Content warning: The following text describes domestic abuse and trauma and can be disturbing and/or triggering for some readers. Please find resources listed at the bottom of the article.
Colleen Hoover is the most mentioned modern author on TikTok, with #ColleenHoover amassing over 3.6 billion views. Hoover’s books, which include the New York Times bestsellers It Ends With Us and Verity, are the epitome of easy–to–read romance novels—books people read for plot and plot only. Hoover is also known to emphasize trauma throughout her storylines, accentuating the idea that her characters would not be complete unless they undergo some form of extreme, painful trauma.
There is value to fun, perhaps depthless, books; they get people reading for the sake of reading, because such books are easy to consume. But Hoover’s use of themes such as domestic violence and trauma for the sake of entertainment is extremely insensitive.
It Ends With Us takes readers through a classic love triangle between Lily Bloom, her childhood friend Atlas, and Ryle, a charming, successful surgeon–stranger that Lily marries. But when Ryle becomes physically abusive towards Lily as a result of his jealousy towards Atlas’ reappearance in Lily’s life, Lily decides to leave Ryle. She makes this brave move after her daughter is born, because she doesn’t want her child to grow up in this cycle of abuse. At the end of the novel, Lily runs into Atlas again, implying a blooming relationship between the two characters.
A growing population has started to acknowledge Hoover’s novels as having a sub–par plot and poor writing. Take one look at Twitter—searching “Colleen Hoover” yields posts like “your first mistake was picking up a colleen hoover book” or “colleen hoover is [in fact] the lowest form of literature.”
In addition to their poor quality, Hoover’s works romanticize abuse. Hoover nudges her audience to fall in love with Ryle, despite his acts of cruelty. Ms. Magazine writer Jennie Young argues that It Ends With Us “feeds into the very structures of toxic masculinity that it purports to combat … and glorifies a charismatic–but–dangerous man.” But this nuance is missing in many readers' depictions of the novel as a romance.
Alarming posts demonstrate this glamorization of problematic tropes. One TikTok posted under #ItEndsWithUs shows a video of a man we assume to be Ryle with the caption “yea he’s a jerk but he’s hot.” Another is captioned “Lily’s decision was the best decision ... but I really feel sad for Ryle,” referring to Lily’s choice to ban Ryle from spending nights with their daughter until she is old enough to talk—when she can tell her mother if she experiences abuse.
In Jan. 2023, Hoover planned to release a coloring book based on It Ends With Us, receiving online backlash—for good reason. The coloring book's production has since been canceled. Capitalizing off a book meant to empower women ultimately makes light of the very serious content, and it reads as extremely offensive and insensitive.
So why do people keep recommending her books, and why does she still find incomparable success?
It Ends With Us, published in 2016, appeared on the New York Times Bestsellers list in 2021, where it stayed for 88 weeks (as of Feb. 23). This recent burst of fame, seven years after its publication, can be attributed to BookTok, a space on TikTok where creators recommend and review books. BookTok, by virtue of its accessible, free–for–all platform, expands young adult reader numbers. But with convenience and technology comes a culture of haste, overstimulation, and need for quick information. This has rendered our attention spans short.
So in order to break into mainstream culture, reading material must be easily consumable; and Hoover’s works are just that. Slate writer Laura Miller explains that “the blandness of Hoover’s characters makes them easy for anyone to identify with, and the smooth, featureless quality of her prose makes her novels easy to breeze through in a day or two.” Many readers appreciate this writing style, with one Twitter user writing, “I personally don’t mind [Colleen Hoover], her books are easy reads, and I am so happy that I picked up "It Starts With Us" [because] I had forgotten how much I loved to read.”
BookTok utilizes its audience’s desires to find genuine connections through art. That is, main forms of social media tend to either teach us something about life or elicit emotion just as art does, and books are included within that. Books like Hoover’s strive to package content into digestible parts that can be reduced to popular tropes and promoted on BookTok. Due to TikTok's nature—allowing anyone to post and gain credibility on any range of topics—recommendations tend to fall on the side of readable, entertaining, and slightly shocking. When trending books are of the likes of It Ends With Us, BookTok ultimately contributes to the romanticization and over–simplification of life–changing issues.
There’s nothing wrong with reading a book simply for enjoyment. We don’t always have to find a deeper meaning to every book we read. But reading frivolously becomes harmful when prioritizing a plot line's simplicity leads to ignorance of the negative effects of popular media.
Colleen Hoover is not the only author guilty of putting pleasure over sensitivity—she just happens to be the most successful. Easy art can lead to harmful art, so maybe we ought to slow down and become more comfortable with slow reading and thinking.
The HELP Line: 215-898-HELP: A 24–hour–a–day phone number for members of the Penn community who seek help in navigating Penn's resources for health and wellness.
Counseling and Psychological Services: 215-898-7021 (active 24/7): The counseling center for the University of Pennsylvania.
Student Health Service: 215-746-3535: Student Health Service can provide medical evaluations and treatment to victims/survivors of sexual and relationship violence regardless of whether they make a report or seek additional resources. Both male and female providers can perform examinations, discuss testing and treatment of sexually transmissible infections, provide emergency contraception if necessary, and arrange for referrals and follow up.
Reach–A–Peer Hotline: 215-573-2727 (every day from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.), A peer hotline to provide peer support, information, and referrals to Penn students.
Penn Violence Prevention: 3535 Market Street, Mezzanine Level (Office Hours: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday-Friday), 12–5 p.m. Wednesdays & 12–5 p.m. Fridays located in Penn Women’s Center (3643 Locust Walk), Read the Penn Violence Prevention resource guide.
Sexual Trauma Treatment Outreach and Prevention Team: A multidisciplinary team at CAPS dedicated to supporting students who have experienced sexual trauma.
Public Safety Special Services: Trained personnel offer crisis intervention, accompaniment to legal and medical proceedings, options counseling and advocacy, and linkages to other community resources.