CW: CSA, Rape, Grooming, Reproductive Coercion
Update: Lucia Franco defenders are now doxing those who dared to speak up about this, posting their home addresses and, in the cases of pseudonymous authors, their real identities, online. This puts people in real danger. If you are a Lucia Franco fan, please let her know that this is happening and that she has a moral obligation to speak out against this strategy of “defending” her. The one-star bombing and mass-reporting of books to Amazon in an attempt to see them removed as punishment? That’s shitty behavior. But the sole purpose of doxing is to terrorize. Those of you in groups with her or who follow her FB page, please tell Franco that this reflects incredibly poorly on her and that a statement of some kind to her fans is necessary to avoid being seen as complicit in endangering other human beings.
If you’ve never heard of Lucia Franco, she is the author of the indefensibly popular Off Balance series. The story, regarded by one Twitter user as “a phenomenal work of FICTION,” is a five-book series about the sexual relationship between a fifteen-year-old gymnast and her thirty-year-old coach who is grooming her for the Olympics. Oh, and obviously, to commit statutory rape with her.
Rejecting this premise, especially in the wake of the Michigan State assault cover-up, should have been obvious. A fifteen-year-old girl can’t consent to a thirty-year-old man, let alone a thirty-year-old man who has sole control over her success in her chosen field. Add to that the fact that this thirty-year-old man has a live-in girlfriend and refuses to engage in safe sex practices (relying on his partners to repeatedly take morning-after pills)…nobody would see this as romantic, right?
The first book, Balance, is, in fact, categorized as romance and has been embraced as a swoon-worthy love story by many readers on GoodReads (names redacted to avoid accusations of an attack or pile-on):
“This story was HOT. I mean, call the fire department and have them on standby hot. I’m in the middle of a heat wave and this was just added kindling to the inferno, hot.”
“Raw and intense, yet sensitive and touching. It will keep you hooked till the very end. Forbidden Romance at its finest.”
“Nothing could have prepared me to be hooked that much by Adrianna and Kova’s taboo relationship. Lucia Franco achieved to shape a story bursting with sinful attraction, but also containing a level of raw emotion that left me overcame by all the feels!”
“To all the fans of fifty shades of grey, kova is the new christian grey. Oh my heart!”
Please note that last one.
This book has 2,095 ratings on GoodReads. Over half of those are five stars.
Balance came out in 2016. So, why is all hell breaking loose just now? I have no idea. In October, the romance media site Frolic recommended it to readers (the recommendation has since been removed and the article edited; at the time of writing this, they had not included any explanation for its removal or acknowledged that the article was edited). This week, bloggers were discussing it openly on social media. The latest book in the series just came out, so maybe that got this whole thing kicked off? All I know is, the Lucia Franco defenders have crawled out of the woodwork to defend her right to classify this “beautiful, complicated love story” as a romance right alongside books featuring heroines who are not being groomed for abuse by their gymnastics coach. As usual, accusations of “bullying,” “trolling,” “persecuting” and “a witchhunt” have flown and the usual defenses have come out. I would like to address them all in one place. Because they are willfully obtuse.
“Free speech! You can’t censor someone just because you don’t like what they write!”
You’re right. Authors and readers on social media can’t censor anyone unless they have access to governmental power that would allow them to do so. I agree that Lucia Franco has every right to pen whatever kind of story she would like. I do not agree that criticizing the book is somehow quashing her free speech or censoring her. Allegations that authors worked together to get her book removed from Amazon out of “censorship” are laughable; Amazon isn’t the government and the book violated KDP TOS, which states:
“You must ensure that all Book content is in compliance with our Program Policies for content at the time you submit it to us. If you discover that content you have submitted does not comply, you must immediately withdraw the content by un-publishing it or by re-publishing content that complies through the Program procedures for Book withdrawal or re-publishing. We are entitled to remove or modify the metadata and product description you provide for your Books for any reason, including if we determine that it does not comply with our content requirements.”
One of those content requirements vaguely specifies that they reserve the right to remove objectionable content or remove books that provide a disappointing reader experience. If readers complained about the book, Amazon can review and pull it (according to some bloggers, it’s possible this is not the first time the book has been removed). Them’s the breaks, kids.
“Don’t like? Don’t read!”
This is not Fanfiction.net, Sunshine Susan.
“You probably haven’t even read it!”
You don’t have to read a whole book to know if you enjoy the themes it contains. That’s what the blurb is for. If I pick up a book about military intelligence, I’m going to put it back down. I’m not going to read the whole thing to decide if I was interested in the subject. And if I picked up a book that sounds like it could be just awful, I don’t have to read it before deciding whether or not I want to read it. That’s what critical reviews are for. No one is required to read a book romanticizing pedophilia before they’re qualified to say that romanticizing pedophilia is wrong.
