Code Yellow: Authors Who Have Written Problematic Books

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This is a list of authors whose books have been criticized for containing and condoning problematic content.

There are authors on the Code Orange and Code Red lists who have also written books with problematic content, but in those cases, they have done or said something more.

This page exists in large to recognize authors who, as people, have not spoken out or behaved in such a a way that hurts communities so much as they have had books which have been heavily criticized for their content. This may include harmful stereotypes and/or problematic behaviors that are not called out as bad or are otherwise condoned. If other information comes to light, these authors may migrate to different lists.

Looking for someone specific to see if I’ve researched them and/or where they landed? Check out the Problematic (Or Not!) Author Index.

 C

Cline, Ernest

Chainani, Soman

 d

De La Cruz, Melissa

  • Melissa De La Cruz was one of the editors of the book Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys, an essay collection about girls and their gay best friend. Many of the reviews speak for themselves about the fetishization, homophobic slurs, and stereotypes.

 F

Faring, Sara

  • There are multiple reviews on Goodreads calling out Faring for racist representation of the Mapuche and severe issues with the presentation of colonization in The Tenth Girl.

 h

Hartman, Rachel

  • On her own blog, Rachel Hartman issued an apology for trans-erasure in Seraphina since she has a character that dresses as a different gender.
  • Author and reader Cheryl Morgan offers very insightful analysis on both Seraphina and Shadow Scale in their representation of transgender characters and gender in general. In short, she criticizes Seraphina and notes that the gender system in Shadow Scale was compelling, but ultimately had its problems.
  • Author and reader Aliette de Bodard criticized Seraphina for its discourse on mixed-race individuals “passing”.

Rachel Hartman more than many fantasy authors takes the time to build inclusivity into her worlds, including her use of sensitivity readers. She is not perfect, but the work she does to create space for individuals of different races, genders, and abilities in her fantasy is worth noting. Criticism exists – including at the author’s own hand – but it is rare and reasonable.

Hodgson Burnett, Frances (Historical)

  • In The Secret Garden, Mary has an outburst when Martha expresses disappointment her new charge is not Black. Mary goes so far as to say that they are not people just servants.
  • Also in The Secret Garden, those who live in India are described as having yellow skin, and India is referred to as a place where people are always ill, perpetuating negative stereotypes about India. This does not appear in A Little Princess, where Sara has a similar background to Mary.
  • Colin, a wheelchair-bound child in The Secret Garden, is “miraculously cured”, thus enforcing the harmful ableist stereotype that “curing” a disability is the only way to be happy. In addition, Colin’s disability is coded as “all in his head”, which is another extremely harmful belief.

 k

Kluge, P.F.

  • Kluge has received reader criticism about his racist representation of Micronesia in The Edge of Paradise.
  • That said, he has also received acknowledgement for transgender representation in Dog Day Afternoon – helping tell Elizabeth Eden‘s story. The script is loosely based on the true story and there are moments that would make modern audiences cringe, but it is one of the first films that don’t dehumanize a transgender person, making it (sadly) monumental.

 L

Lim, Elizabeth

  • I recently came across a series of posts discussing problematic content in Spin the Dawn, including ableism in that the MC impersonates her disabled brother and transphobia (crossdressing – again, impersonating her brother).  Lim listened to early reviewers and some elements were edited out, but many readers felt this wasn’t enough.

Lu, Marie

  • Marie Lu has received criticism of Warcross for using ableist language (see this review and this review), as well as some ableist representation in The Rose Society (this review, this review, and this review) where “hearing voices” is equated to “being evil”.
  • There is some criticism of her short story “The Journey” included in A Tyranny of Petticoats where she is writing about Alaskan native culture, and it was not received well (see also this overall anthology review which notes some other concerning elements).
  • In 2021, Lu and several of her colleagues announced Realms of Ruin, a project that encouraged fan fiction in a new universe that would then be turned into NFT. While this project was quickly cancelled and Lu has apologized (as of 10/24/2021), she received considerable backlash for soliciting free labor from teen writers and disregarding the extreme, negative impact NFTs have on the environment.

 M

Meyer, Marissa

 O

Oyeyemi, Helen

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Pessl, Marisha

  • It’s pretty easy to find reviews calling out Night Film for its problematic content.  From racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, fatphobia… you’ve got them all in the main characters of this book.  Night Film is highly criticized for these things.  It’s up to the reader to decide if Pessl was following traditional pulp and noir stereotypes or if these are reflections of her own opinions.

 r

Rutkoski, Marie

 S

Shakespeare, William (Historical)

You may be wondering why the heck Shakespeare is only a Code Yellow.  This is the historian in me coming out, the one who is looking at Shakespeare in the context of his time (over 400 years ago) and also nodding to the theory that it’s possible/likely Shakespeare did not pen many of the works we attribute to him.  Frankly, these works are so old that we just don’t have reliable proof of who he was or even entirely what he wrote.

It’s undeniable that when held to a modern standard, many of his plays are highly problematic.  Racism, sexism, and antisemitism run rampant.  Sadly, at the time of publication his ideals would have been radical and progressive.  How far we have come.  Modern readers will be highly disturbed by OthelloThe Taming of the Shrew, and The Merchant of Venice among others.

Many believe that Shakespeare is a relic of the past to be disregarded.  I empower you to make your own decision whether these works can be salvaged and updated, discussed with pressure put on the problematic points, or should be tossed into a bonfire.

 v

Verne, Jules (Historical)

Jules Verne is a bit of a complicated character in figuring out his true alignment based on his books. As a French author who was incredibly successful, his books have been translated around the world with varying levels of accuracy. Readers and scholars have noted problematic illustrations of Black and Jewish characters in the books, and a lack of female characters aside from those that are to be married or rescued (common for the era). Some of these things may come from the original text, others from translation. Depending on which version you read, characters may have different attributes. Verne did not take much time at character depth in his books, so minorities are flat and underdeveloped… but in all fairness, so are the white protagonists.

 w

White, Kiersten

White’s And I Darken trilogy has been criticized for irreverence against Islamic cultures. Specifically, White writes And I Darken from an outside culture and the story did not keep accurately to history. The book has also been criticized for homophobic elements and general problematicness. Proceed with caution before reading.

Wrede, Patricia C.

Wrede’s Thirteenth Child is a fantastical retelling of the American West. It has been criticized for deliberately excluding Native Americans.

 

Last Updated: 8/21/2022

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