Jo Talks Books: On My Bechdel Test Experiment

Hi everyone! So it’s almost the end of 2018 (how did that happen?), and with that, I thought for my final discussion post of the year, I’d talk about a little experiment I’ve been running with my books this year. At the beginning of the year, I decided that one of my resolutions would be to analyse the books I read against the Bechdel Test, a test that looks at female representation in media, by asking three simple questions: a) are there two (or more) named female characters, b) who talk to each other and c) about something other than a man. This sounds like a pretty easy test to pass, but it’s actually more difficult than you would think. It’s usually used for films, but I figured why not try it on books? It’s been quite a fun and interesting little experiment and I thought I’d share the results with you guys here.

So I read 35 books this year, more than 2016, slightly less than 2017. Of those 35 books, a pleasing 24 of them passed the Bechdel Test, whilst 11 of them did not. In this post, I’m going to take a closer look at the books that did and didn’t pass the test, and look at some of the limitations of the Bechdel Test as well, since it’s not a perfect science.

Almost all of the books I read which passed the test were written by female authors, and had female main characters (the only one which passed the test and was written by a male author was Midnight by Derek Landy, but the main character in the book is female. VE Schwab’s Vicious was the only one with a male main character that still passed the test, but in that case, the author is female). I don’t know how much of this was just that I read more female written and female led stories than not, and 35 is a relatively small sample size, so I can’t really conclude anything definitive from this, only that the books I read, the ones written by women with female lead characters were more likely to pass the test than others.

I will say that one issue of using the Bechdel Test on books is that because of the nature of the test, it is somewhat biased against books that are told from a male main character’s perspective. Because the test requires two named female characters to speak to each other about something which isn’t a man, if the book is narrated by a male character, the likelihood of two female characters speaking without the male character present is highly unlikely, so even if the book does have good representation of women, it will automatically fail the test because the narrator is male.

This happened for me with The Burning Maze and A Thousand Perfect Notes-both books have quite nuanced, interesting female characters, but because they are narrated by a male main character, they automatically fail because the male character is always involved in their conversation in some way-we are seeing it through their eyes. This also happened with Firestarter, the book has plenty of wonderful female characters, Daphne, Cassie, Leila, Jo, Charlotte etc but because the main character is male, all of their conversations revolve around him and the one conversation that would have counted, between Daphne and her mother, fails because Daphne’s mother is not given a name, she is merely Mrs Richards.

The opposite of this problem is Vicious, which is a male led book that does pass the Bechdel Test, but it really only does so on a technicality-there is a brief conversation between Sydney and Serena that is not about men. That’s not to say that Sydney and Serena aren’t well drawn characters, they are, but it is definitely the men (Victor and Eli) who are the stars of that story, and Sydney and Serena are very much supporting. This is one of the reasons why I’m so excited for Vengeful, because we get to see the women in charge!

There were two books I read this year that failed because they only had one named female character in them: the first was Fawkes, the only main female character was Emma, the love interest of the narrator, Thomas, and I was actually pretty disappointed that this book failed the test, because it would have been easy enough to give Emma a female friend to talk to, and Emma was such a great character, it seemed a shame that Fawkes failed simply because she was the only one there. The other book was Not If Save You First, where Maddie was the only named female character in the book, which again, how difficult is it to just have one other female character who has a name? It’s a low bar people, low bar.

Then there were the books that failed because their conceit demanded it. For instance, Louise O’Neill’s Almost Love failed the test by design, because the only thing that Sarah can talk about to her friends is Matthew, since she’s in a toxic, obsessive relationship with him. In this case, the failure of the test works quite well for the book, because it shows how deep Sarah is in with this man, that he is affecting every part of her life. The other book which failed because its conceit demanded it was Night of Cake and Puppets-it’s the story of Zuzana and Mik’s first date in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone world and whilst Karou does pop up from time to time via text, their conversations do revolve around Mik, since that’s what the book is about-honestly I would have been quite surprised had the book passed.

Finally we come to the books that should have passed the test but didn’t. Hero At The Fall for instance, should have passed the test. It had numerous named female characters: Leyla, Shazad, Amani, her aunt whose name I can’t remember right now, but she definitely had one, there were so many opportunities for this book to pass the test and yet it just didn’t because whenever the female characters were together, they were talking about the men in the book. Wintersong had Liesel, her sister and her grandmother, there were enough women there to pass and yet, not a single conversation that didn’t revolve around a man. Sea Witch had Evie and Annemette, it would have been so easy for them to talk about something other than Iker and Nik and yet…..nope, that’s all they could talk about! If I found a mermaid, I would have far more questions about that than about her crush on a boy. The Enchanted Sonata had Clara and Zizi and yet the two of them barely interacted, it would have been so easy for them to have a short conversation that wasn’t about Nutcracker and yet again, there was nothing.

Then we come onto the books that did pass. There was a lot of variation between them as to the level of interaction between female characters and discussions of things other than men. There were the books that obviously and definitively passed, like The Exact Opposite of Okay, A Spark of Light, Rose Under Fire, Moxie, Things A Bright Girl Can Do which had numerous named female characters and multiple conversations between them that were not about men.

There were those that did pass, but at the lowest level of the test, they met the requirements but that was about it. By A Charm and Curse was one of those books, had it not been for a conversation between Emma and her best friend about food at the beginning of the book, it probably wouldn’t have passed. Vicious only passes on the basis of a brief conversation between Serena and Sydney. The Hazel Wood, I had to hunt very hard and it was only at the end of the book that I found a conversation which counted. For A Muse of Fire only passed based on a brief conversation between Jetta and Cheeky about clothes and Tower of Dawn because of a brief conversation between Yrene and Hafiza about healing (although with the latter two, I would argue that both have good representation of women, even if it was difficult to find conversations that weren’t about men, these women have agency and their plots do not entirely revolve around the men in their lives).

