Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James


Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades, #1)Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Where do I begin? I decided to read this novel because I was curious about the latest phenomenon surrounding the trilogy and I felt, as an English teacher, I should be prepared to provide a response to my high school students (and parents) if and when approached.

I will warn you: I went into this novel with low expectations, having been warned of its poor writing quality. I'm not sure if this shaped my experience, but I did harbor some apprehension throughout.

Even though I devoured this book in only two days and will certainly give E.L. James credit with writing an intriguing and shocking story, I found fault with several aspects of the novel. Perhaps it is mostly my own life experiences and values that really have a problem with this novel, but I felt a bad taste in my mouth after every chapter.

Writing quality aside, the main protagonist reminds me of Bella Swan from the Twilight series (oh wait...because she is. Sort of. See what I mean here), finding herself obsessed with a man and willing to do anything and everything to be with him, even if that means throwing her self-worth and dignity out the window. I was disgusted with the concept of the dominating/submissive sexual relationship (again, my own beliefs) and hated seeing the once-innocent Ana allow the ever-charming Christian Grey treat her like a slave. Watching the integrity of this character go to waste really bothered me; Ana shows evidence of being a strong, intelligent, and clever woman, but even she allows Grey to treat her as property. Occasionally, she would remember that inner strength and pull back, but I felt confused as a reader which way she would turn next. The sex scenes are constant, leaving no room for a relationship of emotional substance.

I also didn't quite believe the authenticity of the characters, especially how James portrays 21st century college students who are graduating and moving on with their lives. It almost seems like James was just eager to get them out of college so that it would be more "acceptable" for Ana to be participating in this extreme sexual relationship. It's only convenient that Ana's best friend is wealthy and that they just so happen to be moving to Seattle near Grey. How nice.

Lastly, I will say that the writing quality wasn't as bad as I had been told, but I was annoyed that there were constant descriptions of characters that lacked any substance ("He's") and that James continuously repeated her phrases ("Stop biting your lip.")

I worry about how I will educate my students about this novel if approached. I worry about the implications this novel will have on its female (and male) audiences. I worry that there are two more of them in the trilogy! I haven't decided yet if I will attempt to read them...

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