Loveless by Alice Oseman | Maëlys Reads Review

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Loveless or the bingo of harmful representation. 

Let me start off this review by saying that this seems to be a very personal book to Alice Oseman and that it is obviously a very valid experience of being aroace and I won’t take that away from it. However, I despised the way it presented this character’s journey as THE aroace experience and as someone on the aroace spectrum, I felt very misrepresented and like my own experience was being invalidated. Not only do I think this can be harmful to others on the aroace spectrum and questioning folks who have different experiences, but this book also constantly diminishes and dismisses other identities. I’m truly happy to see people feeling fully represented by this main character and this book but it also makes me incredibly uncomfortable to see the disregard of other experiences, and the mistreatment of other lgbtqia identities and characters of colour be completely ignored.

If you are on the aroace spectrum and this totally represents you, you are valid. If you are on the aroace spectrum and do not relate to this experience at all, or only a little, you are valid. If you felt hurt in any shape or form by this book, you are so valid. The aroace spectrum is not a monolith, we exist with a plethora of experiences and feelings that many want to dismiss, and it is hurtful to see that being expressed in a book that is supposed to be a safe place, a comfort, something you thought you’d relate to.

I will go forward with this review by doing a character breakdown as I find it easier to talk about each issue I have with the book in this way.

Georgia is the main character of this book and we follow her as she starts her first year of university at Durham and she tries to figure out her sexuality. Georgia is honestly so unlikable and she’s constantly judging other people’s sex lives. While her confusion and wanting to be “normal” is relatable and important to highlight, the way everything is presented feels so reductive. Asexuality and sex repulsion are two very different things and while they can overlap, this is the only ace experience represented in this book while not actually mentioning sex repulsion once. Asexuality and sex repulsion are not one and the same as you could be led to believe here; you can be asexual without being sex repulsed and you can be sex repulsed without being asexual. This book never portrays sex in a good light or healthy way, almost presenting it as a great evil of our society. So you can imagine how hurtful it can be reading pages upon pages of sex shaming when you are on the ace spectrum but not sex repulsed. It’s one thing to have these be the initial ideas and feelings of Georgia but they never get challenged and worse than that it treats Rooney who is sex-positive pretty terribly.

Asexuality is a spectrum and how it is represented in this book holds no nuance. The most we get in terms of exploring the spectrum, or at least tell us there is a spectrum, are two throwaway sentences at about 70% of the book. These are not enough to drive the point home and especially do not make up for 99% of this book being harmful to aroace people with different experiences. This books truly misses the mark with highlighting that all experiences are valid and squanders every opportunity it has to explore the aroace spectrum with the perspectives of other aroace characters. 

There is also this sense that you need to figure yourself out and that once this is done there is no changing how you identify. I get that in the main conversation where this happens it is used as a way to highlight people not taking Georgia seriously but the way it is said does not allow for sexuality to be fluid. This is completely untrue, you can still understand yourself later in life, things can change and above all 18 is not the time limit you get to figure out your sexuality. Many elements can play into this and it should be highlighted that every experience is different and you can cycle through different labels throughout your life, nothing is ever set in stone.

There is this weird undertone to the way the author presents some of the experiences as aroace exclusive. For example, making up crushes (while being a very relatable experience of the aroace spectrum) or making yourself believe you have a crush on someone is definitely a shared experience for people experiencing same-sex attraction. It can be for various reasons, a lot of them dealing with safety issues and compulsory heterosexuality. The way the book presents some of these struggles as exclusive (including lack of representation in the media) just feels very off and tactless. There is a constant putting down of other experiences and sexualities throughout the story, conversations and characters that left a sour taste in my mouth.

While on the topic of representation, Georgia really tries to drive the point home that everything in our society, from the media and the art we consume to the conversations we have, everything revolves around sex and relationships. While this is a valid point that societal pressure about sex and love is prevalent, this book still perpetuates this idea. There is this huge paradox of bashing everyone else around this main character and the whole world for making it all about love, sex and relationships while every character who is not aroace in this book still only get subplots about sex and love. There is more to life than relationships even if you are not aroace, attraction does not mean you will always act on it. 

