Bookish, Discussions

Reviewing Bad LGBT Books: A Conflict

I seek out queer lit.

And I feel like it’s becoming a more common thing.

Hearing teens in bookshops get over excited by the LGBT section in a bookshop warms my heart. I barely understood myself, let alone what LGBT meant, when I was that age. The world is a better place with queer lit in it.

Whenever I read a book, I’m either reading it because I know it has a queer romance or characters, or because I’m hoping it does. Granted, a book without queer themes does not make a book bad, and some of my favourite books don’t include queer themes. But at the same, it’s tough reading a book where queer people just don’t exist. My mind can’t fathom writing a story where queer people have just been omitted from the Earth. I guess, when you’re not a part of the community, don’t absorb news surrounding LGBT issues, and don’t have friendship/family circles including LGBT people, it’s very easy to say ‘out of sight, out of mind’.

So, I seek it out. I praise it and I boost it on social media. Because there’s always that niggling feeling in the back of my mind if I don’t:

Publishers won’t continue to publish what doesn’t sell.

book by adam silvera in a yellow bag hung up on a wall

 

It’s a sad thought, one that often falls on the fact that the book is queer, and not other potential problems with a book. Which… is a problem that I’m having with queer lit right now.

Like with all genres/sub-genres, I have read both good and bad books. Those bad books don’t make a whole genre bad either.

But recently, I have noticed that a lot of queer lit depends almost entirely on the ‘queer’ aspect of the book to hold the rest of the book up to a certain standard. And I’m worried that it will begin to affect the rest of queer lit and whether or not publishers continue to publish it.

I always make sure to not hold queer lit up to a higher standard than books without queer themes. But it’s to the point where I’m letting bad queer lit books slide because hey, it’s queer!

I’m stuck in this conflict between wanting good queer lit but not wanting to poorly review bad queer lit.

Because let’s be honest, our pool is shallow and small. We don’t have a lot to choose from. Maybe 2 starring queer lit books is counter productive? But, I’m trying to understand what I’m interpreting and what I’m seeing is becoming a trend when publishing queer lit. And that’s queer lit where the only good thing about it is queer.

I have read so many queer lit books where, if the book wasn’t queer, I would have stopped reading. The fact that it was queer is the only thing that’s keeping me going. Is that…good storytelling?

And it’s like the author had the idea of it being queer before knowing what the  plot was. It’s like they thought the queer aspect of the book is enough to get it published and praised by us; queer people who are legit thirsty for more queer content.

But in my opinion, that really isn’t fair.

i'll give you the sun by jandy nelson on a bed next to a yellow backpack

Fans of queer lit want queer lit, but we want it to be good too. And I’m concerned that bad queer lit will be at the fault of the readers rating it bad rather than the book itself. Like I said, publishers will not publish what doesn’t sell.

“Oh, all these queer lit books are doing badly. We won’t publish them.”

It’s frustrating, but it’s often how it works.

The onus is always on that. The book is bad because it’s gay. The film did badly because it stars black people. This show sucks because it focuses on women. And yes, people do believe that!

Including queer characters/romance isn’t supposed to make a bad book good; it’s supposed to make a good book better. The book already needs to stand on its own without all the responsibility being on the queer characters/romance to make it sell-able. Because unfortunately, it will be the fault of the queer aspect if it doesn’t sell well.

I’m going to continue to seek out queer lit. I’m also going to rate a book poorly if it’s bad. Those things should not be mutually exclusive. Boosting queer voices and queer narratives is still super important, and I know that if we continue to do so, queer lit will become a big enough pool where some queer lit can suck and nobody will blame it on the genre.

After all, there’s some pretty bad hetero romance out there, and no one ever thought about whether or not they should stop publishing that.

(The pictures in this post are not examples of bad queer lit! Just some of my fave LGBT books!)

Tell me some LGBTQ+ novels that you love that haven’t nearly got as much publicity as it should have!

GOODREADS | INSTAGRAM | TWITTER | BLOG | BLOGLOVIN’

18 Comments

  1. Ashlea Daune

    February 13, 2019 at 6:12 pm

    With any book I’m always conflicted about leaving a bad review. I can’t imagine being an author and seeing the bad reviews, ya know? I’m becoming more honest with my reviews. I’m not mean, but I explain why I personally didn’t like it.
    I can definitely see where you’re coming from though.

    1. Hollie

      February 14, 2019 at 5:13 pm

      I know what you mean, but I think it’s important to review bad books for other readers, rather than for the author to see. I think rather than being negative, it’s about being honest. Negative reviews are subjective tho, so I would hope that just because someone gave them a bad review, it doesn’t mean that everyone thinks the same!

  2. Harker @ The Hermit Librarian

    February 13, 2019 at 6:41 pm

    Something to keep in mind re: a book is also whether the queer rep is actually good rep. Cause yikes have writers GOT to watch themselves on that. Not every experience is the same, and that’s 100% okay, but there’s some books out there that are downright dangerous in how they portray the queer community.

    Have you read Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann or Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman? Both were excellent imo. 😊

    1. Hollie

      February 13, 2019 at 10:40 pm

      Oh I completely agree about that. Like someone mentioned on Twitter, I have no problem criticising rep that I identify with that isn’t own voices. But sometimes a book is just bad, not as in problematic. That’s a whole different thing haha.