The problem with the Bechdel Test is that it’s not the most sophisticated test in the world, it’s relatively easy to pass, but just because a book passes, doesn’t necessarily mean that it has great representation of women because all it requires to pass is literally a few short sentences exchanged that aren’t about men. It also doesn’t say anything about race representation, or sexuality representation, or disability representation, so you can have a book pass the test purely on the presence of straight, cis, ablebodied white women and I’m sure none of us would say that’s the best or only representation of women we want in our books.

It is also as I have already explored, incredibly biased towards female led or multiple POV books, male POV books largely don’t stand a chance of passing the test, even if they do have valid and nuanced representations of women because it’s a lot harder to include a conversation between two women that the POV character (in this case, the man) is not included in.

The Bechdel Test is designed to favour quantity of female interactions in books, rather than quality, a book that has a two sentence exchange can pass, where a book with a great, nuanced representation of women can fail because there is only one woman present, even if the representation of that one woman in that book is better than the two sentence exchange in the book that passed. Some of the books that failed have great, complex multifaceted female characters, and the fact that they don’t pass an arbitrary test, doesn’t take that away. However, it doesn’t always have to be quantity over quality, all the books I talked about above, which had multiple female characters with multiple interactions, had both: they had complex, nuanced female characters and they had multiple interactions, so it is possible to not favour quality over quantity, but by design of the test, that is what tends to happen.

I also think that using the Bechdel Test as an indicator of how feminist a work is as opposed to a marker of female presence is a big mistake, because often so many of the conversations that we have as feminist involve men, so therefore they wouldn’t pass the test! The Bechdel Test was never meant to be some complicated test of how feminist a piece of work is, it’s a simple, by the numbers test, to see how often women talk to each other about non-man related things in a piece of media. A book could pass the test and still be sexist, whilst a very feminist book could fail-it’s not a perfect science, nor was it ever intended to be.

It’s also quite difficult to work out what counts as a conversation, so it’s very often up to the person doing the analyzing, what books I think pass the Bechdel test, someone else might think don’t because we have different ideas about what counts as a conversation.

Overall, I’ve had a fun year applying the Bechdel test to my reading and it’s been quite eye opening to see what has/hasn’t passed the test. I think I’m going to carry on doing it into next year, because it’s quite fun to do, it’s not something I see on any other blogs and I’d like to have a larger sample size to see if the results from this year carry on into next year (or if I have a larger proportion of one or the other!). One thing I think I’m going to change though, is putting the Bechdel Test rating at the top of my reviews, so you guys don’t have to scroll all the way through to find them if you’re interested!

I’m going to have another discussion post for you quite soon, my first of 2019, as I want to talk about my 2019 Reading/Writing/Life Resolutions! In the meantime, I will have my last review of the year and my End of Year Check In up hopefully tomorrow, my End of Year Check In will definitely be tomorrow, my last review of the year might end up being my first review of 2019!



Jo Talks Books: A Bookworm Christmas Shopping Guide For Non Bookworms

Hi everyone! I am so sorry that I had no discussion posts for you guys in November, I had so many deadlines and it just wasn’t possible to write a lengthy post-but, I’m planning on making it up with not one but two posts this month-that hasn’t happened since May! Anyway, with Christmas coming up, I thought it might be a quite nice idea to do a Christmas shopping guide, but with a bit of a twist. As bookworms, we all know the sorts of things that we like to receive for Christmas, but for our non-bookish inclined friends and family, shopping for us can be a little more difficult, so I thought I would create a handy little guide that can be shared with any non readers amongst our friends and relatives, to make Christmas shopping season that little bit easier. So here we go:

  1. Listen to our interests

If you aren’t a bookworm, it can be easy enough to think, “well this a book…insert friend here likes books….I’ll just get this for them” but alas, things aren’t as simple as that. Bookworms are complex creatures, with a myriad of different interests, and you cannot guarantee that any book you put in front of them will be one they’ll like (I mean there’s a high chance but it’s not 100% certain). My favourite book presents have always been the ones that show the person who bought them for me has really tailored their present to something they know I like-for instance my mum got me a book called Modern Women: 52 Pioneers, because she knows how much I like reading about historical women and it meant a lot to me because it shows that she listens to the things I like.

2. If you don’t know what books we own, ask!

Often times, the less avid readers in my life (and to an extent my friends who do love books) don’t get me books because they’re worried about getting me something I already own-I mean fair enough, I do have a lot of books, and sometimes even I lose track of what I own. But I do have a Goodreads shelf with them, and quite a lot of bookworms will, so if you don’t know what we already have, just ask us!

3. Gift cards are not a cop out! Giving us the opportunity to buy more books is just as much of a gift as buying them for us

I can’t speak for anyone else here, but I love getting gift cards, and it’s not even a book specific thing, although in this case, I am of course speaking about gift cards for book shops. It seems like often people think that gift cards are less of a present, because you can’t exactly unwrap them, but personally I love the chance to get to choose what I want myself at a later date. A book gift card for Christmas inevitably leads to a trip to Waterstones (or elsewhere, if it’s a National Book Token since those are non specific) and that is a gift in itself!

4. Etsy is a great starting point for bookish related goods

Gifts for bookworms don’t always need to be books! We love merchandise as much as the next fan, and Etsy is an amazing starting place for fandom merch. I have bought so much great stuff for both myself and friends over the years, so if you know the books that your friend is into, then searching on Etsy for related merchandise is a great way to get your bookworm friend something book related that’s not an actual book.