At one point in this book, Georgia has a conversation with her cousin who is also on the aroace spectrum. Their bonding time could’ve been used effectively to widen the perspective on what being aroace can mean but instead what is basically being said is that anyone who is not on the aroace spectrum, or anyone who wants sex or relationships for that matter, can’t understand the importance and magic of platonic love. Their conversation while aiming to call attention to the importance of friendships actually perpetuates the idea that romance is everything over friendship. It truly paints sex repulsed aroace people are some sort of chosen ones of platonic love instead of showcasing how amazing it can be for anyone.

It also seems pretty ironic to have these great speeches about the magic of friendships and how we should cherish them when Georgia is a truly terrible friend. She constantly shames her friends, fucks them over, and never apologises. She uses grand gestures as a way to make up with her friends and it was truly unrealistic to me that they would all forgive her so easily. There is even a point where she is being congratulated for bringing them all together when she’s the one who did wrong in the first place. She goes around very self-righteously apparently “fixing” everyone’s problems when they wouldn’t exist in the first place if it wasn’t for her. Characters, and especially characters of marginalised identities, never need to be perfect, act perfect, always say the perfect thing, on the contrary. However, it becomes harmful when their ideas are never questioned or put into perspective, and when their own fuck ups are being erased, twisted and put on other characters.

Then we have Rooney, Georgia’s roommate who likes going out and having casual sex, she’s pansexual, and seems to be there only to be used as an antithesis to Georgia’s character. There is literally one scene where Rooney and Georgia are getting ready together and when talking about their outfits Rooney is said to be the devil to Georgia’s angel. I really wish I’d made that up. Rooney keeps being shamed all throughout this book for liking to go out and having sex. It’s possible to make your readers understand that this is not the only university experience, that it’s okay to not want or like it, without bashing people who do enjoy these things. Not only is Georgia sex shaming at every opportunity but it turns out that Rooney is having sex not because she just enjoys it but to “fill a hole” and as a coping mechanism. Apparently going out and having casual sex are only there to make her feel lonely and hate herself and she suddenly seems to be fixed once she stops doing those things. It is so harmful to see a sex positive character being diminished to a promiscuous stereotype. It is beyond me why Rooney had to enjoy something Georgia wasn’t interested in for a deeper reason otherwise they what? Couldn’t actually be friends who understand they’re different people? It’s also appalling to see a past abusive relationship being used for Rooney to feel “ruined” by love. Her whole character just feels like a big “LOVE AND SEX ARE BAD” warning and for a book that should celebrate everyone’s experience being different it does a whole lot of shaming. This honestly almost feels like a revenge plot against society’s pressure to participate in romantic relationships and sex but instead of providing an actual meaningful conversation on it it takes slut shaming to the next level. It is so weird to me that Alice Oseman completely negates and ignores how women who enjoy sex are also being treated. Instead of having a fulfilling friendship between two girls with different experiences and making that into something inclusive and beautiful, this book just paints what Rooney does and feels in a bad light.

Her character also gets a lot of blame for things that are not her fault and she is almost made into a cartoonish acephobic villain at one point. It just saddens me so much to see how her character was portrayed when we could’ve had… everything. It also feels pretty disgusting to have actual consensual experimentation depicted as negative and used as a plot device for drama just because Rooney initiated it. I promise you, kissing your friends when you’re both figuring things out and you both know that about each other and trust one another is not a great evil of the world.

