Should book reviews warn of LGBT content?

I thought I should post something comment worthy during Rachael Harrie’s Platform Building Campaign. I saw a tweet the other day asking, as near as I can remember, “Why do book reviewers feel they have to warn of LGBT content? Seriously.” So I’m giving my serious answer and then leaving it open for polite debate. Be warned, I will remove any disrespectful or hateful comments, so don’t lose your head.

First, that tweet ignores the purpose of a book review. Last I heard, reviews are supposed to inform others about a book’s content, at least in general terms (not spoilers) so people can decide what books they want to read. Unlike in real life, readers get to choose their company. Some people want to know more than the blurb reveals before making a decision, especially if they are going to encounter something presented as positive that conflicts with their core beliefs. Note that I did not say religious beliefs, although that might be the biggest factor for some people.

Those who hold that alternate sexual preferences are entirely genetic, with little free will involved, ought to consider that aversion to alternate sexual preferences could also be genetic, built into the human species to ensure its survival. Those who think alternate sexual preference may be or is genetically influenced but still a matter of choice ought to give heterosexual people the same freedom of choice in recreational pursuits, including reading.

I personally question any negative use of the word “warn” as if informing that danger of any undesirable outcome, real or perceived, is a bad thing. Statistically speaking, the large majority of the population is heterosexual. Is it that surprising if the majority wants to spend recreational time with other like-minded people, even if those people are pretend, characters in a book?

And then there’s the question of age appropriate content. All parents have the right to make an informed decision regarding what level of sexual content their children read, just as they do for other potentially objectionable material.

Note that I did not “warn” of LGBT content in a recent book review because of multiple factors. One, the author made no attempt to promote or glorify the lifestyle; her main character simply met some gay men. Two,the gay relationship was a minor part of the plot. Three, the two partners were part of a long established crime-fighting team the main character had to work with, presenting an exercise in judgement appropriate to the age group for whom the book was written (college students). Three, there were no sex scenes of any nature.

In your comments, I don’t need to see links to scientific evidence or scriptures. I’m a Clinical Laboratory Scientist by training and read most of the scientific studies and the scriptures too. The question is whether a book review should inform of LGBT content. Please remember I’m talking about recreational reading. And please, don’t make me regret this post by ranting, pro or con. Keep it civil because we all share two things in common, our planet and race (the human race).

Whether or not this is all too serious for you, please go to my last post and tell me how you like the short new intro to my middle-grade fantasy book Earth Won and/or enter my books and chocolate contest through the tab at the top of my blog. My chocolate preference may be genetic but it’s my choice to indulge it. Rafflecopter chooses a winner on the 11th of every month via, and there’s a Book Depository option for international winners like the last one. I hope you enjoy your visit.

Share A Heart

Indie author-friendly freelance editor, children's book blogger for picture books through YA, kid lit, SF/fantasy lover with special fondness for middle grade, pun-loving SCBWI member, meter-maid for poetry and rhyming picture books.


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  2. Interesting. Although I would have to disagree with the comment that since most people are heterosexual, they prefer to read about heterosexuals. That’s like saying most people are white, so they won’t want to read about black people. Or most people aren’t actresses, so they won’t want to read a story about an actress. I’m most definitely heterosexual but I’ll read a LGBT book just as soon as I’ll read a “regular” book.

  3. I love this article. Thank you for writing it. As for the comment above, id say that not everyone considers the comparison between sexual orientation and race a similar one. A lot of readers are interested in romance reading as an experience. So while i would have no qualms swooning over a black or white or portugeuse character, im not about to swoon over another woman. Because romantically speaking, i am as interested in other women as i am in tom clancy novels.

  4. Fellow campaigner here. Nice to see/read you again.

  5. Good point, Kate, in a case where sex itself doesn’t factor in. I would like to know the statistics. Not much chance that I could get a representative sample in a blog post. Christine really hit the nail on the head where romance comes in. Another question is whether a straight person can identify or sympathize as well with an LGBT main character as they can with a straight protagonist even when romance is of little or no concern. I think an author who writes their main character as LGBT would increase readership by providing a cast of both types, both sexes. Providing both male and female characters helps even with a straight MC. I identified with Hermione in the Harry Potter books.

    Good to see you too, Cat. I will be forever grateful for your compiling the last campaign challenge book.

  6. It’s up to the individual reviewers, whether they feel it noteworthy or not. I think there is a huge difference between a book that includes a gay character as a main character and a book that simply has a gay character in it. There is also a big difference between books that happen to have a gay character and a book that depicts homosexual acts (graphic depiction or mere implication); even more so when you consider a book for young adults vs. actual adults.

