Colleen Hoover needs to change genres immediately

Credit: Viscaya Wilson/ Credit: Viscaya Wilson/
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Spoiler Warning for “Verity”

I’m going to be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of Colleen Hoover books. I frankly think they’re overhyped, hard to get into, and have horrible covers (to echo our beloved Novel-tea writer and Forum editor, the fonts Hoover uses are just awful). But despite my reservations — and frankly, downright animosity — towards reading Colleen Hoover, I still gave “Verity” a chance.

And honestly… it wasn’t terrible.

Spoiler warning in case you missed the one at the top of this piece because there’s no way I can talk about why this book wasn’t bad without talking about the specific plot points that made me think that.

We start the book with the main character, Lowen, witnessing a car accident on the way to a meeting. In true romance fashion, the attractive stranger, Jeremy, who helps her recover from witnessing something traumatic also happens to be at this meeting — and he hires her to be the ghostwriter for his injured wife (Verity) to finish her bestselling series.

Of course, she is basically broke and super behind on rent, so she HAS to move into his mysterious mansion to go through his wife’s office so she can plan the next book. While there, she finds a manuscript for an autobiography that explains every major life event that Verity and Jeremy went through, except Verity describes it in an entirely disturbing and narcissistic way. She basically admits to killing her daughter, and Lowen is torn over whether telling Jeremy this will help him or hurt him more.

Yet, at the same time as Lowen is reading these chapters, she’s noticing weird things going on in this house. She hears strange comments from Verity’s son, which altogether make it sound like Verity — who is supposedly in a catatonic state in an upstairs bedroom and unable to move — is actually very healthy and just faking the entire thing. Of course, Lowen, already freaked out by the diary entries, thinks that Verity is out to get her. It might be because Lowen is making a move on Verity’s husband. Maybe she’s just feeling guilty that she’s in a romantic relationship with a man while his wife is still upstairs.

When Lowen actually sees Verity move, she finally breaks and tells Jeremy everything, leading to a massive confrontation where Verity admits to faking everything and Jeremy starts attacking her. Lowen’s reaction? To tell Jeremy to not just kill her then — he has to make it look like an accident. So they do.

Jump to three months later, where Lowen is pregnant and she and Jeremy are cleaning out the old mansion. Lowen discovers a letter hidden in the floor, where Verity explains that the entire autobiography was a writing exercise to practice getting in the head of her psychotic characters, and that not only did Jeremy already discover the manuscript, but he caused her “accident” because he believed it. This time, Lowen destroys the letter and doesn’t tell Jeremy, so that only she has to wonder what was real and what was a work of fiction.

Amazing cliff hanger, right?

No way to know if the real Verity was the one from the manuscript or the one from the note, if Jeremy was a concerned father or an apathetic husband, or if Lowen acted in self-defense or cold-blooded murder. What an amazing execution for a book that would make an amazing adaptation into the next hit psychological thriller!

Or it would be if Colleen Hoover wrote thrillers.

Because that my friends… was a YA romance book.

Yes, you read that correctly. The big takeaway from this novel, the plot that's being marketed, is not in fact the mystery over whether Verity is actually in a coma, but the (poorly developed) romance between Lowen and Verity’s husband. The ghostwriter and the husband, united in murder. Talk about a toxic relationship.

And therein lies my issue with Colleen Hoover’s writing. Every single book features a different toxic relationship, but most of the others don’t have an engaging thriller subplot to keep the reader’s attention. If it’s not infidelity and murder, it’s falling in love with the man who almost killed you. If not that, it's a romance with a boy who grew up homeless in the protagonist’s backyard. If not that, it’s getting involved with a man who’s so emotionally stunted his POV doesn’t even contain complete thoughts.

Clearly, the theme is characters with graphic trauma and little else in terms of characterization. But romance tends to be character-driven, so where does that leave us?

For me? Unsatisfied and frankly, annoyed.

It’s book after book of toxic relationships between irredeemable characters marketed as relatable romances. If this is supposed to be relatable, every one of these characters needs a therapist, and a solid handful just need to be in jail. More importantly, if this was real life then these traumas wouldn’t be romanticized and this level of abuse would hopefully not be tolerated, either by the person themselves or their support network. These aren’t situations where the characters are trapped in the cycle of abuse – these characters are choosing to stay, and either romanticizing the man abusing them or also acting abusive in response.

What Colleen Hoover is doing is modeling how to stay in unhealthy relationships even when they harm the character’s mental and physical health, and oh yeah, she’s three for three, there’s emotional abuse too. She’s showing young readers who are entering relationships for the first time (or fifth time) exactly how NOT to treat your partner, but it’s not exactly clear at first (or ever). Even beyond that, she’s using trauma and violence to further the plot and fuel her crazy plot twists, which is so damaging for the people who have actually experienced similar things.

I get it. She’s writing what she knows will sell. But there needs to be accountability for the harmful narratives she’s putting out in the world, and the impact that can have on her audience. The idea of a traumatized love interest and a heroine with an “I can fix him” mentality isn’t new to romance or particularly harmful when it’s paired with a healthy dose of character growth and a relationship that, while perhaps questionable, stays far away from toxic or abusive. What Colleen Hoover does is decidedly not that.

Colleen Hoover isn’t a bad writer… all the time. “Verity” didn’t make me want to "Did Not Finish" the book in favor of chucking it at a wall like some of her other books. But I’ve also never finished one of her books without a bad taste in my mouth and a feeling that something I read was wrong on a deeper level. Colleen Hoover needs to either learn to write romance without relying on trauma and abusive relationships (because no, it doesn’t make the books “higher quality” or more “real”), or change genres to something else.

At the very least, for the love of all things romance, just admit your books cover sensitive topics and include a trigger warning. The next time a book starts with the main character being splattered with gore while witnessing a car accident (I’m looking at you, “Verity”), I’d at least like to know what I’m getting into.