5. Book subscription boxes make brilliant presents

Not that this is something I have ever personally received, but I know it’s something that I would love to get. With a book subscription box, you can either get your bookworm friend a continuing subscription, so a gift that keeps on giving, or a single box, and they get the joy of both books and book related gifts. Plus, there is such a wide variety of book subscription boxes out there, you can tailor your gift to your friend’s personal interests.

6. Get a special edition/foreign language edition of one of their favourite books

If you know what their favourite book is, then a special edition of your bookworm friends favourite book, especially if they are a collector, would be a very well received Christmas present, though obviously this is not possible for every single book. If they speak another language though, or are trying to learn, then a foreign language edition of one of their favourite books might be a good idea. Penguin Classics is a great idea if your resident bookworm has a favourite classic book, as they’re so pretty (though sadly don’t have a pretty hardcover copy of my own favourite classic, Black Beauty).

7. Look out for events with your friend’s favourite authors

If your friend has a favourite author whose event they can’t make it to, because they don’t live near the event or have a clash or whatever, then you could surprise them with a signed, personalised copy of a book of theirs for Christmas. If their favourite author isn’t doing an event near you, but they’ve had a book recently out then you could always check the Waterstones/B&N/wherever you get your books from website to see if a signed copy is available.

8. Bookish Christmas ornaments

If you’re wanting to get your bookworm friend something a little quirky, then how about getting them a bookish themed Christmas ornament? Harry Potter baubles are quite common, you can get House themed ones at Primark. You can also get baubles filled with strips of paper with text from books, so if you can find one from your bookworm friends favourite book, that would be a good one. You could even make one, if you are particularly crafty.

9. Tickets to a book event

If you really want to make the resident bookworm in your life love you, then give them the opportunity to meet their favourite author/s. If you have a little more disposable cash, then tickets to a book convention like YALC or a Comic Con would be a great idea. If however you can’t afford that, then just have a look out for what events their favourite authors are doing in 2019 and if there are tickets available yet, as tickets for book events are usually relatively reasonable-the most I’ve ever paid is I think £20 and that usually includes the book.

10. Get the film version of their favourite book

Okay, okay hear me out because there is a caveat for this one. If they like the film version. Book lovers can be notoriously picky about adaptations of their favourite books (as they should be) and if they really hate the way their favourite book was adapted, it’s probably not a good idea to give them a permanent reminder of that. However, if they loved the film, or they haven’t seen it, then it might be a nice idea to buy them a copy, so they can relive their favourite book in a different way.

So there we go, my tips for shopping for bookworms at Christmas. Do you have any to add? Have you ever had difficulties with non bookworm friends/family members buying presents for you? Alternatively, have you had problems buying for non-bookworm friends? Let me know in the comments!

I am going to have another discussion post for you in December-I know, shocking! I’ve been analysing the books I’ve read this year to see whether they pass the Bechdel Test, and I want to discuss the results of my little experiment, so that will be coming around the end of the month. In the meantime, I’m going to have my latest review up for you guys, I think tomorrow!


Jo Talks Books: On University “Reading Funks”

Hi all! As always, I had fully intended on writing a discussion post for October well before now, but of course, Uni intervened and time just got away from me! That’s actually quite apt for today’s topic though, as I’m going to be talking about how going to University has affected my reading: or as I have affectionately called it in the title, the University Reading Funk (I know we more generally call them slumps, but Funk seemed like a better descriptor for what I’ve felt over the past few years, plus I thought it made a catchier title!).

I have to admit, and please don’t all hate me for saying this: I hadn’t experienced a reading slump before going to Uni. I mean I read less during my A-Levels due to time constraints, but I’d never experienced anything close to what I saw other bloggers describe as a reading slump until my first semester of Uni.

Reading has always been my escape, my happy place, the place I can go to relax, to feel better when I’m having a bad day, a place to go when things get difficult. When I started Uni, I, well I wouldn’t exactly say fell out of love with reading (clearly!), but I wasn’t finding the same joy in it than I used to. I had a hard time in my first semester of Uni, I wasn’t really making friends, I hated most of my flatmates, I was missing home and I wasn’t loving my course, basically, I just wasn’t having a great time. And whilst I would usually take solace in books, nearly everything I tried to read, I didn’t really enjoy (the exception being The Assassin’s Blade) and I only read three books the entirety of my first semester of Uni. This was my first experience of what I am now calling the “University Reading Funk” and although it was more caused by emotional reasons than an overload of work.

I’ve never experienced a reading funk to the same extent as I did in my first year of Uni, but it’s still something that happens from time to time-I mean it’s nothing new, reading slumps are a hot topic in the blogging community and a dreaded thing to all, but I don’t necessarily stop reading when they happen, even during my worst one when I started Uni, I was still reading, I just wasn’t getting the same enjoyment out of it than I had before. I started to read a lot more in the second semester of my first year of Uni, after I made friends and was starting to feel more settled but it seems like once the reading funks have started, they don’t stop!

For the most part, whenever I have a lot of work to do at Uni, my reading does tend to suffer for it, mostly because both parts of my degree are very heavy on reading anyway, so when I’m doing essays or research for articles, reading doesn’t feel like the same escape as it does normally, and so I tend to read less for enjoyment, which is a shame, but only natural when reading is a large part of your work (work related reading and enjoyment reading are very different!).

Fourth year has been quite stressful for me, work wise, and that’s kind of been reflected in my reading since I’ve come back to Uni. I’ve been reading a lot less and much slower than I did over the summer, which isn’t unusual, but I also haven’t been feeling as excited about reading as I did before I came back to Uni. When I have assignments due, I feel guilty about focusing on other things (and then ironically feel guilty about not doing the things that I enjoy because I’m so focused on Uni stuff. Uni induced guilt is a whole another thing that I’m not going to get into in this post!).

