Today, however, I want to bring something else into light. With the year quickly coming to an end in a day, I feel the need to call out a number of unhealthy themes, tropes, concepts and messages in stories and in fiction that we definitely should not bring with us as we welcome 2017. These toxic things, in my opinion, should be left behind in 2016. These things should be stopped altogether, really.
Before I continue, I was actually inspired to write this post after reading Liam’s admirably honest ARC review for Mad Miss Mimic. In his critique, he cited two things — to be more specific, a couple of harmful messages — found in the novel that infuriated him, and adamantly wrote, “Surely I don’t need to tell you that this is a terrible thing for books to do.”
While that is true in the sense that such ideas are so blatantly poisonous that condemning them should go without saying, what should be is not necessarily the protocol followed by current society. Sometimes, what should be is not necessarily what is. Sometimes, what we deem as “ideal” is just that: an idea rather than the reality we face. With that said, I think it is important for us to actively put these things to our immediate attention for acknowledgment creates awareness, and awareness is the first crucial step towards achieving a viable resolution. It is imperative that we speak out now.
Here are some things in books and literature that should not grace the shelves of 2017.
One: abuse is, for all intents and purposes, in no way romantic.
Romanticizing abuse is an epidemic that was catapulted to the top of an undeserved pedestal by Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight (helpful article: 10 signs of an abusive relationship: a Twilight reading) way back in 2005. Since then, more and more novels, particularly those in the Young Adult genre, have interlaced this poison into their plots. Eleven years later and this completely absurd misinterpretation of tough love (e.g. “This person is hurting me because s/he loves me; therefore, the way s/he treats me is absolutely fine.”) remains to be an annoying cockroach that refuses to die.
Let’s be clear. Abuse in whatever form — be it physical, sexual, verbal or emotional — is not a necessity in romance, much less a healthy relationship. Not clear enough? ‘Tough’ love does not give your significant other the allowance to make you feel like shit (or any less of yourself) at every opportunity. The notion that “a boy/girl is being mean to you because s/he has a crush on you” is a childish concept that we are all supposed to outgrow once we leave the halls of our elementary schools. Domestic violence is inexcusable.
If you are a woman and your boyfriend refuses to let you leave your house because of what you’re wearing, or if he needs to know where you are every single minute of the day and keeps tabs on the people you interact with, he isn’t acting out of his concern for your well-being. If he is trying to isolate you from everyone else, he isn’t looking out for you. If he threatens to withhold things from you or uses intimidation tactics, he isn’t trying to protect you. He is exerting his dominance over you. He is abusing you. And this doesn’t just apply to the female gender. People, regardless of gender and/or sexual preference, are equally susceptible of getting abused. No one should be taken advantage of.
I’m digressing from the matter at hand, I know, and I apologize for that. To be fully honest, I tend to elaborate to a rather annoying degree whenever I feel so passionately about something. Nonetheless, I am, in no way, saying that it is wrong to feature abusive relationships in literature. After all, literature is the mirror of society. Darker themes such as abuse deserve representation in stories and in fiction just as much as positive ideas because they do exist and they do happen to people in the world we live in. However, what I am saying is that the dynamics of these issues should be depicted accurately. It is one thing to write about abusive relationships, but it is an entirely different thing to glorify them to an unreasonable degree.
 Abuse in literature used as a plot device (Going Through Books)
 On the romanticizing of abusive relationships (Sarah Taylor Woods)
 Why Women Like Abusive Men: My Thoughts on Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey (Rachel Catlett @ Paper Droids)
 When Love Hurts (Nian Hu @ The Crimson)
 Abusive Relationships | The plight of the Nice Guy in YA (Bookshelves & Paperbacks)
Two: no, love will not fix you nor will it save you from yourself.
This might be a relatively unpopular opinion, but god, I’m really hoping it isn’t. Here are my two cents, readers.
There’s a pretty common pattern in literary romances that involves the strange idea of “fixing” or “saving” a person through love. The earliest, I think, that we are introduced to this is through the fairytale narrative. The valiant knight in shining armor saving the ethereally beautiful damsel in distress. You know what I’m referring to.
After the fairytales, we continue to be exposed to this complex in other literary works — stories where the nice guy rescues the girl from the baggage of her past, tales of how the good girl changes the bad boy for the better, and novels where the emotionally damaged girl and the emotionally unavailable guy cure each other of their respective personal dilemma. Essentially, these stories perpetuate and harness the idea that saving a person is romantic, and subsequently, that being saved by someone else is equally desirable.
In Erin Tatum’s article entitled Why Your Savior Complex Is Toxic to Your Relationship, she acknowledged that to a particular extent, this line of thinking is a reflection of basic human nature. However, she also wrote that “there’s a point where these behaviors can lead to some very unhealthy relationships.” And I personally agree.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to take care of someone. It’s quite admirable, really. There is also nothing wrong with wanting to be taken care of. However, I find ‘saving’ and wanting to ‘be saved’ to be rather unhealthy extremes. By relying on someone else to cure you of your illnesses, fix your flaws, solve your emotional dilemmas, and/or vanquish your personal demons, you are voluntarily deeming yourself as a victim. You are choosing to oppress yourself. You are choosing to be helpless. And this can really influence how you perceive yourself.
