how to spot a problematic book, and what to do with it

the bookish community is considered golden in my eyes. it’s such a strong community that binds people of all race, sexuality, and gender through just books. and the bookish community is most definitely not afraid to voice out opinions on something problematic.

but i’m sure it has crossed all our minds once or twice, what makes a problematic book so problematic? whats the difference between books that are just bad, and books that should definitely be avoided? i had my fair share of books being problematic, especially concerning diversity.  and since there was so much discussion about the realistic representation in books, of course problematic books were mentioned.

signs of a PB 

  • using a diverse character as a plot device – this is basically when a diverse character is just placed in the book too just further the plot. and not in a more impact/important way. it’s like they’re just there to provide help to a protagonist quest/journey. and they usually die early on. this is absolute BS because why make the diverse character seem so irrelevant, and unworthy.  this can sort of be seen in most movies today using a black person as the one with sass, and attitude.
  • cultural appropriation – the act of using one cultures, and representing it in a way that does not show or respect said culture in anyway. like say, a white girl with dreads, or having a character named Jin, but does not fit the charestics of a jin (*looks at Rebel of the Sands*)
  • stereotypes –  might be the easiest one to look for. a book that has stereotypes like “all Asians are smart”, and “all Asians have tiger-strict parents”, as well as “the gay best friend”. these irk me to no end, because they’re not true!! i think i’d prefer a non-diverse book than a book that has diverse characters, but representing them inaccurately.
  • “____ is Asian” – 
me every single time i read “____ was asian,” 

allow me to bring up a map of Asia.


i even pulled up the kids version

how am i supposed to know how this character looks like if there are more than 40 countries in Asia. Are they Bengali, Indian, Korean, Japanese? most people typically believe that the largest continent is made up of THREE COUNTRIES.


  • “____ is pretty for a ___” – what is that supposed to mean? they’re pretty regardless of their race/ethnic group. they are pretty PERIOD.
  • using wrong pronouns – stop. when it comes to transgender, gender-fluid, or non-binary YOU MUST RESPECT THE PRONOUNS THEY ARE COMFORTABLE WITH. don’t simpily choose it based on the genitals they were born with. this is so, so, so important because of the lack of representation concerning LGBT community.  if you haven’t already noticed the recurring theme in this post, it’s to REPRESENT ACCURATELY.  
  • degrading ethnic group/race/sexuality – big red alert here! this can be anything from the use of slurs (which should never be used), to using them as villains in a book (Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth)
  • _______ is suffering from [insert disability] – i honestly never likes that term because of the word suffering. it makes it seem like disability is such a bad, and “weird” thing. authors should write other alternatives such as “______ has been diagnosed with [insert disability] when she was X years old”.
  • adjectives such as “exotic” to describe people – an example of this is when people describe Asian woman exotic. factually, this is wrong considering, that Asia has 48 countries. there are more of Asians than white’s, so technically, white people are the exotic one. and also, why exotic?? we are not some rare fruit, or spice. we are people!!
  • ” ______ is Desi” – it’s almost like point 4, but i just want to point out that Desi is a  political term that not everyone from South Asia refers themselves to. Desi doesn’t mean South Asian, it’s not interchangeable and so people should say South Asian if that’s what they mean.

how to deal with it

Spread the word, but provide backup – first put you review up on twitter, or goodreads, and then add evidence of how this book was being problematic. you can add direct quotes from the book, and explain why that was so problematic. paste your review in almost every platform available.  And do not recommend this book at all.

IF YOU ARE AN AUTHOR DO YOUR RESEARCH – there are plenty of resources available. the library,  schools, other people! try not to spread messages of of sexism, racism etc…, and closely evaluate your work. this might be a taboo opinon, but i feel like if you’re (meaning the authors) not sure about your topic, and don’t feel like you have done adequate research, i don’t recommend to include it in your story. this is better than hurting, and misrepresenting other people. but as long as you have researched well enough, it’s okay!!  *shields myself from rocks*



so that my frend is how you spot a PB book! what are some problematic books you have read in the past? what are some other sings you can spot in a problematic book? also what are some good dark fantasy reads, because i just finished the cruel prince, and it jUST SET ME IN A MOOD 


