Time and again, we hear people complain about romance novels being too “cringy” and cheesy for their taste. Time and again, we see people hide the fact that they read romance novels as if it was an embarrassment to be caught doing so. Do note that I’m not saying all romance novels are good, some are downright horrible and even misogynistic (and almost always too white – you know what I’m saying?). However, it would be remiss of me to generalize an entire genre based on the execrable writing by the authors of said novels.
Do you know what upsets me most about people who are prejudiced against romance novels? It’s that they don’t actually know how much you can learn through these novels.
Over the years, I’ve read so many books that aren’t always rainbows and sunshine. I’ve learned about toxic behaviors in a relationship. I’ve learned about abusive behaviors, be it physical, verbal or emotional, and I’ve learned that you sometimes don’t even realize you’re in a toxic relationship because the signs are so subtle. Most importantly, I’ve come to learn to recognize these signs in my relationships with the people in my life.
Another vital facet of romance novels is that it allows women to understand that it’s absolutely okay to explore the many aspects of sexuality. For too long women, especially teenage girls, are faced with derision from their peers if they are confident in their sexuality. As an Asian girl, I grew up in a community where it’s considered taboo to even talk about sex and a girl is considered ‘gross’ if she’s open about her sex life. In the same breath these people denounce and mock girls who express their confusion when it comes to the intricate details re: sex.
And the million-dollar question is this: whose fault is it? Whose fault is it that girls are ashamed to talk about sex, to learn more, to have their curiousities about sex sated?
There are many romance novels that are sex-positive and it has helped me understand so many things about it, things that no one in my life would be willing to talk about with me in fear of me knowing “too much”. While good—often feminist-themed—romance novels are plentiful, there are also a number of bad ones.
Before 2016, I read one too many romance novels that were written by white authors of great renown. Sophie Kinsella, for example. Had it not been for her book Wedding Night, I would have still been her fan to this day. Imagine my disappointment when I read it and the love interest (a man) made a disgusting joke about hitting an ex and the female lead laughed. It completely put me off any of her future books. And, for a period of time, it put me off romance novels as well.
Slowly, I started reading more and more novels by authors of colour. Until I couldn’t stop, because I realized just how much quality content I’ve missed by being so absorbed in the world of White Romance Novels.
AoC (authors of colour) like Clarisse David, Rebekah Weatherspoon, Alyssa Cole and so many more are taking the romance genre by storm. Their books can make you laugh, cry, pull your hair in frustration, and make you weep because you want to be the main character in their novels so bad. Simply put, their stories are beautifully written even within the confines of limited pages.
More than that, many authors of colour care about minorities being represented in books in a way white authors simply can’t.
Personally, I’m tired of reading about beautiful, pale-skinned women. I want to read more about beautiful, women of colour. I want to read a book where I can see myself. And more often than not, authors of colour can deliver this beautifully. It’s time we recognize their talent, boost their works, and provide them with the support they deserve.