Luckily, I have become a lot better at anticipating my reading funks since becoming a blogger and I have become a lot better at balancing my workload since my first year of Uni. Whilst still not something I love,  reading funks are not something that strikes fear into my heart anymore because now I know how to deal with them. Whenever I feel myself sliding into a funk, I try to find something that will get myself excited about reading again. Whether that’s a new release that I’m excited for, a favourite author’s book that I haven’t read yet, or an old favourite, I want to find something that will make me forget about all the stress of Uni and just revel in and enjoy the story.

Of course, this doesn’t always work and the only surefire way that always lifts my University induced reading funks is the arrival of the holiday breaks, especially summer, where I have weeks of unlimited time to just read as much as I want to. But I have found, that even if I am completely snowed under with work, if Uni is feeling like more of a chore than something I’ve willingly entered into, a really great book can still completely turn my day around.

And even despite my work and emotional induced reading funks, I have still read some amazing books since I’ve been at Uni, in my four years of Uni, I’ve discovered the amazing talents of some of my favourite authors: VE Schwab, Samantha Shannon & Leigh Bardugo, among others. Sure, balancing reading with Uni work has been difficult and there are times when I slip into funks, but no amount of work is ever going to change how much I love books. Even when I have times when the last thing I want to do is read, it’s okay, because books will be there waiting for me, when I feel like reading again.

Do any of you have anything specific that makes you feel less like reading? Anyone else suffered from any really bad reading funks (no need to disclose details if you don’t want to)? What do you do to get over them? Let me know in the comments!

I’m not going to have another October discussion post for you, since October ends in two days (HOW?), but I will have another, topic as yet undecided Jo Talks post in November-I think I will be sticking to doing just one post a month in November and December, Uni is just so busy at the moment! In the meantime, I will have another Top Ten Tuesday for you guys tomorrow!



Jo Talks Books: On Books “Everyone Should Read”

Hi all! I had totally intended on writing a September discussion post well before today, the last day of September, but I just haven’t had a chance since I’ve arrived back at Uni. Today I’m going to talk about something that I’ve been thinking about for a while: something that I see quite often when bloggers are talking about books they really love, the “everyone should read this” praise.

This phrase has often made me feel uncomfortable. It’s a phrase often used on “books you should read before you die” lists and just generally whenever people feel really strongly about a book. It treats people as a monolith, not individuals with their own unique experiences. The beautiful thing about reading is that whilst we can all read the same text, we will all interpret it and experience it in different ways. So when we say, “everyone should read this”, it seems as if we are ignoring the fact that different people bring their different experiences to reading and that not every book will speak to every person in the same way.

Take probably the most popular example of this phenomenon: Harry Potter. Now don’t get me wrong, I think Harry Potter is an amazing series, and it really influenced me, both as a reader and a writer and yes, when I found out that one of my friends hadn’t read it, I was very surprised and really wanted her to finish it. However, would I say that series is for everyone? No. Because that’s impossible. There are 7 billion people on the planet, all with different likes and dislikes and asking one book or one series of books to speak to everyone is ridiculous.

I totally understand the feeling of excitement when you read a book that you love unequivocally and you think that it’s so amazing, you just want to shove it into the hands of everyone you know. Heck I’ve been there. But not everyone is unequivocally excited about the same things. Some people prefer stories in different mediums, TV or film or radio or theatre over books, and that’s fine. In fact that’s great, everyone should get to experience the joy of a good story, no matter what form its in. And for people who do love books, we all get excited about different things. For instance, I love fantasy and the books that I get excited about are things like A Darker Shade of Magic, Harry Potter, Throne of Glass, Six of Crows. But not everyone loves that, there are bloggers out there for almost every single genre, crime, romance, historical, fantasy, contemporary etc. Would I suggest that every single one of those bloggers reads the same ten books that are supposedly for “everyone”? No, because that would be boring. Variety is the spice of life and if we all read the same books then there would be no variety and we’d get so bored just talking about the same books all the time.

The “Everyone Should Read” label in general society, most of the time seems to go on classic books, books that have acquired a certain cache because they’ve been around so long. But the thing is classics aren’t for everyone. They can be long and boring and share outdated views and just because they’ve survived the test of time, doesn’t mean you have to read them. That’s not to say that they’re not worth reading at all, but just that the fact that they have been given the label of “classic” (which is somewhat arbitrary anyway, who decides what is a classic?) doesn’t mean that they automatically become “for everyone”. Like any other book, some people may love classics and some people may not, and even within that, there’ll be variations, you may love one classic book and hate another. We’re not dealing in absolutes here, reading is such a subjective thing, and you can’t expect everyone to react the exact same way to a certain book, even if you think it’s great.

I’ve noticed this phenomenon in the blogosphere recently with diverse books. Whilst I totally agree that we should definitely be pushing authors from marginalised backgrounds, & it’s really important that these books get exposure, the “everyone should read this” mentality can be just as dangerous here. Take for instance, The Hate U Give, which has become a pretty common “everyone should read this” book in the year since its release, there are such high expectations that you should love it going in, that it’s actually kind of intimidating, because what if you don’t love it? What if it’s just not for you? There can be a lot of pressure on reading these kinds of books, because you know that it is so important that that representation is out there for those who need it and you feel like if you don’t love it, because it’s not your genre, or you just don’t connect to the story or whatever, then people are going to hate you. This is why we need to push for diverse books in all genres; so that no matter what genre you like, you can see yourself in stories and everyone can have diverse stories to enjoy, in whatever their preferred genre is.

