7 Books that are Overrated

Everyone talks about the books they love—those they’d recommend and can’t live without. However, despite people’s tendency to love to hate, no one likes to call out the books that deep down they just think are overrated. Fellow Spellbinding Shelf blogger Makayla and I have listed seven novels that we believe to be the most over-rated. Some of them are famous, some of them will probably be famous, and some of them are just not the best (in our opinion). That is not to say this is a comprehensive or objective list. Our list is composed of personal biases and opinions—you may or may not agree, and that’s okay! We just wanted to call out some of the novels that, while we love the author or deep down enjoyed the story, they don’t need to be as famous as they are today.

Safe Haven—Nicholas Sparks. I wish I loved Nicholas Sparks—I really do. I have had the pleasure of knowing many people who regard him highly, and I find their enjoyment adorable. However, his terrible writing, combined with the lack of diversity in his novels and the blatant sexism within the world of book publishing has left a permanent distaste in my mouth. To be fair to Nicholas Sparks, I have only read one of his books: Safe Haven, but to be fair to myself, and this post, it was because I could not manage to read more than this one. Even getting through Safe Haven took me half a year. His writing is basic and lacks depth. It wouldn’t bother me so much, because a great deal of writing is basic and lacks depth, if he was not so popular. His stories always unfold the same way, and they always feature two white leads—one male, one female. Finally, what I will never understand is why his books are shelved in “fiction.” I had the pleasure of working at a bookstore for years, and his books had to go in the fiction section because they have “fictional themes.” What that means is that Nicholas Sparks got the honor of being shelved in what people view as a more serious genre—when the romance genre, where he belongs—has no male authors, is given the deeply sexist label of “chicklit,” and disregarded as also having “fictional themes.” His popularity has been fading as the years go on, but maybe it’s time it fades all the way.

The Fault in Our Stars—John Green. I am a long-time fan of John Green and I love his novels—however, appreciation of anyone (especially authors) is not without some good ol’ criticism. While this may be an unpopular opinion, The Fault in Our Stars is a fairly basic love story, and while sad, it also doesn’t add anything new to the genre and is a form of tragic romance that was, and is, common in the romance genre. Additionally, its adaptation into a movie only pronounced the cultural craze over the fairly basic plot. It had everything that could push it into fame, right down to the cheesy tag ling “Okay? Okay.” Don’t get me wrong—I liked The Fault in Our Stars and I love John Green’s novels. However, between the facts that the novel is so famous it’s annoying and the plot doesn’t add anything new to the genre, it’s pretty overrated. Let’s just say I’ve never had the desire to reread or even rewatch the, albeit good but overrated, story.

Beautiful Disaster—Jamie McGuire. As a teenage girl, the last thing that should be recommended to you is a “romance” novel that features an abusive relationship, while still being marketed to you as sweet and the ideal relationship that you should aspire to have. When I was a teenager, I eventually gave in to reading Beautiful Disaster after the incessant pestering of both the internet and other people, only to find that what I was told was an “opposites attract” romance novel was actually a disturbing story about a man with anger issues and his obsession with the main character, an average girl. A lot of romance novels feature an “average girl,” to show that everyone is deserving of love and deserving of being worshipped by the people we think are too good for us. Beautiful Disaster takes this and shows that even the average girl can find themself in an abusive relationship they can’t escape from and wouldn’t even want to escape from because they have fallen into a deeply twisted love story with someone who doesn’t really love them. The number of people who think this book depicts a romance is truly saddening. 
Perhaps worst of all, the author of Beautiful Disaster is a massive racist and incredibly sexist. This isn’t simply apparent in her writing; she has used social media to share these offensive thoughts. “Offensive” isn’t a strong enough word. She’s a despicable person who does not deserve to publish books. Even worse, last month in October, it was announced that Beautiful Disaster would be made into a movie. After other abusive stories found such success as films, like After by Anna Todd and Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James, how could we not throw another one into the mix? We don’t need another one! There are so many amazing romance novels to choose from that are healthy and adorable. Jamie McGuire needs to be cancelled. 