  3. Cerys @ Browsing For Books

    February 13, 2019 at 6:48 pm

    Great post! This is something I have been struggling with too and it’s so nice to hear that someone else is on the same page as me! This also goes for any underrepresented group of people for me – I don’t want to rate it badly when the rep is good but… it’s a bad book. 😬😬

  4. Maria Schneider

    February 13, 2019 at 7:21 pm

    You’re just experiencing what happens in every genre. Romance is hot! Everyone writes it! Hey…this romance has no plot. People then shout about, “You’re just reading smut, it’s trash. I read one of those once.” And the whole genre gets put down. Have you tried Mercedes Lackey? (Valdemar universe–not all have a gay main though). Great characters–no matter what she’s writing. Gail Carriger is another writer who tends to include gay characters (sometimes as mains and sometimes not). It’s like anything else: You have to hunt out the gems. Oh–I’ve heard Nick Plakcy is a good writer and I know he has some lgbtq characters. One of my blog readers rec’s his stuff a lot. I’ve only read a short story so far. Just haven’t gotten to them and I’m not sure whether his mystery series features such or not.

    As for reviewing…yeah, I feel your pain. I’m an indie writer. So when I read an indie book that I don’t like, I feel bad. Do I tell the world? Did I keep reading just because it’s an indie writer? Or do I move on and just spend my time on something more worthwhile! 🙂

    Maria (BearMountainBooks.com)

    1. Hollie

      February 13, 2019 at 10:13 pm

      I understand that it can happen in every genre, but obviously as a community that is already wildly unrepresented in books, I worry that it would do more harm than good to write a negative review about it if I thought it was bad.

      I haven’t! I’ll have to take a look at their novels. Thanks for the rec!

      1. Maria Schneider

        February 13, 2019 at 10:18 pm

        But if we bloggers don’t help others find good books in the genre, some readers might give up! And really, you don’t have to write a bad review. It’s probably more important that you praise the ones you love so that others can find them. I very often don’t write a review at all for a disappointing book. Sometimes I’ll mention I read or started to read a book in the book discussion threads at my own blog and offer a very quick opinion in lieu of spending an entire post complaining about the lack of plot or pacing or good characterization…etc. 🙂 Do what you love and make it fun. You’ll be happier for it!

  5. BooksNest

    February 13, 2019 at 7:32 pm

    Really interesting blog post Hollie, I really enjoyed reading it. I think you’ve raised some very interesting points about how we review queer books. I often see there’s a pressure to review certain books because of the diversity they include, in a positive light. I always try to be true to my opinions though.

    1. Hollie

      February 13, 2019 at 10:32 pm

      Thanks Beth!

      Yes, exactly. I worry so much that it will negatively affect whether more LGBT books get published in the future, but I know that counteracting that possibility with boosting GOOD LGBT books is a good start!

  6. kirstyreadsblog

    February 13, 2019 at 7:53 pm

    This is a BIG mood. I “read” Georgia Peaches which was one of the big queer books when I started and my god, that was a bad book. Everyone buzzed about how good it was and I DNF’d really quickly because an autistic character was treated like a child I was OUT

  7. gailpirl

    February 14, 2019 at 10:20 am

    Honestly I feel a similar conflict. I want to support books that represent minorities and especially myself (Jewish, queer, mentally ill, neurodivergent) – but I don’t want to recommend books that do that badly for their own sake. That leads to its own set of problems. I try to be honest about this but I think it’s hard to get through sometimes, especially in the context of an industry.

    1. Hollie

      February 14, 2019 at 3:10 pm

      Absolutely. I think it’s all down to books with minority rep not having the space and opportunity to fail. Like I mentioned in my post, the pool is very shallow, and right now, bad books and failures are much more noticeable than in larger genres and categories. But, with more being published, I hope that reviewing a bad book won’t feel catastrophic for the success of the genre as a whole!

  8. anniekslibrary

    February 14, 2019 at 12:47 pm

    Two books I loved but haven’t seemed to get as much hype as they deserve, are Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts), and Death Prefers Blondes!

    1. Hollie

      February 14, 2019 at 3:11 pm

      Thank you for the recs! I’ve read (and loved) Jack of Hearts, but I’ll definitely check out Death Prefers Blondes!

      1. anniekslibrary

        February 14, 2019 at 3:14 pm

        It was just as unapologetically queer, truly amazing! 🙂

  9. christine @ lady gets lit

    February 18, 2019 at 3:37 pm

    This is such an interesting post that really got me thinking. I definitely agree with a lot of what you said. I want more queer books, but I also want them to be quality books. Still, I definitely rate diverse books slightly higher than I would if they had an all-white/cis/allo/het cast. I’m not saying I auto-5-star diverse books just because they have rep – especially if it’s rep that I know from reading other reviews might be problematic. But I’ve also read queer books that were legitimately harmful, either to myself or to other queer readers. For instance, I’ve ready some pretty problematic books with bisexual rep that left me feeling enraged and erased. In general, though, if a book has diverse rep that I feel could help even just one person, but it wasn’t my all-time favorite book, I’ll probably still give it at least 3 stars. That’s probably just a me-thing though. I think we all rate differently.

    1. Hollie

      February 19, 2019 at 3:33 pm

      Thank you for saying this!

      I agree so much. When I say ‘bad book’, I usually mean books that I, specifically, did not enjoy because of my opinion of what a good book is to me. I think with problematic books and dangerous rep, you’re absolutely right that it feels more like I SHOULD review it badly to let others know. I am always happy to publicly say why a problematic book is problematic to save other LGBT readers the time and effort of reading it themselves when it could be avoided.

Leave a Reply