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

Picture this. It’s 2020, lockdown is in full swing. You go for a walk as your ‘daily exercise’ to stop yourself from going stir crazy. You decide to try again at making the whipped coffee that you already attempted yesterday and failed miserably at, but it gives you something to do. Your screen time is at its ultimate high and you cure your boredom by scrolling through TikTok. Slowly, Booktok creeps into your feed. It’s hard to escape videos that aren’t praising or recommending you read Colleen Hoover. 

Fast forward to 2023, reading for pleasure has reached the top of my list of resolutions for the new year. On investigating what’s popular in the literary world, the constant discourse surrounding Colleen Hoover strikes again. However, the current videos that discuss her novels are accompanied by eye rolls of discontent. Make no mistake, Hoover’s popularity is still meteoric with many loyal fans collecting her work. These videos are now opposed with the idea that her books are problematic and spread harmful ideologies. I can’t help but wonder – why has this public response turned so sour?

How did she become so popular?

In an age where social media decides what is worth engaging with, Hoover owes her spectacular success to the TikTok algorithm. Publishers Weekly perfectly summarises the incredible marketing benefits that hashtags can bring. ‘BookTok content reaches an extremely large audience—videos with the #BookTok hashtag have racked up a combined 18 billion views. Once a book like It Ends with Us is recommended by influencers, TikTok’s algorithm ensures that it pops up on users’ feeds without them even searching for it. As of this writing, videos with the hashtag #ItEndsWithUs have a combined 73 million views’. Seeing someone express their infectious excitement subconsciously persuades you to become interested in what spurred this kind of reaction. Thus, sales BOOM. 

Why do people like her books?

Those who recommend Hoover’s novels often praise their readability. From personal experience, I find that the characters aren’t overly complicated, lending to the plot’s clear and easy-to-follow format. The incorporation of shocking twists within the books has been applauded by her loyal followers who call themselves the CoHort (how cute). Many use literature as a form of escapism, and if romance is your genre of choice you often crave a happy ending. The reason behind Hoover’s dedicated following may be because she makes you work hard in order to experience this happy ending- it’s much more satisfying if the characters suffer throughout. Whilst many complain that her books are only appealing to those who have never had a Wattpad phase, Hoover explores deeper topics through a romance format making the joy of reading accessible for everyone.

Controversy Explained

Many videos have surfaced online questioning whether Hoover should be taken as serious literature and if she is ‘really worth the hype?’. Booktok readers are generally younger and less experienced, trying to become more familiar with reading as a hobby. This doesn’t mean that these readers are unable to read more classic and complex novels, but if Booktok is the only experience you have with reading you may not be aware of the plethora of authors that aren’t as widely spread on social media. The criticism that slams her books as cringey may come from those who see Hoover as simplistic and full of cliches because of the prior novels they have engaged with.

Further to this, Hoover has been under fire for using the ‘Romance’ genre to promote inappropriate relationships to her younger readers. They immerse themselves in the raw emotions of the characters and become dedicated to their blossoming romances. Her first series, Slammed, documents a female high school senior navigating a romance with her English teacher. Despite this being a work of fiction and consensual, the relationships within both this novel and the rest of her repertoire can be seen to normalise an abuse of power. Young female characters often find themselves in semi-forbidden relationships with men which can promote harmful behaviours in real-life situations. Framing these scenarios within the ‘romance’ genre romanticises abusive relationships and emotional manipulation as something to be desired. The plot could very easily be labelled as disturbing if taken at face value, yet Hoover’s writing pushes this serious power balance as romantic and tender.

Youtuber Whitney Atkinson tweeted a photo from Hoover’s November 9, where a character describes his need to physically detain his love interest to prevent her from leaving him. The tweet quotes ‘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’. The wording of this statement shows the male character justifying his need to assault the female into submission. How come he now feels that physical harm is acceptable only when she stops conforming to his expectations? This becomes an extreme problem when the character isn’t presented as desperate and creepy but is instead part of the idealised relationship that young readers pine for. 

Looking at my own experience with It Ends with Us, Hoover’s dedication to building a fairy-tale romance between Ryle and Lily makes the heart-breaking abuse even more shocking. I completely understood the atrocity of the abuse, but the romanticised aspects of the relationship and detailed justification of the male abuser’s actions almost had me feeling sorry for him. Many view this as a captivating perspective on how victims lose the ability to see situations clearly after repeated violation and manipulation. Although, this seems to glorify extreme control and the lack of boundaries due to it being marketed as a romance, making it hard for the reader to recognise the wrong in these situations. 

With parallels to her own father and parents’ marriage, should we praise Hoover for representing the complex and damaging realities of domestic abuse? Or are these narratives slowly normalising abuse and integrating it into our idea of what is acceptable behaviour in a relationship?

Roisin Teeling

Nottingham '23

I am a third year English student at UoN who loves reading the different articles Her Campus has to offer! I am happy to be part of a network of women who support and empower each other through our writing.