By Paige Bayliss
Teenagers are reading again, but they’re not reading what you would hope. On an average day, you could walk down an American public high school and see at least three different Colleen Hoover novels.
At eighteen, I picked up the most popular book of 2022; It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover, a romance novel that deals with graphic depictions of domestic violence. The majority of the people I knew that were reading it were even younger than me. This book has garnered a lot of attention, with criticisms for their marketing choices (we all remember the incident with the coloring book), glorifying abusive relationships, and for committing the atrocity of naming the main character, an owner of a gothic flower shop, Lily Bloom.
When I picked this up, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. This book had been sold to me as a romance novel, one that would make me cry but would leave me feeling better about the world. The internet lied to me. There is not a day in my life that has gone by where I haven’t wished that I didn’t read this book. It Ends With Us isn’t even the worst example of Colleen Hoover’s romanticization of abusive relationships. Books like November 9, Ugly Love, and Verity could all be considered worse. Those books don’t even contain an inherent abuse of power like her series Slammed which depicts a student-teacher relationship. So, why are so many young people reading these books and others like them?
Even though the content deals with heavy and emotionally tasking topics, they’re simplified and romanticized for easier consumption. For young people who are still learning how to navigate the world of literary consumption, books with a lot of shock value and oversimplification are the key to keeping them hooked.
Reading has relatively been considered a positive hobby for a person to have, especially young people. In recent years there has been an increase in book influencers across all social media platforms who promote all types of reading. One thing that most of these influencers will have in common is the belief in letting people read what they want to read. But should we let people read what they want to read without criticism? Should we not promote people to think critically of the media they are consuming? When the media we consume is almost guaranteed to influence us in some way, isn’t it dangerous for us to not criticize it?
Young people are incredibly malleable. The ages of thirteen to eighteen inform us on what we believe adulthood is supposed to look like, from how we treat ourselves to how we should expect to be treated by others. All of my ideas of what my relationships would look like as an adult, romantic or otherwise, came from the books that I read as a teenager. If I had been reading books like It Ends With Us my entire life, I can only imagine how warped my view of relationships would be.
Now, seeing teenagers younger than I was reading books with a lot of shock value and romanticization, I worry about what they’re taking away from it. At those ages we’re just beginning to learn to think critically about the things we consume. We barely even know the differences between right and wrong. I mean, what even is morality when you’re a teenager?
Of course we want people to read, it’s food for your brain! However, when what your brain is eating is filled with messages of violence and toxicity without the addition of a critical filter, it’s easy to assume that those things are okay. How are young people supposed to know what a healthy relationship looks like when they are reading romanticized versions of abusive ones?
There is a time and place to write and read about heavy topics like domestic violence, but as writers and readers it’s our job to consume and promote responsibly. There is a point where the things we read can be dangerous for us, but especially so for the younger people in our lives. Critical thinking is the most important skill a person could ever and will ever learn. Think critically about what yourself and the young people in your life are reading. Otherwise, who knows the kinds of people we could become.