The Great Gatsby—F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby is a proclaimed classic, is read in practically every American classroom, and has inspired way too many 1920s-themed parties. Again—don’t get me wrong, it’s a good book—but does it really still deserve the fame? The novel only adds to the long list of predominantly white, male perspectives students receive in school and the book is arguably misogynistic. And whether or not this misogyny is a product of its author’s opinions or a deliberate criticism of the attitude towards women, the trait isn’t very redeeming. I think there are better books and stories that can be highlighted and taught and while it’s a great book and essential read it has moved into a phase of cultural phenomenon where the original intention, symbolism, and plot of the novel is now irrelevant and can be misconstrued—which has inevitably led to its overrated status.

You—Caroline Kepnes. You—the popular Netflix series—was a book series first, but I bet anyone reading this post knew that already. This might be an unpopular opinion, but You, both the show and the book series, are massively overrated. The book is in the point of view of our stalker and serial killer Joe Goldberg, as he breaks into homes and kills everyone that he thinks is going to steal the object of his obsession away from him. As if the stalker and serial killer bit wasn’t enough to make you think “he’s not for me,” Joe is also massively arrogant and pompous. He’s an aspiring writer and admittedly well read, but he thinks that this makes him superior to everyone else. The problem with this is that the author Caroline Kepnes has written Joe’s narration in such a way that denies his intelligence, so we have to live with his pretension without getting the payout of smart writing. Furthermore, Kepnes’ writing perpetuates sexism and glorifies this sort of behavior. I’m not sure if she was going for creating a creepy book that we were all supposed to find creepy without her having to make some sort of moral commentary, but she failed in making this book appropriately creepy and thrilling. Rather, she made a book from the point of view of a serial killer boring, which has to be morally impermissible, right? Perhaps an example of her lack of success in achieving her intended message can be shown in the fact that my library does not shelve You in mystery or thriller. It shelves You in romance. If you want to read a book about a creepy man stalking a young woman, read The Seducer’s Diary by Soren Kierkegaard. I was nauseous the entire time, but I can’t deny that Kierkegaard succeeds in showing he’s a massive creep.

Romeo and Juliet—William Shakespeare. I have a fair amount of qualms regarding Romeo and Juliet—not Shakespeare. Mostly, my criticisms stem from the popular interpretation and public perception of this famous play. It has been referenced too many times, hailed by too many romantics and young people, and acclaimed too often. Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy and not even one of Shakespeare’s best works. It is similar to the Mona Lisa – it’s only famous because of the attention given to the work. Yes, the themes are good. Yes, the story is a “classic.” But do we need to read it so much in school? Do we need several movie adaptations and dozens of inspired stories based on this play? Probably not.

The Grapes of Wrath—John Steinbeck. Again, we have come across an author who I wished that I loved: John Steinbeck. He isn’t a terrible writer, and I can’t deny that his books reflect a time period in American history that is intertwined with such tragedy. However talented he is at reflecting the reality of many Americans, he is also very talented at crafting the driest characters and creating scenarios with unnecessary details. The Grapes of Wrath was the first book that I read by Steinbeck, and even though I thought it was terrible, he clearly has enough talent for me to force myself to read some of his other books (Cannery Row and Tortilla Flat). What I learned is that all of these books are the same: his characters are poor and desperately want alcohol. If we’re allowed to write this repetitively, then maybe I can go on to win the Nobel Prize in literature too! He is praised for his “keen social perception,” but I have to say, it feels like a bunch of white men patting each other on the back for doing nothing. 

6 thoughts on “7 Books that are Overrated

  1. I share your thoughts on some of these, and I’m realising that maybe it’s just me. Maybe classics just isn’t my genre. Anyway, it’s good that we all have different tastes, because that’s what makes the world awesome. Thanks for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with a tiny minority of your complaints, because most of them are about racial and gender quotas versus the content of the storylines. …Or judging the author. If that was the case, everything by H.G. Wells is overrated, because he was an ardent anti-semite, and kept good company with genogical eugenicists like Margaret Sanger. But he wrote good novels. My lone area of agreement is that Beautiful Disaster is overrated, which glorifies the abuse of women, which is not cool.