“Wait, you’re reading it? Why read it if you know you’re not going to like it?”
Because you told us that we have to, Sunshine Susan. In order to criticize the book, we have to read it. Those are the rules you set down. Now, you don’t want us to read it? What are you afraid we’re going to find? Evidence? Because people are finding evidence.
“You don’t understand the genre!”
Many of the people criticizing the book are avid consumers of Dark/Taboo Romance but found that actual child rape was a step too far. Some of the critics are authors in the genre who don’t want their work associated with child rape. Go figure.
“Authors work hard! How would you feel if someone got one of your books pulled?”
I know as well as anybody how much work goes into creating a story and making it happen on the page. It’s grueling. After almost two decades, I almost don’t even enjoy it anymore. And I do feel for authors who’ve seen their books yanked off of Amazon by mistake for weird, vague reasons. But this isn’t vague. This isn’t an author who’s had their book about consensual age play between two or more grown adults removed because the guy’s name is Beast and it got flagged as zoophilia. This is a story about a thirty-year-old man having intercourse with a fifteen-year-old and how romantic and passionate their affair is. I can’t imagine how it would feel to have a book like that pulled from Amazon. Because I would never write that.
“It’s just fiction!”
Time and again, “It’s just fiction!” has been used to justify the nurturing of reprehensible attitudes. “It’s just fiction!” people cried about the novel that, purely by coincidence, published right before a huge spike in sex-toy related injuries. Sure, individuals are responsible for their own choices but that extends to authors, as well. If your choice as an author is to dangerously misrepresent a subject or craft a story that feeds into damaging cultural biases, readers can choose to speak about that.
“That stuff happens in real life! This is an important issue!”
Is it fiction or not? The defense, “It’s just fiction,” doesn’t wash if in the next breath we’re being told to value the realism inherent in the work. And yes, child sexual abuse is an important issue. Writing about important issues requires delicacy. If the authorial intent here is to raise awareness of sex abuse perpetrated by coaches in junior sports, perhaps she shouldn’t have chosen to frame it as a beautiful love story. The relationship between the coach and the gymnast is portrayed as sexy, desirable, and forbidden. It’s written specifically to titillate the reader when they’re consuming this story about a grown man having sex with a child. If you’re defending it as an “issue book” or positioning it as some kind of statement piece then you’ve just cast Franco in the role of a person advocating for pedophilia, not against. That’s probably not as helpful as you think it is.
“I dated older men and–”
“The author is a really nice person and–”
Nope. She could make Tom Hanks look like Ted Bundy and her book would still be about a kid getting raped and manipulated by a predatory authority figure.
“Women should lift each other up, not tear each other down!”
This is not a petty, Real Housewives-style backstabbing spat here. This is a social media discussion about a book that was made freely available for public consumption in which child sexual abuse is dressed up like a consensual sexual relationship. No one is “tearing down” Franco. They’re responding rationally to the normalization and romanticization of pedophilia. Yes, she’s a woman. She’s also furthering attitudes that harm women and girls. It is impossible to “lift her up” without turning away from actual victims and potential victims. If people are less concerned with helping an author achieve success than eradicating cultural attitudes that create more sexual assault victims…boo hoo, I guess?
“Frigid bitches, assorted misogyny in the name of supporting women.”
Obviously, the disgusting crones attacking this book are doing so because they don’t enjoy sex, or don’t get any sex because their lives are joyless. Our spider-infested genitals haven’t known a moist touch that isn’t just mildew from neglect and disuse. When we open our legs, it sounds like a door creaking in a haunted house. And of course, it’s undeniably feminist to insinuate this by calling us prudes and making references to straight-laced Victorian literature and Jane Austen. Oh, how boring are we, the unhappy, sexless few who don’t find child molesters the sexiest, most Alpha panty melters of all time. And this isn’t a misogynist position to take; everyone knows that saying a woman’s value is based solely in her sexuality is okay, so long as you’re defending child rape. So, too, is using, as one defender did, the quote, “God save us from women,” from an Outlander book. Yes, it’s women and their womanishness that is causing this problem. If only women could just be cooler with rape and abuse and stop being so ugh, gross and girly. Also, they should stop being jealous because jealousy is clearly the only motivation a woman ever has when criticizing another woman, as we have no critical thinking skills.
I’m sure there are many other ridiculous, eye-roll worthy takes out there but I’ve been away from blogging lately and my tolerance to abject bullshit is astonishingly low. In closing: you can write or read whatever you want but you can’t escape criticism or analysis of your work.
Oh, and since this needs to be pointed out: FUCKING KIDS IS WRONG AND THAT’S WHY THEY HAVE LAWS ABOUT IT.