Social Media Backlash Spurs Two Prominent Authors to Promise Revisions to Their Recent Novels

Two prominent authors have promised that future printings of their books will not contain particular lines of dialogue that some netizens found offensive, renewing polarizing conversations about free speech, cancel culture and the need to separate the art from the artist.

The authors, Casey McQuiston and Elin Hilderbrand were subjected to criticism on social media for their decision to reference tragic and politically controversial topics in their recent novels Red, White & Royal Blue, and Golden Girl, respectively. The first, which became a sensation in progressive circles upon its publication in 2019, concerns a budding romance between Alex Claremont-Diaz, the bisexual son of a fictional president of the United States, and Prince Henry, a gay British royal. The second centers on Vivi, a prolific author and mother of three who is presented with the opportunity to influence the outcome of real-world events in the afterlife after she is killed in a hit-and-run.

In one scene in Red, White & Royal Blue, McQuiston's debut, the president complains about a diplomatic crisis sparked by an incompetent staffer. "Well, my UN ambassador f**ked up his one job and said something idiotic about Israel, and now I have to call Netanyahu and personally apologize," she huffs. The remark appears to be an offhanded one with no real bearing on the plot of the novel, but Twitter user @SanktAleksander took issue with it nonetheless.

I wrote this line as a dig at US presidential diplomacy. It was an attempt to punch up at liberal American politics, not a statement of my beliefs. I could and should have made that clearer. It has been changed for all future printings.

— casey mcquiston ⚡️ ONE LAST STOP OUT NOW! (@casey_mcquiston) June 7, 2021

On June 6, @SanktAleksander posted a screenshot of the passage on the social media platform with the caption, "This author really could have simply not said this in their book but they still chose to." While they did not elaborate, the crux of their argument seemed to be that by referencing Israel, McQuiston was normalizing the nation-state's policy, particularly with regard to the treatment of Palestinians. They ended the thread by imploring McQuiston to "do better."

The take from @SanktAleksander had 600 likes as of Wednesday afternoon.

"This book is wack in many ways, but this line is honestly inexcusable," one commenter wrote.

"Imagine seeing an actual conflict that's affecting thousands of lives out there and deciding to make a joke about it," another wrote.

"talk about tone-deaf?? Idc if this was published in 2019, the ethnic cleansing and genocide has been real since 1948. The author is clearly a zionist if she so blatantly normalizes the existence of Israel," a third wrote.

The next day, McQuiston responded to the thread, promising to revise the exchange.

"I wrote this line as a dig at US presidential diplomacy. It was an attempt to punch up at liberal American politics, not a statement of my beliefs. I could and should have made that clearer. It has been changed for all future printings," she wrote.

Likewise, the reception to Hilderbrand's Golden Girl, which was published on June 1, was tainted by allegations of prejudice. During a conversation between a teenage Vivi and her friend Savannah on page 144, the possibility of Vivi spending all summer in Savannah's attic comes up.

"You're suggesting I hide here all summer?" Vivi asks Savannah. "Like...like Anne Frank?" The two then laugh at the comparison.

However, Instagram users were not as amused. One, @poursandpages, even took to Hilderbrand's comments section to complain, calling it a "horrifically antisemitic 'joke.'" Many others echoed @poursandpages' thoughts. The line, one commenter wrote, was nothing less than an example of "casual antisemitism," reported Publishers Weekly. Some even went so far as to lambast Hilderbrand's publisher, Little, Brown and Company, for the creative choice.

"As a Jewish woman, one who lost 18 members of her family in the holocaust I'm disgusted in you as a publisher that you allowed that line to be published. It's inexcusable," Instagram user Cecile Leana wrote, according to Publishers Weekly.

On June 4, Hilderbrand formally addressed the controversy on her Instagram Stories.

"I want to wholeheartedly apologize for this," she wrote. "It was meant as hyperbole but was a poor choice, that was offensive and tasteless. I have asked my publisher to remove the passage from digital versions of the book immediately and from all future printings."

However, the backlash to McQuiston's and Hilderbrand's books itself drew backlash, mainly from those who argued that the allegations were ludicrous.

Last night I saw a fan bot account for an author call the author out over a line of dialogue in the novel and demand accountability from them on this website and knew that we’d jumped the shark. Truly, reality is glitching.

— Brandon (@blgtylr) June 9, 2021

"Last night I saw a fan bot account for an author call the author out over a line of dialogue in the novel and demand accountability from them on this website and knew that we'd jumped the shark. Truly, reality is glitching," novelist and short-story writer Brandon Taylor wrote.

Despite the fact that some have come to their defense, McQuiston and Hilderbrand still seem set to plow ahead with the revisions.

A woman reads a book in France.
A woman reads a book on a French beach. Two recently published novels have come under fire for their inclusion of what some netizens see as insensitive lines of dialogue. IROZ GAIZKA/Getty Images