Toxic Relationships in Books – Let’s Talk Bookish

Hey friends! I hope you’ve all had a wonderful week. Once again, I am back with this week’s Let’s Talk Bookish post. Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by me and Dani @ Literary Lion, where we discuss certain topics, share our opinions, and spread the love by visiting each other’s posts.

Today’s topic is: Tacking Toxic Relationships in Literature (suggested by Mikaela @ Mikaela Reads)

Many thanks to Mikaela for suggesting this topic! I hadn’t really thought about toxic relationships and their impact until Mikaela suggested the topic, but I do have some opinions on the subject.

So, without further ado, let’s get started!

Toxic relationships are just that: toxic. There’s no in between when it comes to them, and many are very obviously wrong (teacher & student, emotionally/physically abusive relationships, etc).

I think it’s fine if they’re in adult books because adults should be able to recognize the difference between a good and bad relationship and understand the harm that comes with them.

But, I don’t think it’s right for them to be portrayed in a romantic way in young adult books. Teenagers are very impressionable, and yes some are mature enough to recognize a toxic relationship when they see it, but not all of them will be able to recognize that.

If it’s supposed to be in an educative way to show the harm of toxic relationships, then fine. I don’t mind that. It just has to be very clear that that’s the case.

One type of relationship that I’m not so sure about though is the huge age-gap kind of relationship that is usually portrayed in fantasy books.

For instance, in Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim, Maia is 18 years old, and Edan is…super old. Like 500+ years kind of old.

When I first read the book, it didn’t really bother me because it’s so easy to think of Edan as a teenager since he acts like one. But after a discussion with a friend, I started to get more and more disturbed by the immense age gap and the fact that Edan had a lot of power over Maia. He could have easily used her or taken advantage of the fact that he knew her secret.

Of course, he didn’t actually ever use his power in such a way (as far as I remember) so it was okay for the most part. But the potential, and the fact that he’s just so much older is still kind of disturbing. It’s also the reason why I’m iffy on if it would be considered a toxic relationship.

I guess that so long as nobody’s abused because of the imbalance, it’s just more like a personal dislike for the trope.

But then, I also don’t think it’s really a good idea for teenagers to be reading that kind of trope (especially teenagers on the younger side) because if it was real life, we’d be immensely creeped out and horrified if something like that happened. To the teenager involved, it might seem like a perfectly balanced relationship, but if you look at it objectively, it might also be a toxic abusive relationship.

So, it being a toxic or not trope is kind of complicated because it depends on the audience and how it’s portrayed.

Also, you could argue that Spin the Dawn is at the tail end of YA since Maia is 18, so it’s for an older teenage audience, but it is marketed as young adult which is 13-18ish and that is what really matters. A thirteen-year old could easily pick the book up since it’s technically within their age range.

I don’t know about you, but that kind of sounds like a terrible idea.

To summarize: If a toxic relationship is in an Adult book, fine. If it’s in a Young Adult book, then I think it needs to be very carefully handled, or not included at all.

And that is my rather short two cents for today.

This Week’s Participants:

Dani @ Literary Lion | Mikaela @ Mikaela Reads | Wren @ Wings and Fables

Fives @ Down the Rabbit Hole | Raji @ Worlds Unlike Our Own | Ariel @ Gemini Book Nook

Felicia @ Felicia Sue Lynn Reviews | Bex @ Bex the Bibliophile | Louise @ Life in the Book Lane

What do y’all think about toxic relationships in books? How should they be handled? Do huge age gaps bother you? Do you consider them toxic relationships? Have you read Spin the Dawn? Chat with me in the comments below!


21 thoughts on “Toxic Relationships in Books – Let’s Talk Bookish

  1. This was an interesting article! I don’t think I’ve ever considered an age gap as something problematic (because as much as some of you may have liked Laurie and Jo better together, let’s be honest, Frederic and Jo were clearly meant to be), but I can see where you’re coming from and that makes me go “huh, well I’ll be…” lol.

    While I’ve never read Spin the Dawn, I can draw comparisions to Twilight, which is already pretty well known for its toxicity (sorry, Twilight fans. As old as it may be becoming, it is still really hated because of how absolutely horrid it was, and yes, there were plenty of reasons lol). *Spoilers may be ahead for those who plan on reading the series*

    The main character, Bella, fancies herself as something of a heartthrob. She moves to a new little town, Forks, and all the guys there are absolutely infatuated with her, going out of their way to help her and everything, but (obviously) none of them are good enough for her and she’s so cold and dismissive with everyone. BUT there’s that pale kid in the corner who no one really talks to because he and his siblings don’t talk to anyone else, and (of course) Bella is obsessed. As it turns out, that kid is also obsessed; he just “hid” his feelings by trying to avoid her – to her face, that is. It didn’t stop him from going behind her back and pretty much stalking her any chance he got, which supposedly helped “save” her from some catastrophes. Fast-forward the crazy obsessions and stalking and Bella pretty much getting cut-off from everyone else, we get to the point where the main male character, Edward, attempts to break their relationship off and how does he go about it? He takes her to a clearing in the middle of the woods, lets her cry then fall asleep, then leaves her just like that – “never to be seen again”. Bella gets so upset about the break-up, that even though she has her other male “friend” Jacob to occupy her time, she literally gets suicidal. Fast-forward a little more, Edward comes around again and they’re in a relationship, but she cannot visit Jacob or really do anything on her own without Edward’s express approval or protection – and yes, she supposedly does need a lot of protection because she’s a mortal, accident-prone, and a completely reckless, impulsive person who never thinks about the consequences.