I don’t want to read about that anymore. I don’t want the sequence to be Main Character has problems, MC and love interest meet, MC and love interest fall in love, love interest solves MC’s problems, MC finds happiness. Why can’t I fix my shit before I meet the supposed love of my life? Why can’t the healing happen before falling in love? Why do I have to be broken in order to deserve the reward? Why should I lose myself in order for someone else to find me?
This coming 2017, I want to read about people slaying their demons on their own. I want the heroine to tell her guy, “No. Let me fix my shit before we ride off into the sunset.” I want lead characters to reclaim their happiness on their own terms. I want books and stories that will tell me that the only tool I need to have in order to get my act together is myself. That I can completely heal myself. That I can find happiness with or without someone else. That happiness stems from within. That I am my own redemption.
Three: learning how to accept yourself should be valued over conforming to society’s standards of ‘normal’.
Okay, let me say a few things. The fat girl does not need to lose half her weight by the end of the book. The ridiculously skinny girl does not need to grow fuller curves by the end of the book. Likewise, the equally unmuscular boy does not need to bulk up into an American Ninja Warrior contestant by the end of the book. A person who fails to meet our society’s conventional standards for beauty does not need to change his or her appearance by the end of the book.
Let’s delve into deeper things, shall we? The character with a speech impediment does not need to magically get cured of it by the end of the book. Let him or her keep stuttering. Let the heroine with dyslexia save the world without her having to get rid of it. Let the color-blind male lead create galleries of his art. Let the kid with a learning disability learn how to cope accordingly. Let these people find contentment in who they are.
Here’s the thing. Maybe instead of writing about how to fit in, we should be writing about how to fit into ourselves. With so many books that highlight how this character and that character are different, it’s personally alarming to find fewer books that reveal how this character and that character learn to embrace their differences, especially when these differences are beyond their control such as voice impairments and disabilities. By taking these things away from them as a form of “resolution” (note: those quotation marks come with an eye-roll), it reinforces the misguided notion that people need to conform to the pressures inflicted by society in order to find happiness. In worst cases, it trivializes the complexities of disabilities.
Four: hi world, maybe we can stop stereotyping LGBTQIA characters in our stories.
First of all, yes, there can be more than one LGBT+ character in a novel. In fact, there should be more than one. I mean, seriously, it’s 2016. By now, we should be aware that we come across more than a handful of members of this community on a frequent basis. Maybe they aren’t that vocal about their sexuality or maybe they have yet to leave their closets because of the still prevalent stigma, but they are there. And they deserve as much representation in books as you and I do.
Fortunately, more and more novels that feature realistically developed LGBT+ characters are being released. Plus, more and more members of this community are becoming published authors, thereby allowing them to disseminate their stories and their struggles on a larger and more extensive scale. Underrepresentation is still an issue, but for today, I’d like to highlight the first two words in the phrase “realistically developed LGBT+ characters”.
Can we stop using the “gay best friend” card as an easy cop-out to prevent friction between said best friend and the main character’s love interest who has jealousy issues? (Why does the love interest need to have a tendency to get jealous easily, to begin with? That doesn’t validate his feelings for the MC. That doesn’t express love. It reveals insecurity. But I digress.) While I am partially sick of love triangles in books, I find it more sickening when a human being’s sexuality is utilized as an excuse to avoid difficulty and/or conflict (e.g. MC and gay best friend can hang out without worrying/upsetting/provoking love interest). What even is that? And this is just one example of many. Liv from Petticoats & Patriarchy wrote about the LGBT+ representation in a novel entitled On the Other Side and talked about how the characters’ being LGBT+ was used as a mere plot device.
In 2017, I no longer want to see books that make use of LGBT+ characters as major or minor plot points. Stop using people’s sexual identity for your convenience(!!!) because doing so trivializes their plight and the very essence of who they are. Also, let’s bury all the LGBT+ stereotypes in graves deeper than the bottom of the ocean! Not all gay men are loud and effeminate. Not all lesbians aspire to be more masculine. Bisexuals aren’t automatically promiscuous. Seriously, who came up with these things? Basically, we should all know better now, yes? Yes.
Five: let’s stop romanticizing mental illnesses as well.
Where do I even begin with this one? Romanticizing sicknesses and disorders, whether physical or mental, creates such an alarming amount of toxicity that I cannot possibly cite everything that’s wrong with it. What do I mean by ‘romanticizing’? It’s significantly similar to romanticizing abuse in the sense that it establishes a distorted portrayal of mental health, misleading people to believe these illnesses to be glamorous or as something that should be desired. This, in turn, further perpetuates mental health stigma. Romanticizing mental illnesses is greatly detrimental to those who actually suffer from them. Even more so, it makes an absolute mockery of their condition. By latching onto these misconceptions and false images, we are denying ourselves the capability of recognizing the disorder for what it is, and more imperatively, we are rendering ourselves unable to fully empathize with the people who are struggling with it.
