Books That Would Be on My Syllabus If I Taught Girls About Unhealthy Relationships

August 24, 2015 Top Ten Tuesday 12

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week a new topic is given, and this week’s topic is:

Books That Would Be on My Syllabus If I Taught Girls About Unhealthy Relationships

One of the things that bothers me about some YA and NA books is how they idealize obsessive, possessive relationships.  Instead of depicting these relationships as unhealthy, destructive, and potentially very dangerous, some authors seem to think that possessiveness expressed by a male character towards a female character is a sign of his deep love for her.  Some of the behaviors that are portrayed as romantic include stalking, violence, and isolating the female character from her friends and family.  Of course, the authors never use those terms to describe the behavior of the male characters, but let’s not kid ourselves.  Stalking?  Oh, he’s not stalking her at all.  It’s just that she is so desirable that he must keep tabs on her 24/7 in order to “protect” her from other men, even if that means spying on her, violating her privacy, and constantly showing up unannounced.  As for the violence, the authors know that it’s not “sexy” for a guy to beat up a girl.  But, they have no reservations about having the guy beat up other guys or destroy inanimate objects, because jealousy and rage are supposed to be expressions of his passion for the girl.  Isolating a girl from her friends and family is another sign of love, because of course, she should be as obsessive and single-minded about him as he is about her.

I’ve mentioned this before in a couple of my reviews of some of the books below: I was a victim of stalking in college.  I ended a three year relationship, and I was stalked for about a year as a result.  The “heavy” stalking involved threats to my father that he would murder me, chasing my car on a highway and crashing into it, non-stop phone calls at all hours of the day and night, driving drunk to my dorm and trying to break in, and on and on.  Obviously, no author would glamorize these criminal behaviors, but here’s the thing: before all of that started, he was very much like the male characters in the books I show below.  And I was very much like the female characters: 18 years old at the time, naive, inexperienced, and I felt so special and so adored by this guy who was, in hindsight, in the early stages of inflicting a great deal of permanent emotional damage on me, and it’s made it extremely difficult for me to trust people and form relationships, especially with men.

I do believe that none of these authors intend any harm, and I’m sure that they would loudly dispute any suggestion that their books glamorize dangerous behaviors.  But I wish that when authors start describing the type of “sexy” behavior I write about in the first paragraph, they would step back and ask a friend, family member, or fellow author who has been on the receiving end of that behavior how it felt.  And ask them if and how it escalated.  I don’t want to censor authors, but I want them to think about what they want their young teen readers to take away from these books.  Should these girls shun the nice guy next door, and instead go for the guy who beats up any other guy who looks at her?  I’d feel differently if these authors were writing for adults, but when their audience is YA, I genuinely fear that their young readers will romanticize these unhealthy relationships in real life and end up like me.

Finally, I want to point out that some of these books have large and passionate fan bases, and I don’t want to offend anyone by discussing these books in this way.  Keep in mind that my reaction to these books is a direct result of my own stalking experience, and if that hadn’t happened to me, I might be fans of these books, too.


1) Hopeless by Colleen Hoover: A few of the “loving” behaviors that the guy does within a few days of meeting the MC: slams his fist into the hood of a car; repeatedly invades MC’s personal space and puts his hands on her within a day of meeting her; punches a locker when she gives the “wrong” answer when he asks if she’s dating anyone; admits to beating “someone within an inch of his life” and vows to do it again; goes through her phone without permission; when she asks him to leave her house, he refuses, and lays down on her bed instead and grabs her and pins her underneath him; after ignoring her for a month, he breaks into her window in the middle of the night and climbs into her bed.


2) Ten, Tiny Breaths by K.A. Tucker: At this point, I’m feeling a bit ill after writing what feels like an essay about stalking, so I will just include links to my reviews in the title, in case you want to more about the gross behaviors in the rest of these books.



3) Doon by Carey Corp and Lorie Langdon



4) Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi



5) Of course, with a topic like this we cannot ignore….this series.




Your turn!  Share your TTT post with me below!


