Most little girls are told at some point that if a boy is picking on her, that means he likes her. But what happens when bullying goes from juvenile to adolescence to adulthood? A few new releases are tackling the topic.
Penelope Douglas's New Adult book, Bully, tells the story of Tate, a young woman who has been tormented by her former friend, Jared (Douglas has donated part of the profits from the book to PACER.org, an anti-bullying organization). At its heart, Bully is the story of two friends whose relationship becomes tempestuous and rife with angst. Jared previously went out of his way to make Tate’s life unpleasant and her only real reprieve was when she was studying abroad in France. Since it is a romance, love blossoms and readers later find out the reasoning behind Jared’s actions. Douglas follows up with Jared and readers are even given further perspective in a follow-up book, Until You.
Sara Wolf's Lovely Vicious is another New Adult book where the protagonists pull no punches in antagonizing each other. Isis Blake is a girl with past issues and Jack Hunter is a complete and total tool who pushes her buttons in the wrong way. After literally punching him in the face, Isis and Jack begin a war that test the limits and sometimes goes a bit too far into the pasts of both characters. The actions are much harsher than those in Douglas’s Bully. Again, readers discover Jared has a reason for being a tool and that even Isis has a sordid past. Word to the wise, this novel ends on a major cliffhanger.
It’s not only the New Adult novels that see protagonists in competition with each other; R.L. Mathewson’s Checkmate finds childhood opponents working together as adults. Rory James and Connor O’Neil cannot stand each other, but end up working on the same construction project. While the “bullying” is portrayed as more comedic and pulling pranks, readers can see the obstacles that adolescent rivalry puts in the way of the two protagonists from falling in love.
L.H. Cosway’s The Nature of Cruelty is probably the strongest example of how bullying affects a potential romantic relationship. Lana falls in love with Robert at first sight, but Robert acts like an ass and consistently teases and belittles poor Lana while the pair are growing up. Now that Lana is visiting Robert’s twin sister and the two have to live under the same roof, old insecurities and the teasing pattern of behavior continues to be a hindrance from Robert getting anywhere romantically with Lana.
Most of these titles were published in the past year or so, but the bullying trope is persistent in romance novels, whether it be the best friend’s brother teasing the awkward heroine or the rich billionaire blackmailing his way into the administrative assistant’s bed. Perhaps the bullying trope isn’t so shocking to readers because it isn’t necessarily visual. If you look at the classic manga, Boys Over Flowers by Yoko Kamio, the heroine Tsukushi Makino is bullied to the point of near abuse by her potential romantic interest, Tsukasa Domyoji. This is a literary example where the main focus for the bullying is class rivalry (Tsukushi is poor, while most of her classmates are wealthy), but somehow even though the torment of the heroine is illustrated, the manga is considered a classic shoujo manga or girl’s romance comic.
Bullying is growing in popularity as a romance trope, but how much is too much, and are there any books that cross the line?
Sahara Hoshi reviews for Wicked Lil Pixie and is a lifelong reader of romance. Favorite genres include new adult, paranormal romance, contemporary romance and erotica.