All of the terribly harmful ideas about Rooney’s character culminate in Georgia’s wrapped perspective of her being the only person who cares about her. She paints herself in almost a saviour’s light as being her only true friend and like Rooney would be helpless without her. Georgia seems to think that staying out late and forgetting your keys once is the epitome of not being able to take care of yourself. She puts down Rooney for going out and this book completely dismisses more casual friendships. Hello, I have a lot of friends but I’m not going to relate to all of them on the same level and that’s okay, it doesn’t mean they’re not my friends or that they would not come open a door for me? This view on friendships and how only one person can be your true friend is concerning, especially when Rooney stops going out to spend all her time with Georgia, making her her only friend and person she relies on. That dynamic just makes me so uncomfortable when you add Georgia’s complete lack of boundaries in this friendship. In one instance she picks up Rooney’s phone when it rings and when it turns out to be one of her old school friends Georgia acts like she is the ONLY PERSON who cares about Rooney and actually knows her. Georgia then goes around making plans to uncover Rooney’s emotional wounds as she feels she is owed chipping at and putting Rooney’s wall down. I’d like to highlight that your friends never owe any explanations of their past, they’ll tell you if they want to, it is up to them to trust you with their experiences and emotions but you can never demand it of them. 

One of the many moments between Rooney and Georgia that made my blood boil is when Rooney is being emotionally vulnerable and open and says she thinks she can’t fall in love. Instead of using this moment to open a conversation on aromanticism Georgia immediately shuts her friend down by telling her “stop erasing my identity”. This is one of the moments that truly shows this book’s absolute lack of nuance when it comes to the aroace representation. Rooney could’ve easily been on the aromantic spectrum and been a wonderful example of sexual and romantic attractions being two separate things. Alice Oseman had every chance to make a pansexual character be on the aromantic spectrum but it seems that Rooney’s enjoyment of casual sex is so evil she is not allowed to be a complex character with a complex identity.

On the topic of pansexuality, it is also quite disheartening to see Rooney figuring out her sexuality be her most prominent character arc and yet have no real explanation of what being pansexual is. In this book bi and pan are always used and lumped together like being either was more of a word choice rather than two different sexualilites. There is never a conversation about how those two things are different from one another and why the distinction is important. There is this rampant problem in media where any character attracted to more than one gender is labeled as bisexual by the people consuming and reviewing it when there is no on-page denomination. This is harmful to both pansexuals whose identity keeps being erased and bisexuals who expect on-page representation but don’t fully get that either. People rarely give any serious thought to pansexuality. It is often treated as a quirky term for bisexual, and as we can see with this book, when the word is finally on-page, the character is portrayed in such a bad light and treated as a stereotype. It’s even more terrible to see in a ownvoices aroace book. These sexualities are often treated as invisible by many and you would think the author would know the feeling of not seeing yourself represented or only badly represented. 

Pip is one of Georgia’s best friends, she is Colombian and a lesbian. Her one subplot in the book is that she likes Rooney and that she is tired of “crushing on straight girls”. This phrasing is constantly brought up and makes me so uncomfortable. Crushing on straight people can be a bit of a running joke for people who experience same-sex attraction but when it is constantly being brought up it feels like Pip’s only personality trait and in direct accordance with the “Oh, you’re gay? You must like me then” stereotype. Not only that, Pip then decides that she will hate Rooney for absolutely no reason other than this crush, making the one woman of colour always appear petty and angry for no reason. I think that this relationship dynamic stems from the author wanting to mimic a fanfiction trope to parallel Georgia’s interest in fanfiction. However, a lot of fanfiction tropes only work because the characters are already known and loved, with an established background and personality. Here the rivals-to-lovers situation falls flat because there is no context to the animosity except that Pip decided it would be so and there is no chemistry between the two of them.

In the big year 2020 we have our dear main character Georgia explicitly say that yes, if she could, she would choose to be gay. It leaves a poor taste in my mouth to have her (and therefore this book since it is never challenged) pretend homophobia does not exist, that exploring and finding out about any other sexualities is easy. And Pip, who identifies as a lesbian, just.. accepts that. It was only a little over a year ago that two women were beaten on a London bus in a homophobic attack. Is being a girl liking girls powerful and magical? Yes. Do I want someone who will never experience this particular brand of homophobia tell me they’d “pick” to be gay? No. It left my skin crawling thinking about all the reasons why I could be scared walking outside holding another girl’s hand and at how insensitive that comment was. It feels especially dismissive when this remark pops up just after Pip shared the struggle she’s had as being both a lesbian and a latina and how she can rarely find anyone she can relate to on both levels. And then that was about it in regards to her identity as a latina, barely enough of it to check a box.