The reason that 90% of required reading at school sucks, is because you are being forced to read books that you are not necessarily interested in. That’s not to say that no one is interested in required reading at school, some people may love the books that they read at school, but the point is that not everyone will, because you cannot please everyone with one book. If you get 50 people to read one book, the chances are you won’t get 50 of the exact some reactions. The whole idea of required reading is not at all useful for fostering a love of reading, because you are not going to get that but telling people they have to read certain books: the only way that you can get people to fall in love with books is by allowing them to find stories which speak to them.

As a reviewer, I try to stay away from absolutes. I don’t want to say “everyone should read this” or “this sucks, everyone should avoid this” because reading isn’t an absolute science. A book that speaks to me, may not speak to you and vice versa, you might find a book that I hated absolutely amazing. I firmly believe that reading is the most magical experience in the world for this very reason: two people can read the exact same words on a page and take away completely different things and when we talk in absolutes, like “everyone should read this” we do that magic a disservice.

So there we go, my thoughts on the “everyone should read this” phenomenon. Have you ever fallen into the “everyone should read this” trap? Are there any times when you think that phrase can be justified? Let me know in the comments!

Obviously I won’t have another September discussion post for you, since it is the last day of September now, but I will have another Jo Talks post in October, though I haven’t decided what I want to write about yet. In the meantime, I will be back with a new Top Ten Tuesday for you guys on Tuesday, so look out for that!

Jo Talks Books: On Unhealthy Relationships in YA

Hi all! I totally did mean to get my August discussion post up way before now, but with my summer job not finishing until last week, I honestly just didn’t have the time to write another lengthy post-which seems to have been the story of my life this summer! Anyway, whilst I was in London for YALC back in July, my friend Hannah and I got onto talking about unhealthy relationships in the media, specifically talking about how cute we thought Ross and Rachel from Friends were as a couple when we were younger and now that we’re older, we realise just how unhealthy their relationship really was. Hannah said she thought it would make a great discussion post and I asked her if she minded if I used it for Jo Talks, to which she agreed. That is all a very lengthy way of saying that today I’m going to be talking about Unhealthy Relationships in YA books, and our tendency to romanticise YA love interests who are in actual fact rather abusive towards their partners.

Take the A Court of Thorns and Roses series for an example. In the first book, Tamlin is unquestionably abusive towards Feyre, he physically hurts her, he is possessive (yes there is a line between protective and possessive) and this goes even further in the second book when he locks her in her room and doesn’t allow her to come out. His behaviour is called out more in the second book, but that doesn’t really excuse the way his behaviour is romanticised in the first book. Even Feyre’s eventual love interest, Rhysand, is abusive towards her, essentially date raping her in the first book and even in the second, is possessive over her to the point of being controlling. Much as I love Sarah J Maas books and I think she does a great job of giving her female characters power and agency, she does have a tendency of writing male characters who are incredibly possessive over their women, to a point where it makes me feel quite uncomfortable. A healthy relationship should not have one person feeling as if they own the other one!

Twilight is obviously another common example given of an unhealthy YA relationship, though I’ll admit, I haven’t read it, so my opinions on it have mostly been formed from what I’ve heard. Still, the entire premise is ripe for an unhealthy relationship given that the main character is 17 (i.e. underage) and the love interest is over a hundred years old, so yeah, it’s more than a little bit gross to start off with. Add to that the fact that Edward is incredibly possessive of Bella, he stalks her, he tries to control her by not allowing her to see Jacob and disabling her car so she can’t drive, and she becomes isolated from her family and friends because of her relationship with him. Bella’s relationship with Edward isn’t just unhealthy, it’s downright abusive. There’s an even more disturbing relationship between Jacob and Bella’s daughter Renesmee, whom Jacob imprints on and describes as his soulmate when she is literally hours old. Pedophilia much?

We also have the classic example of Aria and Ezra from Pretty Little Liars, whose relationship most people will be familiar with through the TV show of the same name, but PLL was originally a novel series and the Aria/Ezra relationship was also featured in the books. I don’t think I really need to explain why a teenager having a relationship with their teacher is supremely unhealthy, not to mention illegal. Granted, their relationship in the TV show is far worse, in the books it is a much more casual thing and doesn’t last for very long, whereas the relationship in the show is much more serious but still: putting a teen/teacher relationship in a YA book is really unhealthy and irresponsible because there is a severe imbalance of power in that kind of relationship.

Snape and Lily in Harry Potter is another example of a relationship that fans romanticise but is really unhealthy. Granted, their relationship never actually becomes romantic, they never date, but I wanted to include it because it is a big sticking point in the fandom and a huge part of Snape’s redemption arc. Snape does not have a healthy attraction to Lily, his love is obsessive and damaging. Snape would lash out at Lily when she did things he didn’t approve of, he joined the Death Eaters because she rejected him and he called her horrible slurs. Just because he agreed to protect Harry, does not mean that his attraction to her was healthy or that anything he did to her was okay.

Also the classic guy is totally obsessed with a girl until she eventually caves and agrees to date him is another annoying trope, both in YA and in other media, because it makes it seem like the girls have no agency and that it is okay for boys to just wear a girl down until she says yes, which it is not at all. The most recent book that I can remember with this in was A Study In Charlotte, which I read back in January of last year, the narrator in that; Jamie Watson, is obsessed with the other main character, Charlotte Holmes and basically seems to hang around with her and wears her down until she agrees to date him. In addition, he was very possessive and had some rather nasty anger issues, which as I have already explored in this post, makes for rather unhealthy relationships.

