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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at NCSU chapter.

“First rule of book club?…You don’t talk about book club.” – Lyssa Kay Adams, The Bromance Book Club

The romance genre is one of the most popular genres in the world. They’re a good way for people to take a break from their day-to-day lives and experience other people getting their happily-ever-afters (HEA’s.) At the core of it, romance novels are meant to bring joy to people’s lives. They usually portray worlds where two people come together to find love and happiness with each other. But though it is a billion dollar industry, people still think of romance novels as nothing more than fictional worlds filled with unrealistic ideals that are used as a form of escape from reality.

Most romance novels are written by women from a woman’s perspective. Sometimes they depict a fantasy world where everything is okay because people have each other. But these days more romance novels tackle real issues that people face in their everyday lives. One book that majorly contradicts the popular belief that romance novels are filled with stereotypical masculinity aimed at a female audience is The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams. This book challenges the idea of hyper-masculinity and depicts characters with realistic issues in the pages of a classic romance novel.

The central love story of The Bromance Book Club is that of Major League Baseball player Gavin Scott and his wife, Thea. Right from the start, Adams challenges these traditional ideas by using protagonists who are already married with children. A lack of communication and pride puts the couple in a changing point in their lives with Thea asking for a divorce. While Gavin is struggling with these changes, he’s introduced to the Bromance Book Club, a book club filled with male athletes and professional businessmen who read and analyze romance novels to improve their own lives. The book follows the journey of how Thea and Gavin find their way back to each other while struggling with parenting, their professions, and overcoming their own personal issues. The book is chock full of classic romance tropes; from grand gestures to black moments, it has it all. Adams describes the book as being a love letter to the genre, while still offering readers a different perspective on masculinity and feminism.

Men are usually portrayed as stoic, alpha males, and are told to be self-sufficient. Society teaches men that they are weak if they cry. They are not taught how to be emotionally vulnerable because it’s viewed as a feminine trait. Romance novels emphasize the importance of communication and sharing, which is something society doesn’t always promote with men. Adams’ main intention in writing The Bromance Book Club, was to imagine a situation where men were able to have real conversations “built on respect (not just for each other, but for women) and on foundations of equality, vulnerability, and emotional intelligence.”  Too often we see instances of men having derogatory conversations about women and these conversations are disregarded as “locker room talk,” though they are, in reality, harmful. Being emotional and open is associated with being feminine and is often criticized if displayed by a man. By reading romance novels, the male characters in the book learn to be unafraid to display their emotions. As the characters themselves say, they read these books “to be more comfortable expressing ourselves and to look at things from their [female] perspective.”

Adams turns the tables on these stereotypes by creating traditionally masculine male characters who “actively help each other shed the toxic lessons about life, love, and themselves they’d learned from society” using what they learn from the pages of a romance novel. In one particular scene the main lead, Gavin, is offered a Pumpkin Spice Latte, a drink that is often termed as “girly.” He is hesitant to drink it because of his pride, but enjoys it when he does. A secondary character, Mack, then goes on to explain why men should not be embarrassed or ashamed to drink them. “The backlash against the PSL is a perfect example of how toxic masculinity permeates even the most mundane things in life. If masses of women like something, our society automatically begins to mock them. Just like romance novels.” Adams addresses the way both men and women learn what they should and shouldn’t do from a patriarchal society where the interests of women are seen as inferior to the interests of their male counterparts. The male characters in the book take their direction from the men in romance novels and learn to let themselves be open to new possibilities even if these possibilities are traditionally seen as feminine. 

One could argue that while romance novels helped Gavin and the rest of the Bromance Book Club with their lives, they are still fictional characters, not real people. Taking inspiration from the book, Olympic medalist and writer, Jason Rogers, started his own book club, aptly named the Bromantics Book Club, and reaped the benefits. Rogers’ main goal with starting the book club was to “represent the opposite of terrible locker-room talk, using the books as a springboard to (hopefully) share more about what was bothering us in our own lives.” Rogers writes about how society’s view of men is outdated, and how their inability to communicate and be emotionally vulnerable has caused issues in their own relationships. Reading and talking about other men, even fictional ones, being open in their relationships, helps these men communicate more freely with each other and with their significant others. Looking past the jokes and the banter, they saw themselves reflected in the pages where the male characters shared vulnerable moments. Especially moments like where the male character choked back tears because he was ashamed that people were seeing him cry. Discussing these books and having a space to talk openly with other men has helped them improve their personal lives as well as their emotional lives. 

A majority of the world sees romance novels as something only women read. But in reality, “according to a 2017 poll by NPD BookScan, men now account for 18 percent of romance readers” and this number is continuously rising. They are no longer just guilty pleasures, but a major part of the literary world, constituting 23% of the overall USA book market. Romance novels are aimed at a much wider audience and meant to promote ideas of vulnerability and communication between people. Modern romance novelists have made romance “a genre that celebrates equality, consent, open communication, and sex positivity for everyone.” The final goal of a romance novel is no longer about “the creation of perfect union in which the ideal male, who is masculine and strong, yet nurturant, finally admits his recognition of the intrinsic worth of the heroine.” It’s more about the journey to the HEA. It’s about how the couple faces adversity together by respecting and trusting each other with their ability to be vulnerable with one another. 

The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams strives to change not only the way people view romance novels, but also the way men are told to act by society. She writes of a world where men grow to be free of toxic masculinity by learning to be more open and vulnerable. Historically, romance novels have primarily been a reprieve from reality for mothers and wives who wanted to escape the pressures they felt in their day to day interactions. But, modern romance novelists and the values of readers have changed the meaning of the genre. Now these novels are not just about people finding their HEA, but it is also about overcoming adversity and actively working towards a more balanced society. So, contrary to common misconceptions, romance novels have the potential to liberate both men and women from the shackles placed on them by the expectations of society.

Sindu Karunakaran is a national writer at Her Campus where she covers topics ranging from book lists to entertainment and cultural news. She graduated from NC State in 2021 with degrees in English and Communication. She is an avid reader and has an Instagram account and blog dedicated to her love of books. When she's not reading or writing, you can usually find her binge-watching the latest show, or trying out a new recipe.