The next character I want to talk about is Sunil. They are aroace as well as non-binary and Indian. Right off the bat Sunil is presented as a helping hand, someone Georgia could turn to and use for her own comfort without ever really reciprocating any of that. Sunil is compared to a Queer Eye member, Sunil is described as always smiling, and well-humoured when it comes to helping out the main white character, Sunil is the only character to every express that they don’t do anything for fun.

Basically their only plot point is to support Georgia as she meanders through her questioning, always magically appearing when she needs emotional labour from someone else. I’m tired of seeing brown characters being treated as a token, only being used to further the white protagonist’s story without an actual character arc of their own. Sunil is the person to give Georgia a Google definition of asexuality that she could’ve found well enough on her own (she even mentions that herself but still takes that labour for granted). The problem with that is that there is no real expansion on what Sunil’s experience is like. Once again, this could’ve been an opportunity to explore the aroace spectrum with another character’s perspective on it. More than that it could’ve actually been a scene to humanise Sunil and paint them as an actual person. POC don’t want to only be there as teaching tools or your “gay messiah”, they want to be, they are, their own person too. And that is definitely something the white lgbtqia community doesn’t seem to quite understand, as portrayed in this story.

In a poor attempt at gatekeeping commentary this book has Sunil “annihilating” Lloyd, a very random, one dimensional “cis white gay” villain. Nothing really comes out of this altercation except that Georgia feels offended by Lloyd’s words but it turns out to be okay because her brown friend was there to speak up.Alice Oseman seems to think that writing down a Twitter clapback and pretending it is fully realised dialogue is enough to count as a good discussion on gatekeeping and also manages to completely gloss over the rampant racism present in the lgbtqia community.

And finally, we have our last character, Jason. He is Georgia’s other best friend, he’s in love with her and she uses his knowledge or consent for experimentation.. Georgia never fully really apologises for that either but instead just plans an outing with their friends all dressed up as Scooby Doo members. This type of non-consensual experimentation is wrong to begin with, Georgia knowing full well that Jason has feelings for her, but there is an added layer of her knowing  he’s emotionally fragile after being in a bad relationship. There are never any real consequences to her actions and Jason’s character is even used to provide Georgia with a very sudden backstory of her being a good friend when she’s been a terrible friend for the entirety of this book.

On top of the poor and harmful representation, this book is just not that good anyway. First of all, the characters of this book don’t feel like real people, they just feel fake to me. The dialogue feels like it’s been taken out of a university AU fanfiction (since the MC makes such a point of liking fanfic) where every sentence is stilted and the banter falls flat. 

I liked the involvement of student societies as it was something that was a big part of my university experience in the UK as well. However it is highly unlikely to me that no one tried to enlist more members to save this society (you ask other societies to help you out and it can be done, especially when a lot of performance societies are very supportive of one another and collaborate a lot) instead of putting on a play for the sake of plot convenience. 

This just was not a good book on every possible level.

Had I read this book at a point in my life where I didn’t feel secure in myself and my identity I would’ve felt like I didn’t belong to the aroace community, I would’ve felt ashamed for even thinking I was on this spectrum. Today I’m thankful that this book only brought me intense disappointment, anger and a little bit of hurt. I just can’t stop thinking about the potential this book has to harm other readers, of the negative impact this could have on someone. If you’ve enjoyed this book and felt represented, all the power to you. I do however hope that this review will let people know what they’ll get into, make them aware. I also hope that if you’ve read this and have felt alone in your anger and your hurt, please know you’re not. 

It is frankly quite concerning to see the lack of nuance, tact and empathy every other experience and identity was treated with in this book and that very few seem to have a problem with that.

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✨ Maëlys needed a place to post this over-character-limit goodreads review! And her voice is so important to me (meltotheany) that I wanted to give her a place to express her thoughts at full-length! Maybe in the future, you will see more reviews from her! ✨