  7. I personally appreciate the heads-up. I have read and watched things containing othersexuals, but I don’t seek them out. I’d rather not dwell on that sort of thing. I’d rather not read ANYTHING sexual. For me, sex belongs in the privacy of your bedroom. And believe me, that can be a jungle…>:o) I’d like information about explicit sex or bad language or violence content. It allows me to make an informed decision about what I’m spending my cold hard cash on.

  8. I don’t know if I really read books in which “romance is of little or no concern” for the MC. I think that no matter the genre, I always like a Story B running alongside things. I’m actually having a hard time thinking of a book without a “Story B.” Anyone?

    I did just realize that a book I was reading just a couple days ago had a bisexual MC. God’s Army by Kameron Hurley is a bugpunk, middle-eastern fantasy. So far there’s been quite a bit of lesbian content (oral sex) between two tough-as-nails women, although there is a potential male love interest, but he comes across as really needy, and well, if he were a female character that a male MC had to drag around saving (which is the juxtaposition I think Kameron intended for her reader), he’d be too much of a flake even for a girl. Kind of like the chick in Temple of Doom instead of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

    But was I upset there was no “warning” about the gay content? No. One look at the cover to this book, and a glance at Kameron’s very pro-feminist website told me that I was going to be reading something very different, with a lot of ideals and beliefs that I may not share but don’t mind reading.

    Did I keep reading? No. Because the relationships held no sway with me. Relating to the MC is about more than being *like* the MC, it’s about understanding their objectives and sympathizing with the means that they’ll go through to reach them. About halfway through the book, I couldn’t relate. I didn’t know where story A was going and story B (relationships) never interested me in the first place.

    So was it the content or the writing? Considering I read the book, and continued reading through sexual content, I’d say the gay content did not scare me away, but it certainly didn’t keep me either. The writing simply lost its way. I’d say it was both.

    I also recently started reading IQ84 (in which the MC recalls an experimental lesbian encounter in the first chapter), which once again, did not drive me away, because I did keep reading…but that first chapter is an important time to set up reader-connection, and instead that time was used with exposition on something I was not emotionally invested in at all. I read probably four chapters before getting bored and finding something else. I did have reason to assume the character would later have a heterosexual Story B, but I didn’t care enough to get there.

    This is just my take though. IQ84 is on the NY Bestseller List.

  9. Books really need to be rated for Sexual content above anything else really. That’s mostly the issue for me-gay or straight, I don’t wanna read it. Like Manga novels, there is a rating on the back of each one. Why can it be for traditional novels as well? Especially for young adult. I read young adult just becuase I know there is less ‘graphic’ material in it but I have been hit by a few surprises even in the YA catagory SADLY!

  10. I think it depends on how heavily LGBT is the focus of the plot. In general I don’t like a lot of sexuality in my stories. I’m pretty tame that way.
    I think your example of the story you reviewed wouldn’t phase me much.
    So, yes, I like a heads up if it’s an important part of the story…actually, I like most of the important parts of the story in the review. 😉

  11. Would a someone reviewing a book by Zane Grey neglect to mention it was a western? It seems to me that LGBT is just another genre, and probably should be treated as such.

  12. I love hearing your thoughts. Going backwards from Cindy’s comment, LGBT is listed as a genre for some books, depending on whether it’s a main theme and/or explicit, as many of you said. I replied to Rick by email but should have done it here. In it, I said something like what Shelly, Jennelle, and Heidi did. Any explicit sex scenes make me feel like a voyeur, so I just don’t buy those books if I know ahead of time. I don’t like those kinds of surprises so it’s good the author Christine read made that clear at the outset. It would be great if all authors did so or if books had ratings like Jeneelle said Manga books do.

    Christine brought up a whole other set of problems all of us writers need to pay close attention to. Recent feedback from Rick and another author led to my 1st person rewrite. I’m going to try a lot harder to keep my male MC understandable and sympathetic so my readers relate to his objectives and how he handles whatever happens along the way to achieving his goals. And that’s the reason for my last blog post.

  13. I thought this post was both interesting and thought-provoking. I think mentioning that a book is LGBT depends on the content in the book. If there is a lot of sexual content in any book I prefer to know ahead of time so I can decide if I want to read it. I don’t seek out books that are all about sex, but don’t mind when sex comes up in the storyline.

  14. I’m stopping by from the Platform Campaign. Cheers.

  15. i think just by reading the blurb you’ll be able to tell the content, no one has to be “warned”. the reviewer could post whatever their thoughts were, since it’s their opinion and people want to read other peoples thoughts. i’m a new (US) follower. i actually haven’t read fantasy type books, more paranormal romance i’d say. after scrolling through all the posts, front to back, i’m definitely craving chocolate… just about every post is a giveaway. i dont know how you still have so many books left, seeing as how you give boxes away, from your own collection.

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