 How I Learned Not to Romanticize Mental Illness (Alaina Leary @ Dear Hope)
 Why It’s Important to Talk About Mental Health in YA (Beth Reekles @ Jenny in Neverland)
 Why YA fiction needs to tell stories of mental illness (The Guardian)
Six: I want to see healthier family dynamics in 2017.
I’ll be upfront about this. I’m from a generally okay family. My parents and I are okay, despite their overprotective tendencies. My siblings and I are okay. Basically, I have no firsthand experiences of being neglected by my parents or of being raised by a single parent or of being abandoned in any way. With that said, my opinion might be influenced by my own childhood and by the things I did experience. However, I am, in no way, trying to be insensitive. It is not my intention to offend anyone or to attack people from families that are not considered to be “ideal” situation-wise.
These broken families do exist. Absent parents are as real as single parents. Divorces do happen. Some children are raised in a neglectful household with their equally dismissive mother and father. Imperfections in families do exist. And as I keep saying, whatever is gone through or experienced by people deserves to be represented. Let me be the first to say that all kinds of family dynamics should be represented in literature. That is definitely not the bone I’m trying to pick at.
What I do want to call out are the stories that utilize the Missing-in-Action Parents trope (i.e. dead parents, negligent or indifferent parents, parents who are too caught up in their own endeavors to pay attention to their children) solely for the convenience it brings. This is more commonly practiced in Fantasy, Paranormal and Science Fiction.
My problem with this is that, more often than not, it seems like the author is trying to weasel his or herself out of a deep hole. I totally get it, though. I mean, with the parents conveniently far away, there’s not much that can hold back the main character from saving the world, battling villainous creatures, chasing after a love interest, restoring balance to the world, and going on a myriad of wild adventures. However, more often than not, making a character’s parents magically disappear throughout most, if not all, of the book seems like a really sloppy, incredibly lazy tactic. Especially when their absence does little to the attitude or development of said character.
Additionally, as it is being used as a mere plot enabler, the portrayal of these disappearing parents is sometimes stretched so thinly that it becomes highly unrealistic. It creates caricatures. Moreover, I personally think that this literary trope builds a false dichotomy between having parents and having freedom (the need to be protected vs. the desire to be independent). It entertains the thought that it is impossible to have both, that one must be sacrificed in order to get the other.
But then again, this might also be an unpopular opinion. As such, I’ve attached a number of articles that tell of differing perspectives regarding the roles of parents in literature.
 The Roles of Family in Young Adult Fiction // A LOT of Book Recommendations! (Sparkling Letters)
 Why Are Parents Dead in Fiction? (Shannon Thompson)
 Disappearing Parent Syndrome (Delicate Eternity)
 Parents in YA Literature: Can’t Read With Them, Can’t Read Without Them (Girl in the Pages)
 Parents in YA — Love ‘Em or Hate ‘Em? (Emily Ross Writes)
 Why are there so many dead parents in young adult fiction? (When Paper Met Pen)
Seven: losing the person you love does not render your life utterly meaningless.
We go back to the Twilight saga — particularly its second book, New Moon, where Bella voluntarily flings herself at dangerous situations all because whenever she’s at risk, her mind creates hallucinations of Edward Cullen. I’ll keep this short and simple: I am sick of this. I am sick of reading about characters who fall into depression, or even worse, a suicidal mindset just because things did not work out with the love interest. I am sick of reading about a heroine who is incapable of standing firmly on her own after the guy leaves. I am sick of reading about a person who refuses to heal and to cope healthily from heartbreak because s/he thinks there is no point of living.
Although most books aren’t as extreme as New Moon (I mean, god, at one point, Bella literally jumped off a cliff), the underlying message they promote is equally poisonous: that if you are not loved, you are therefore worthless. This infuriates me, to say the least. There is more to life than finding a soulmate. Ending a relationship is not of the same caliber as ending your life. Unrequited feelings should not stop you from moving forward.
Depression, unfortunately, happens. Losing someone can trigger depression, I know. But that doesn’t mean we should write off suicidal thoughts and tendencies as an inevitable, generally accepted part of the whole “break up” process. Not only does this romanticize depression, but it also normalizes the idea of wanting to kill yourself after the end of a relationship. And that is not okay.
Eight: issues such as sexual assault, rape and violence should not be used as half-hearted literary plot devices.
Okay, one final item before I finally drop the proverbial microphone. Writing scenes depicting sexual assault, rape, and violence solely for the purpose of giving a character “depth” and “development” without appropriately and sensitively dealing with the issue and its aftermath is absolutely unbecoming. Need I elaborate? I think not.
 Stop using sexual assault/rape as character development (Beautiful Bookish Butterflies)
 This is a post about literary rape (Maggie Stiefvater)
In essence, what I am truly adamantly advocating is well-rounded representation. By the end of the day, it’s all about how things are put into perspective. Thoughtless representation is significantly more damaging than no representation at all. With all that said (and written accordingly), let’s set things right in 2017! Let’s learn to be more sensitive, more compassionate and more truthful to ourselves and to other people. Most importantly, let’s learn to be brave — courageous enough to recognize things as they actually are, and strong enough to actively confront them.
Happy New Year’s Eve!