I realise that a lot of the examples of unhealthy relationships I’ve used have shown men acting badly towards women and whilst this does seem to be the case most of the time, there are also cases of girls in YA acting badly towards boys, for example in Graceling, Katsa is physically abusive towards Po, pushing him so hard it causes bruises. Instead of exploring this, which would have been great, since abuse by women towards men is sorely underexplored in fiction, the author just brushes it off as totally normal.

This is not to say that unhealthy relationships in YA are always a bad thing. When they are romanticised and made to seem like they are the perfect relationship that teens should be striving for? Yes absolutely. But there are YA books that explore unhealthy relationships and show how these are actually really bad things and not what you should be aiming for whatsoever. Take The Exact Opposite of Okay, Danny’s friendship with Izzy is shown to be really toxic, because he thinks he is a Nice Guy, who is entitled to her time, her body and her affections because he is nice to her and gives her gifts. The book totally slams this trope and shows that Danny’s attitude toward Izzy is really unhealthy. You also have books like Dangerous Girls, which explores the unhealthy dynamic between Anna, Elise and her boyfriend Tate, at no point are any of those relationships shown to be particularly healthy nor or they romanticised, but the book does provide a very interesting look into toxic relationships, both friendships and romance wise.

So yeah, YA definitely has a problem in showing unhealthy relationships, most commonly through possessive, entitled male characters, massive age gaps between characters (I mean how many times have we read the teenage protagonist falling in love with the hundreds of years old supernatural creatures) and in some cases both physical and emotional abuse. It’s such a shame because YA writers have the opportunity to really start a dialogue with their teen readers and show them that relationships like this aren’t okay, but they romanticise them to the point that it seems like this is the sort of relationship teenagers should be striving for. That isn’t to say that healthy relationships aren’t seen in YA, I can think of several YA relationships that are kind and loving and supportive, but they don’t seem to be as normal as “bad boy treats girl terribly and she thinks she can change him” and I hope that this is something that changes, because teens deserve to be treated right in relationships and they deserve to see their favourite characters in books in healthy, loving relationships so that they strive for those, rather than the drama filled, toxic relationships that seem to be so prevalent in teen media.

So that’s it, my thoughts on unhealthy relationships in YA! What examples of unhealthy relationships in YA can you think of? What about healthy ones? Any books that you think explore unhealthy relationships well? Let me know in the comments!

I don’t know if I will have another discussion post for you before the end of the month, I don’t have any plans for another August topic, but if I can think of something that inspires me enough to write about it, then I will. In the meantime, I don’t know what I will have for you guys for the rest of the month, maybe a Writing Corner post if I can think of something to write about, but I guess you’ll just have to wait and see!


Jo Talks Books: Updated Tips For YALC Newbies (2018)


Hannah and I at YALC 2017

Hi everyone! I’m so sorry I didn’t get another discussion post for you done in June, with my Writing Corner posts and reviews and everything, I just didn’t have the time to write another one. Since YALC is just around the corner (FRIDAY PEOPLE, I AM SO EXCITED), I decided that my discussion post this month would be less of a discussion and more of a list of tips for people attending the convention this year. I did a tips post back in 2016, but I wanted to update it for you guys, since a couple of things have changed since 2016 and it’s always useful to have a fresh list of tips! Here we go, my top tips for attending YALC for the first time:

  1. Don’t worry about arriving before 10-you can actually avoid the queues if you arrive later

Okay so this one is kind of contrary to my top tip from 2016, but you actually don’t need to be there from ridiculous o’clock queuing to get in. I mean you can arrive at 9 and wait in the queue for an hour if you’re desperate to be the first in, but don’t sweat it if you’re a little late, there will still be people on the doors, there are all day and you might just avoid having to stand there sweating in a long queue-you’ll be doing enough of that inside the con! Also if you need to duck out during the day, you can, they stamp your hand so you can get back in if you leave the building.

2. Wear light and comfy clothes and shoes

It gets SUPER HOT in the convention centre, so please, please wear light and comfy clothes. I know it might seem fun to wear an extravagant and heavy cosplay costume, but you will boil and regret it later, so consider the heat when planning your cosplay. Also, I know this seems obvious, but consider bathroom manoeuvrability when planning your costume-you don’t want to have to be fiddling for hours just to go to the bathroom! Make sure the shoes you wear are comfortable also, there is a lot of walking and standing and not much seating (though I’m hopeful they might have changed that this year) so you don’t want your shoes to be rubbing all day!

3. Bring your own food and plenty of water (stowed separately from your books to avoid accidents though)

Food in the convention centre is super expensive, so you would be wise to bring your own, there is a Tesco Express just across the street from Olympia, so you can get food and water before going in, which I would very much advise! It’s going to be over thirty degrees on Friday and I think just as hot on Saturday and Sunday, so make sure you have plenty of water, you will want it!

4. Get cash out before you go in

Only the Waterstones stall and I think the odd other one take card, most stands are cash only. There is a cash machine just across the street from the building, so you can get cash just before you go in, though if you want to avoid potentially large queues for cash machines on the day, then I suggest getting money out beforehand.

5. Make use of the cloakroom

A lot of people bring suitcases and whilst that’s great, they can be kind of unwieldy, so I suggest bringing a separate bag to use for the books you want to get signed and stowing your suitcase, or any extra bags you have, in the cloakroom for the day. It’s at the far corner of the convention centre, near the agents arena (or at least it was last year, they might have changed where things are this year) and only costs £1 to use.

6. Bring a phone/IPod/Camera to take pictures with AND make sure it is fully charged before you go

You’ll probably want to take pictures with your favourite authors whilst there, so make sure you bring something to take pictures with. Also make sure that whatever device you are using is fully charged, because unless you have a portable charger, there is only one or two plugs in the convention centre, so if you run out, there’s a good chance you may not be able to use it for the rest of the day.

