When last we met, I promised to talk about another inherently “cozy” genre: romance. What makes romance so cozy is that readers know there’s a payoff in the form of a happy ending coming. While protagonists make mistakes, they also grow and learn from these mistakes and earn these happy endings.

According to the Romance Writers of America, “two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.” And the best way to explain how important these two things are is to share a story of what happens when the RULES OF ROMANCE are broken. (Spoiler: nothing good.) Enter: Everything’s Fine. Before it was even published, it got some press for receiving lots of negative reviews by people who may not have actually read it. This happens from time to time in the book world; the technical term for it is “review bombing.” 

“Why all the negativity?” you might well ask. Here’s what went down: 

It’s probably easiest to start with the flap copy that the marketers wrote for this book: “On Jess’s first day at Goldman Sachs, she’s less than thrilled to learn she’ll be on the same team as Josh, her white, conservative sparring partner from college. Josh loves playing the devil’s advocate and is just…the worst. But when Jess finds herself the sole Black woman on the floor, overlooked and underestimated, it’s Josh who shows up for her in surprising—if imperfect—ways. Before long, an unlikely friendship—one tinged with undeniable chemistry—forms between the two. A friendship that gradually, and then suddenly, turns into an electrifying romance that shocks them both.” 

Oooh…you might say, that sounds like a romance. And…if you were a person who hung out in romance fiction forums, you might spot the “enemies to lovers” trope (we’ll do tropes in my next post). And, yeah…it’s a book with a central love story, which is rule 1 of the romance genre. But here’s where the book gets into trouble: Josh keeps getting more and more problematically racist as the story progresses and has no real redemption arc. The action begins in 2008 and ends in 2016 (yeah, those years are important to the structure of the story and is definitely related to presidential politics, since the fundamental political beliefs of the two protagonists are critical to the plot.) People in their twenties change a lot, and these two characters are no exception. Anyone who lived through the period in question will have a good idea about the sort of conflicts lovers will have had to navigate. I’m going to ruin the ending a bit by telling you this book violates the second critical rule of romance novels: the happy ending requirement. 

But let’s back up…because you can’t tell from the marketing copy that the ending is, AT BEST, slightly unresolved. But if you think about the This Is Fine meme in combination with the title, you will recognize that the authorial intent is almost certainly a pretty disastrously unhappy ending. 

So when people chose Advance Reader Copies (or ARCs) of the book, expecting it to be a romance…people started it and found it to be an unpleasant book to read…because IT’S NOT A ROMANCE. Word spread through BookTok (there is a large community of book reviewers on TikTok and it is referred to colloquially as BookTok). The community reviews on Goodreads are interesting to browse. People have OPINIONS. Of course, the author wrote what she wrote on purpose, and authors do not write their own marketing copy in the world of “Big 5” Publishing. If you want to hear more from the author’s point of view about her book, you can read this interview with the author. 

While I didn’t LOVE Everything’s Fine as a reader, I definitely understood what the author was trying to do…and writing a romance was not it. Really, the book is far more in the vein of books I’ve learned to call “disaster girl” fiction (if you aren’t familiar with the “Disaster Girl” meme, this term will make more sense if you are). These titles feature women being messy and learning from their messiness. These books make it really clear that the main character is not a paragon of virtue, but is instead a bit of a cautionary tale…but still worthy of time and attention. These women are out there making mistakes and figuring life out as they go, which is a much more realistic representation of the experience of being human than are, say, Disney princesses.

Therein lies the appeal. I can’t help but wonder what might have happened if the book had been marketed like other “disaster girl” titles.  

So: if anything about Everything’s Fine sounds like your jam…you may find more books you’ll enjoy on this list. None of these books are romances! We’ll get to romance next time.