    Now, to be honest, I don’t mind damsels in distress. I think YA tries to be too feminist and say that a female should “never” accept help from a male, and I completely disagree because one of the most important things that a person can realize is that it is completely OK to ask for and recieve help. But the way Twilight goes about this is just so… toxic. I really hate Bella, I truly do, but her situation wasn’t much better either. All the stalking and watching her while she sleeps is just so creepy and then the fact that while she IS in a relationship, she absolutely has to be distanced from all her family and friends is just so wrong. But anyways, I’m not sure where I’m going with this lol. I don’t think the huge age gaps bother me, in general, though I’m starting to see what you’re saying now, but I think Twilight has like such a huge toxicity level? Something like that lol. But anywho, this post was really interesting! lol

    Liked by 1 person

  2. oh uh i had no idea that there was such a large age gap in spin the dawn!! i actually hadn’t heard anything about it???? which is so wild??? (i haven’t read it yet!) but yeah, i do not like age gaps and i do not understand their appeal asdkjflakj

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s honestly not really mentioned much; I only remember seeing it mentioned by two people total lol. But yeah, there’s a definitely a tremendous age gap in it. Maybe you’ll still semi-like it for the story itself? Lol


  3. Great post, I definitely agree that books geared towards younger readers really need to be a lot more careful around how they represent toxic relationships as way too often these are romanticized. I had also not thought much about the massive age gaps in fantasy books and how toxic these could become, thank you for bringing this to my attention.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Rukky, this is such a great post!!!!!
    I was super upset when I read Spin the Dawn. I didn’t think he read like a teen AT ALL, and even he was uncomfortable about the age gap………..I hated that book so much. I was so angry that no one noticed the off power balance, or even that there was a little gaslighting, at least in the beginning.
    I think addressing abusive/toxic relationships in YA is extremely important. YA is, afterall, a genre known for addressing difficult issues. Sadly, most choose to make it “romantic” instead of treating it as the horror it really is. Best not to include at all over it being depicted in that way!
    Abusive relationships aren’t only in the case of love interests – abusive freindships are also fairly common. I’m still angry at the way Sirius Black treated Lupin, who was coded to be chronically/mentally ill. He literally used Lupin’s illness for his own personal use, nearly killing Snape. If Snape had died, Lupin would’ve been “put down” and Sirius would have most likely gotten away with it. “Toxic” is an understatement. Everytime someone says they were “such great friends”, I could explode from rage.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Ele!! How are you doing btw, it’s been a while?

      It’s been a few years since I read it, so my memory is not fresh on it anymore, but when I wrote my review of it, I did mention how old he was and the fact that he came across as a teenager to me anyway. But I see where you’re coming from; there was definitely a huge power imbalance, especially since he could have exposed Maia.
      Indeed lol, YA is the center for talking about everything difficult. True, I agree, it’s always better safe than sorry!
      That is an excellent point that I didn’t even think of! Toxic friendships are just as bad and should be recognized as well. Lol, I think that’s from Harry Potter and I haven’t read it, so I don’t know the details, but that does sound terrible.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m doing well, just very busy with collegework. Thank you for asking though!
        I found it odd how so few mentioned the off power balance in Spin the Dawn early on. I remember it was even mentioned it somewhere in the middle yet was completely thrown out the window at some point. I think authors whose main audience are below 18 have a tendency to forget they are writing for young people (the worst case scenario being Emily Duncan). I am completely against sheilding people from difficult topics “because they’re too young”, but one always has to be careful in what one says and writes, even for adults.
        Yes, that was about Harry Potter….sorry for not saying so.


  5. I totally agree that any book aimed at children should not portray a toxic relationship in a positive way. I do think that books aimed at older teens can portray them so long as they clearly show the relationship is NOT a good one.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ooh great post Rukky! I absolutely agree that toxic relationships in YA need to be handled with care or they shouldn’t be in there at all. The chance of getting it wrong is just too high and we don’t want to risk teens developing a twisted definition of romantic. I read Spin the Dawn and loved it, but I can definitely see how the age gap could be read as toxic. I’m honestly not sure if I personally would consider Edan and Maia problematic — the line starts to get pretty blurry when it’s fantasy and there are centuries-old love interests everywhere — but I definitely think that authors should be more conscious of the relationships they write so that nobody gets the wrong impression, especially in YA. Again, great post Rukky! 💕

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Abby! Exactly, it’s better to be on the safe side instead of being sorry. Fundamentally, I also don’t think Edan and Maia were problematic; their relationship was kind of pretty fine as far as I remember if you ignore the age gap. It’s just the idea and the potential that is disturbing.

      It makes me wonder though: why is it that in fantasy, we have centuries-old love interests falling in love with the normal aged main character? I’ve also never seen a male main character falling in love with a centuries old female sorcerer/faerie/etc. Maybe I just haven’t read enough of the trope to see something like that, but now I’m bothered by the fact that it’s usually a normal aged girl and a centuries old guy.

      Anyway, thank you so much for reading ❤

      Liked by 1 person

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