7. Only pick up the proofs you really want, otherwise you’ll end up with a whole load of books you’ll never read and deny other people who really wanted said proof of the opportunity to read it

So in the last couple of years, publishers at YALC have started giving away a load of free proofs-yay for us, free books that we get to read early! But only get the ones that you are really interested in reading, it will save space in your bag for books you want to buy, will make sure that everyone who actually wants the proofs can get them and will save you time because you don’t have to read something you don’t think you’ll like. It can be so easy to get overexcited because FREE BOOKS, but be picky and only get the proofs you are super excited for, not just random ones that you only pick up because they’re free. This kind of goes for books you buy as well, you don’t need to buy every single book you see, tempting as it might be-I have a lot of books from YALC that I’ll probably get rid of without reading because I just picked them up because they’re cheap!

8. Make sure you follow all the publishers and YALC on Twitter and have your notifications turned on

Publishers announce proof drops on Twitter-though I think they’re changing how they do things this year, but they’re still bound to have updates on Twitter, so you want to make sure you are following all the publishers so you can be updated. JennieLy has made a list of publishers on her Twitter account, so follow her and find out the publishers and you’re golden! Also make sure you follow the official YALC twitter account, they have lots of useful tips and bits of information on there that you will want to know.

9. Plan out who you want to see in advance-and take note of any clashes

YALC is a busy few days and it’s much easier to enjoy yourself if you’ve planned out who you want to see, what panels you want to see, what books you want to get signed and everything, in advance. That way, you won’t be rushing around like a headless chicken trying to do everything! If you know what times everyone’s signings and talks are, it is a lot easier to plan your time accordingly and make sure you get to see everyone you want to see.

10. Make sure you bring extra bags

You will be picking up a lot of stuff throughout the day, so it’s important to make sure that you have enough bags, so make sure you have enough places to store them and take advantage of any free tote bags that you get given during the day!

11. Bring a friend, and also make sure you interact with other people

Bookworms are really friendly, but it can be daunting going to these kinds of events alone, so I would definitely recommend going with a friend or a group of people. I’ve been going with my friend Hannah for the last three years and we’re bringing along another friend (also named Hannah) this year, and it’s so much more fun having someone to share your time with. But even if you do take friends, make sure to try and interact with people there, bookworms are so friendly, and you have to do something to pass the time in those long signing queues.

12. Have your money in an easily accessible place

I’ve had problems the last few years having to root around in my bag to find my money, so learn from my mistakes! This year, I’m taking a bumbag instead of my handbag and I think it’s a really great option, because it frees space in your main bag for more books and it means your money is easily accessible throughout the day and so I would definitely recommend!

13. Do take breaks throughout the day

It can be tempting to just rush around from panel to panel, signing to signing and buy all the books and I have definitely done that before, but when you’re getting tired, take some time to have a breather before rushing off to your next thing. Authors sign for several hours and the busy ones are ticketed, so you have time to take a breather, don’t refuse it!

14. Make sure you know if an author’s signing is going to be ticketed and get your ticket!

For really busy authors that are expected to have long queues, YALC has a ticketing system in place. They’ve refined this since the first time I had to use it and it’s a lot better now. If an author’s signing is ticketed, there will be a person standing around giving out tickets. Find them, get your ticket and then relax until your number is held up on the whiteboard (you may have to go back several times). Don’t miss out on the tickets, because if it’s a ticketed signing and you don’t have a ticket? Yeah, you’re not meeting that author. Last year both Alwyn Hamilton and Samantha Shannon had ticketed lines, so I suspect they might again, Tomi Adeyemi I would guess is likely to be ticketed and it’s already been announced that Tom and Giovanna Fletcher will be ticketed. Also take note of any limitations on number of books that can be signed; they usually don’t put a limit in, but check, you don’t want to look like an idiot by having more books than you’re allowed to have signed. Most signings won’t have a limit though!

15. Check the underground route before you go

If you’ve been to YALC before, or live somewhere with a direct link to Olympia, then this won’t be a problem, but if you’re new, getting to YALC via the underground can be a little confusing. You need to get to Earl’s Court underground station on the District Line and then change from there onto the special train for London Olympia (it only goes to Olympia, there are no other stops). If all else fails, follow anyone in cosplay because they are likely going to LFCC and YALC too.

16. Have fun!

YALC is an awesome weekend that only comes around once a year, so have a great time! Make the most of getting to see all these great authors and picking up free proofs and getting all these great books and just have the best time you can-I know I certainly will, there’s a reason Hannah and I go back every year!

So that’s it, that’s all I have; a slightly more comprehensive list of tips than my last one, though I know there are a few repeat tips in there! If anyone who has been to YALC thinks I’ve missed anything and wants to chime in with advice of their own, by all means do. Who else is going to YALC? Who are you all most excited to see? What days are you going? Basically chat to me about all things YALC in the comments-and if any newbies have anymore questions, feel free to ask, I have a fountain of YALC knowledge that’s only useful once a year, so use it!

If you are going to YALC, then by all means, say hi, I don’t bite (at least not often). I don’t know what I’ll be wearing yet, but I bought one of JennieLy’s beautiful lanyards, so if you see someone with a Hufflepuff lanyard, with my name (Jo Elliott), my blog’s name (BookLoversBlog) and my twitter handle (@iloveheartlandX) on it, then congrats, you found me!

