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.