12 Responses to “Books That Would Be on My Syllabus If I Taught Girls About Unhealthy Relationships”

  1. Rachel Writes Things

    Stephanie this is such an important topic and I am so sorry you had to go through that. So many men in YA and NA are idealized and you are right- not real at all, and if they were real they’d be very scary. I LOVE the Shatter Me series and Warner, but I do think if it was real life I’d be like “ew no get away from me”. I would take this class if nothing else to have incredible discussions about what is okay and how we deserve to be treated – as men and women, as whoever we identify as. Abuse – verbal or physical – and stalking is not okay no matter who you are. I might even add BREATHING UNDERWATER by Alex Flinn and INEXCUSABLE by Chris Lynch to your list- both books are from the point of view of the abusers/exboyfriends and I think it would be a really interesting contrast. (They are two of my favorite books for portraying the flipside of the topic – and neither guy is ‘good’/shining knight and I appreciated that)
    Rachel Writes Things recently posted…Top Ten Books That Would Be On My Syllabus If I Taught Feminist YA 101My Profile

  2. Trish @ Between My Lines

    I agree Stephanie, a lot of books that I have read have sent up red flags to me too. I hate that jealousy and anger can be romanticised in YA books and NA books as they are sending out signals that this behaviour is normal. Being territorial and possessive is not sexy, it’s a form of abuse. The book that really annoyed me in this respect was Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire.
    Sorry to hear about your stalking, it sounds like it was very stressful and I can see how the experience would shape your view when you come across warning signs for that behaviour in books.
    Trish @ Between My Lines recently posted…Top Ten Books That Would Be On MY Syllabus If I Taught historyMy Profile

  3. Wendy

    Oooh, I saw your title and thought, “Yes!” Such an important topic, and such a great thing to actually address and discuss with young women. I like your points about how violence in general is problematic and can be a red flag for violence within the relationship, and about how female-to-male violence shouldn’t be laughed off either. Why are we as a culture so weird about those things? I am so sorry about what happened in college, and I am glad you made it through.
    Wendy recently posted…TTT: British Mysteries 101My Profile

  4. Ella

    Beautiful Disaster should soooo be in this top as well! The dude has literally every single bad trait that is considered sexaayyyy >.>

    I’m sorry to hear about your experience. But i’m also in awe of the way you looked at the situation and you realized what was happening, cause most don’t. And they stick with that relationship till it’s too late for them. You have no idea how happy it makes me to see a woman that got out of a relationship like that.
    Ella recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Would Be On My Syllabus If I Taught High School EnglishMy Profile

  5. Kristen Burns

    How funny, I did my TTT on healthy relationships! This would be a great class because it really is an important topic, especially in YA. You make a good point after violence toward other men. This stuff bothers me in adult books, too, though because even adults are not impervious to influence, especially when these unhealthy relationships are being idolized. That Ignite Me is absolutely gorgeous though!
    Kristen Burns recently posted…Top Ten Books that Would Be On My Syllabus If I Taught Healthy Relationships in Modern Lit 101My Profile

  6. Michelle @ Pink Polk Dot Books

    I really can’t stomach books where a possessive guy with anger issues is portrayed as sexy. It just makes me ill. I was also in a relationship with a psycho back in the day, and I don’t find it endearing to see qualities that he had being given to fictional characters… and making it be a good thing. I’d much rather read a book like Bitter End by Jennifer Brown, because at least she’s showing where behavior like that can lead. It’s one of the reasons I will NEVER read Fifty Shades, Beautiful Disaster, and The Edge of Never…. and a lot of NA books in general. Great topic choice.. a very important one 🙂
    Michelle @ Pink Polk Dot Books recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday- Sobfest 101My Profile

  7. Kel

    I feel so bad for what you went through and completely understand this list. Teens are constantly bombarded by messages about what constitutes “love” and “romance” from the media and, unfortunately, a lot of them aren’t good. I think you’re right that there are teens who will romanticize this kind of behavior and a reading list like this, supplemented with discussions on why these are such unhealthy relationships, could be a much needed wake-up call. Great list!
    Kel recently posted…Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo ARC (2 stars)My Profile

  8. Cousin Sarah

    What a great post! I love the way you found the common thread between these books and are critical of the way they normalize unhealthy relationship behaviours. I too would take this course! Didn’t know about your experience in college, I’m sorry. 🙁 I’m proud of you for so many reasons! ❤️

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