I won’t have another discussion post for you this month, as I honestly just won’t have time, but I will be back with another one in August, about an as yet undecided topic! Also, I did an interview with Rachel Coleman over at Bookmark Chronicles which should be on her blog sometime in the next few weeks, so please follow her and give that a read when it comes out. Before then, I will have a new Top Ten Tuesday post on Tuesday, so stay tuned for that.


Jo Talks Books: On Why I Don’t Believe In Guilty Pleasures

Hi all! Since we are now approaching the end of the first full week in June, I figure it’s time for me to do my first discussion post of the month. This month I’m talking about something more general, though obviously as always it does relate to books. I’m going to be talking about Guilty Pleasures and why I think it’s a stupid term.

It’s always something I’ve been uncomfortable with, the term Guilty Pleasure. It just seems like such an oxymoron, how can something that brings you pleasure make you feel guilty (unless it’s illegal, obviously) for liking it?  It’s a term we use to describe something that we like but feel we should be ashamed of, and why? Because other people think we should be ashamed of it? Because some arbitrary person somewhere has decided that what we like isn’t worth liking? It just doesn’t make any sense to me. When you love something, you should love it openly and joyfully and share that love with other people, you shouldn’t feel you can only admit it by saying, “it’s a guilty pleasure”.

This phenomenon is most common with things that have a large, predominantly female fandom (ah sexism, rearing it’s ugly head yet again). In books, we see this a lot with romance novels, they’re dismissed as a genre (despite, I think, being the biggest selling genre), often times, people describe a romance novel as their so called “guilty pleasure” because people have decided, hey women like these, so let’s deride them! YA is dismissed for the same reason, it’s a majority female authorship and readership, so of course people decide to deride it. No wonder we feel like we should be guilty about the things we like when society is constantly telling us that they aren’t worth anything. Look at any list of guilty pleasure reads and nine out of ten times if not absolutely every single one, the books will be written by women. That’s not okay and definitely needs to be more acknowledged.

When it comes to books, the books most likely to be derided as “guilty pleasures” are the ones that are seen as not having “literary merit”. You’ll never see a Dickens, or a Tolstoy, or an Orwell derided as something people should feel guilty about reading, not in the same way that you’d hear something like 50 Shades of Grey or Twilight called a guilty pleasure. And why? Just as many people love stuff like 50 Shades or Twilight as like any of the classics by the famous old white dudes. Now I do not have time to go into all of the sexist stuff surrounding the decisions as to what books are considered to have “literary merit” but whatever your own personal feelings about books like 50 Shades or Twilight, you can’t deny that they were super popular. So why the need to describe books like that as guilty pleasures? Because they were written by women and have a predominantly female fanbase? That is messed up! Besides, who says that books have to have “literary merit” for them to be enjoyed? And who decides “literary merit” anyway? If you enjoy a book, then it has done its job!

Aside from all the sexist bullshit that goes along with the whole concept of guilty pleasures, I have just never believed in feeling guilty about what I like to read, or watch or listen to. I love talking about all the books I read, whether they be YA, SFF, crime, contemporary adult fiction, anything, if I read it, I’m going to talk about it loudly and proudly. I feel like people who look down on certain books as guilty pleasures, are either ashamed that they like something because they’ve been societally conditioned that they should, or because they feel that their reading taste is somehow superior (and yes, I’ve been around a lot of those people). You’re not hurting anyone by liking romance, or erotica, or YA, or any other genre of book that is looked down on, derided as a guilty pleasure, so why shouldn’t you be able to share your love of them openly? Answer: you absolutely should.

I’ve also noticed that when it comes to guilty pleasure reads (or guilty pleasures in general for that matter), it tends to be the lighter, softer, fluffier entertainment that gets branded a “guilty pleasure”. Think books like The Selection, the Georgia Nicoloson books, Bridget Jones Diary, the Shopaholic books. Because they’re books focused on women finding love, rather than death or war or illness or anything like that, they’re branded as “guilty pleasure” books. But what’s wrong with liking something cute and fluffy? There are enough horrible things going on in the world as it is at the moment anyway, reading is a form of escapism, so it makes sense that people might want to escape into something cute and fluffy rather than something intense. There’s this notion that because something focuses on pain that it’s worth more, but I don’t think that’s true. It’s just as important to focus on the light in the world, the stuff that brings us joy, as it is to look at the things which cause us pain.

Guilty pleasures, it seems to me, is yet another way to police what people enjoy. Society tells us that such and such isn’t good for us, that it’s inferior to some supposed superior alternative and so we should brand it as a “guilty pleasure”, as if that somehow justifies our liking it. For books, it’s just another way of enforcing book snobbery, like you can like that lesser book as long as you know that my 200 hundred year old classic is infinitely better than whatever it is you’re reading. By using this term, we justify this kind of snobbery and not just for books, but for any other mass consumed media as well.

So the next time you’re picking up a book that’s maybe a little fluffy, or hasn’t won ten billion awards, or isn’t 200 years old, or is written by a woman, or is enjoyed by teenagers, and you’re about to call it a “guilty pleasure”, don’t! Embrace what you love, loudly and proudly. No one should be able to make you feel guilty about something you love. Guilty pleasures is an outdated, often sexist and just plain wrong term to refer to any kind of media that society has decided isn’t worth consuming. But guess what? If you love it, and it’s not hurting anyone? It’s worth consuming.

There we go, my thoughts on guilty pleasures, books and otherwise! What do you think? Have you ever described anything as a guilty pleasure? What? Let me know in the comments!

I will have another discussion post for you at the end of June, though I haven’t decided what it will be about yet. I’m hoping I will have a Writing Corner post up for you guys very soon, talking about TINALS and the process of editing it, but in the meantime, I’m very close to finishing Crooked Kingdom, so you will probably get a review of that very soon!