BookTok, the rapidly growing community on TikTok that celebrates (and sometimes criticizes) literature, is currently immersed in a heated controversy involving one of its most prominent authors, Tillie Cole. The author of the widely recognized BookTok-famous novel "A Thousand Boy Kisses" is now facing allegations of racism and white supremacy, primarily stemming from her dark romance novel, "Darkness Embraced," published in 2019.
The Plot of "Darkness Embraced":
"Darkness Embraced" is the seventh installment of Cole's 'Hades Hangmen Series' and narrates the complex love story between two central characters, Tanner Ayers and Adelita Quintana. Their relationship, as is common in romance novels, is fraught with challenges. However, it's the particular nature of these challenges that has triggered a wave of criticism on the platform.
Tanner is depicted as the "heir of the Texas Ku Klux Klan," while Adelita is portrayed as "the daughter of the most brutal cartel boss in Mexico." The presence of such a vehemently white supremacist organization at the heart of the novel has led many in the BookTok community to criticize Cole for romanticizing and exploiting this group for the sake of advancing the plot. To exacerbate the issue, two other books in the 'Hades Hangmen Series,' "Beauty Found" and "Damnable Grace," also appear to have connections to the Ku Klux Klan.
TikTok Users Speak Out:
The controversy began when TikTok user @satrayreads raised concerns about the content of "Darkness Embraced." However, her initial TikTok, along with some follow-up videos addressing the situation, has since been removed from the platform. In these videos, she read the book's blurb aloud and questioned why Cole chose to showcase the KKK in this manner, as well as why she used a Latino woman for Tanner's "redemption arc."
@satrayreads Let’s try this again. Im praying for tillie cole’s downfall may it be swift 🙏🏾 #satrayreads #romancebooktok #booktokfyp #satrayreads #bookishthoughts ♬ original sound - satrayreads
Following @satrayreads' lead, other TikTok creators criticized Cole for the language used in the book, highlighting that "Darkness Embraced," along with the entire series, is fraught with racist and anti-Semitic expressions. For instance, TikTok user @urbae92 posted excerpts from the novel, questioning why no one had spoken out about it sooner. They also expressed astonishment at the book's high ratings on Goodreads, where it currently holds a score of 4.33 out of 5.
Differing Opinions in the BookTok Community:
Despite the mounting criticism, it's essential to note that not all members of the BookTok community have sided against Tillie Cole. Some TikTok users have come forward to support the book and justify its story, finding elements in it that resonate with them or interpreting it differently. These supporters may believe that the controversy surrounding the novel is unwarranted.
The Broader Issue of Diversity in BookTok:
This controversy highlights a broader issue that has long plagued BookTok, the underrepresentation of authors of color and novels that genuinely reflect the experiences of racial minorities."Many of the authors who have found tremendous success on BookTok tend to be white."This racial bias is not unique to BookTok but is an issue prevalent in the broader publishing industry.
TikTok's algorithm, which prioritizes what is already popular, contributes to this challenge by making it harder for minority authors to gain visibility. While the community holds authors accountable for controversial works, there's hope that this controversy will encourage BookTok to promote authors and narratives from marginalized groups, offering diverse perspectives and experiences.
The controversy surrounding Tillie Cole's novel "Darkness Embraced" is emblematic of the larger discussions taking place in BookTok and the publishing world. It underscores the power and influence of this online platform while prompting conversations about diversity, representation, and the responsibilities of authors in shaping the narratives they present to their readers.
As debates within the BookTok community continue, it's a reminder that readers, creators, and authors all play a crucial role in shaping the literary landscape of tomorrow.