    1. Hi doowopcity! Thank you so much for your comment! In reviewing the post I definitely see where you’re coming from and I do think most of our decisions to include books regarded their racial and gender quotas (as well as the status of the author). This decision was probably linked to discussions of what should be uplifted today in schools and in culture. As well as the very complicated discussion of whether or not to separate the author from their work and how the literary world perceives, markets, and shelves novels. It’s not that these books aren’t good – honestly I enjoyed reading some of the books on this list. It’s just that perhaps in the scheme of things they don’t all need to be repeatedly read in schools or placed on such a high pedestal. The post is really an opinion, and definitely not a comprehensive or unbiased list. You mentioned H.G. Wells, what other books/authors would you have included? Thank you so much!


  3. Please can you clarify on your comment regarding “blatant sexism within the world of book publishing”. Is this related to the difficulties faced by non-sexist male authors in publishing novels (particularly within the romance genre) which have strong female protagonists? Because this lack of balance seems to be where most of your criticism is focused on: either sexist male authors, or authors writing about sexist male characters, often coupled with poorly represented female characters. How do you see contemporary male authors breaking through this barrier, given that a large majority of the publishing industry (editors, marketing, agents etc) are female?


    1. This might be a long reply. In mentioning the “blatant sexism within the world of book publishing”, I was referring to the lack of male authors in the romance genre, but I was also referring to how to publishing industry diminishes the romance genre, how they market certain books written by women, and most of all, how the industry reflects the gender dynamic in society at large. I have read some of the most amazing romance novels, but for the most part, the industry seems set on publishing the same story — one which lacks diversity in characters, diversity in storylines, and one that allows sexist content to persist. I think with greater calls for inclusion outside of the publishing house, they have started trying to meet this demand, though that only continues to show how even storytelling has fallen to capitalism. Most people don’t seem to take the romance genre seriously, which I completely understand, but I’m certain it’s because of the content that they publish as “romance” and how they market it as a “women’s genre” (as seen with the colloquial name chicklit). I used to work at a bookstore, and most of my customers were elderly folks. Most of the time, the men would come up with giant stacks of mystery paperbacks and the women with romance paperbacks. This reflects the greater socialization among humans that men can’t like romance and women must only like romance.
      While the people who work in the publishing industry might be mostly women, that doesn’t mean it is them who are ultimately calling the shots or shaping what consumers demand. The reason I brought up Nicholas Sparks is because he is often shelved in “fiction” rather than “romance”, because his books are “fiction with romantic themes”. How is he still shelved in fiction when his books have given the romance genre of film some of their most popular movies? How have they not tried to capitalize more off of his last name “Sparks”? He is a man, so he both gets the honor of being put in what people perceive as a more serious genre and cannot be shelved in romance because he is clearly not a woman. I have written romance novels with less romance than a Nicholas Sparks book, yet because a woman wrote it, it goes into romance.
      I can see male authors being placed in romance likely only if they write pure fluff or the industry (all the way down to libraries and bookstores) decides to revamp the system along with the societal shift away from toxic masculinity. Perhaps it won’t need to be pure fluff one day, as I dearly wish for the entire romance genre.
      I should also add that the romance genre is the only genre that really features female characters. Historically, in most other genres, women were not main characters or they were largely objectified. Our few classics aside, most of what we call classics have a male protagonist. This genre is a way to get women in the game, and moreover, women written by women. Men have too often written their female characters only for the pleasure of men (as this post might indicate). Thus, it would be paramount for men to write their female characters with basic human dignity and respect.


  4. I am also starting to get addicted to John green in general he is such a awesome writer and one of my favorites for sure!


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