29 thoughts on “how to spot a problematic book, and what to do with it

  1. I did a beta read (it’s been a few years ago) where each side character was introduced with a different ethnicity/race, and it was so… obviously and off putting. I totally get what you mean by the “Asian” descriptor. There are so many better (much, much better) ways to describe a person’s skin tone, facial features, and hair color than simply labeling them as being from a certain country or location in the world – or, worse, “looking like” they’re from a specific location in the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, there are better descriptive words than just “ASIAN”. I know I wrote it in the post, but it just irks me soo much. And I get even more bothered when in public I like to say I’m Asian, and some people have these confused looks on their faces, and I JUST KNOW what they’re thinking.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I !! love !! this !! post !!!! I hate when people use “Asian” as a descriptor, because that often makes people think of how East Asian people typically look like, but there are are SE Asians and South Asians and West Asians!!!! and also, I HATE whenever POC (especially Asians) are called “exotic” like wtf you’re treating us as if we’re food or something??? I think that stereotypes are actually fine, since some people actually fit the stereotype and may be hurt by suggestion that the book is problematic. but if it’s shown as how ALL people of x group is and not just one character being a stereotype, or is a harmful stereotype (like all Muslims are terrorists), then that’s definitely problematic. also NFJSKFKS “PRETTY FOR A” WHAT DOES THAT MEAN??? like they’re literally saying that people of that group are not usually pretty ugh

    love this post, Balie!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I !! love !! you !! What I meant by stereotypes was , like you said “ALL people of x group is [insert stereotype]” like all white girls are blond, ditzy cheerleaders. And all bookworms are super smart, have glasses, and have no social life whatsoever. I have a thing against these stereotypes because it’s not like you met every single person from this ethnic group/social class/gender etc… so why would you see them as a whole like that?? I hope that makes sense because idk what I’m writing, lol.

      And yes I feel you on the Asian one, it gets on my nerves pretty badly.

      Liked by 1 person

      • oh yeah, I definitely get you! but I’ve had convos with ppl who said they fit the stereotype and felt like their experiences were invalidated bc ppl said that the stereotyping = bad rep. but yeah, harmful stereotypes or any stereotypes portraying a whole group of ppl in one way (instead of just having one character fit a stereotype?? if that makes sense) is definitely bad

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello Bailey! These are some good points that you bring up! I agree with pretty much your entire post! However I do want to play the devils advocate for a bit… If diverse people should be portrayed as a villain, should the villain always be your average Caucasian? Being an Asian, I’d say that Asians are capable of being good as well as evil. Is it a bad thing to have an Asian antagonist? Just thought I’d bring that up! Great post 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Sophie! So I’m not sure, but I think you meant “If diverse people shouldN’T be portrayed as a villain..”. If that’s what you meant than, it’s my fault that I wasn’t exactly clear on what I meant about “using them as villains in a book”. When I wrote that I was referring to Veronica Roth’s “Carve the Mark”, which I thought was a bit racist, and degrading because the “aggressive” people are always the brown/darker-skinned ones, and the more “peaceful” non-violent people are lighter-skinned. The social construct in that book used a lot of cliches and stereotypes.

      And to answer your question, I think anyone could be an antagonist/protagonist regardless of their ethnicity! I’m not sure if I really answered your question, and I’m sorry if anything on my post came out as offensive to you (that was not my intention I swear!) But thank you so much for commenting!! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • No worries! Your post wasn’t offensive at all 🙂 I do agree that anyone could be an antagonist or protagonist regardless of their ethnicity, and I can see your point that if the antagonists of a book are predominantly one race, that would be a problematic book.


  4. I love this post!! It’s so great to see all these points in writing and I totally agree with all of them. Especially “___ is Asian” and”___ is pretty for a ___”. I’m working in Malaysia right now, and even in this country, there are SO MANY people of different races with different features. And I think this doesn’t just apply to books because I’ve heard people say things like this out loud, which frustrates me so much!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh wow, I think it’s wonderful that you’re working in Malaysia!! It is a relatively small country, and I love that is still has all this diversity. Yes, I also heard these sayings in public, and ugh the ignorance of some people frustrate me to no end.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is such a great post! You made great valid points. It’s so annoying that so many people act like continents like Asia and Africa are countries?? Like no they’re made up of a BUNCH of countries of all different kinds of people and cultures and just… It’s not that hard people.


  6. GAH THIS POST IS TOO PRECIOUS. T_T Sums up my feelings about life, really. Being an “Asian” (Filipina-Chinese) right here, it grates on my nerves EVERY TIME authors make it sound like being Asian is weird/not normal!? Or using negative terms that they probably didn’t even know were offensive. And of course, the wrong/disrespectful representation ASDFGHJKL!!! Plus the “pretty for a” line. WHAT HAPPENED TO WOMEN EMPOWERMENT!? WHAT IS THIS HORRENDOUS SENTENCE DOING IN A BOOK.

    Thank you for the wonderful and timely post, Balie. Bookmarking this to add to my monthly wrap-up.

    – Aimee @ Aimee, Always

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This post is so good. Asia ia freaking big continent. Heck, it’s the largest continent and has *checks google* around 48 countries. So how are we supposed to know what country x belongs to if you say “x is an asian.” Seriously it always gets on my nerves. And using diverse characters only as a helping device is even worse.
    Really, everyone needs to read this post right now.

    Liked by 1 person

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