
But after I read past her death scene, I came to understand the full scope of the issue. Nehemia’s death wasn’t just an unfortunate killing. It was done purposefully to move along the storyline of Celaena, our white protagonist.
It’s revealed that Nehemia orchestrated her own gruesome death to push the main character to rebel against the evil king that rules their world. While Celaena gets to be the chosen one, Nehemia is the sacrificial lamb. Maas treats Nehemia, and all of the readers who saw themselves in her, as collateral damage.
While it is debatable whether this character needed to be axed for the sake of the plot, tokenizing and underdeveloping one of the only BIPOC characters in the whole book has the potential to ostracize and offend an entire subset of readers. I know it didn’t sit well with me.
"Twilight" by Stephenie Meyer
There are so many different angles to criticize this book from. Just in case you managed to somehow forget this iconic tale: When Bella moves to a new high school, she falls head over heels for the sparkly Edward (the vampire next door, or should I say creep next door, since he watches her sleep).
There have been numerous articles that address the cultural significance of the movie, as well as the abusive relationship dynamic between Bella and Edward, but I’m just going to focus on Meyer’s portrayal of Indigenous characters.
Jacob, Bella’s childhood friend who is the final point of this love triangle, is a member of the Quileute tribe (who are a federally recognized tribe in the U.S.). Meyer didn't create the idea of this tribe and instead fictionalized and appropriated its myths and traditions.
Indigenous people have suffered, and continue to be affected by, oppressive systems in the U.S., which have stripped them of their land, resources and traditions. The harmful stereotypes presented in "Twilight" shaped the way that numerous people viewed Indigenous groups and peoples.
This is echoed by Indigenous actor Tyson Houseman, who wrote an article detailing his own experiences.
”Hollywood prefers its silent, stoic noble savage to any real modern-day depiction of indigeneity in film,” Houseman said. “These films offer the image of Native Americans basically as mythical creatures.”
Visiting these old stories reminded me that it’s okay to have loved something that's problematic. Looking back, I realize that the things I missed the first time around (like Anna’s “I’m not like other girls” attitude and the appropriation of Quileute traditions) jumped out at me the second time around.
I don’t like these stories anymore because I’m not the same person I was when I experienced them. It shows how much I’ve changed, and it makes me excited for all of the ways that I will grow in the future. Who knows, maybe I’ll write a part two.