Harley Quinn's Choice Of Book Says A Lot About Her

by Molly O'Keefe

To this day I’m not sure how it happened. I woke up the morning after the Suicide Squad trailer was released to about one hundred emails from strangers wondering if it was my book that Harley Quinn was reading in the prison scene. I had no idea what they were talking about. Suicide Squad trailer? My book? Which book? The Harley Quinn?

A quick glance at Twitter confirmed that my mentions had skyrocketed. Friends, family and acquaintances who never seemed interested in my work were all sending me links to the trailer as if it was proof I was alive. And legitimate.

You see, in the trailer, Harley Quinn (played by Margot Robbie) is reading a book. My book. Between The Sheets . Right there. Her hand covers up the Molly, but you can see the O’Keefe. Larger than life.

I live in Toronto, and Suicide Squad was filmed here, which isn’t anything new. Something is always being filmed here. But this movie took over the city. Will Smith sightings were news. Everyone was invested in Jared Leto’s method acting. Our largest intersection was shut down for filming, making commuters grumble.

One of my husband’s oldest friends was involved in the direction of the movie, and my husband immediately called asking him if he had anything to do with my book being featured. It seemed to us the most likely reason that Between the Sheets was chosen. But no. He worked on the prison scene shoot — all day, staring at my book, and he never connected the dots that it was mine.

Holy shit, he said. That’s Molly’s book.

Which was sort of the standard reaction.

I called my editor. Holy shit, she said. That’s your book.

My agent: That’s your book!

No one in my circle knew. Whatever agreements were signed happened way over all of our heads.

Everyone wondered how I didn’t know. It seemed like the kind of thing someone would tell a girl. Hey, just a head’s up, we’re going to put the cover of your book in the biggest blockbuster of the summer! But the truth is, the book cover image is owned by Random House. And it being in the movie really has nothing to do with me. Maybe it was a random selection.

Between the Sheets, $7, Amazon

But the choice of Between The Sheets is perfect — not just because it’s a romance novel and Harley is dangerously, next-level romantic. But it’s also a romance novel about people working hard to be better together. Wyatt and Shelby, the main characters in Between The Sheets, both have trauma in their lives. Wyatt, in particular, has pulled himself together after a series of criminal choices. He is getting used to a quieter life – one he never thought he would have. Deeply ironic, yes. But I love the image of the insane and violent and abused Harley reading an angsty domestic romance about two people trying to work it out. Above all things, Between The Sheets is about hope. Hope that you can get better than what you had, hope that you can be loved the way that you deserve to be loved.

Harley – who has not had a healthy romance with The Joker — needs some of that hope. And the look on her face as she’s reading Between The Sheets would indicate she’s really trying to absorb that message.

And the insulting and ridiculous stereotype of the passive, unhappy, unsatisfied woman who reads romance novels (which has always been bullshit) is utterly obliterated as Harley Quinn sips her tea and turns a page.

But the really exciting thing for me is that the argument that circles Harley Quinn’s character is also an argument that circles romance novels. Feminist? Or Sexist? It could be said that both of them began as a way of simply varying the point of view created by a sexist patriarchy. That a woman exists to be in love, or isn’t complete without the structure of marriage. Or our stories are only told to illuminate something in a man’s story.

But both Harley Quinn and romance novels have evolved into something very different.

Harley’s an emotionally and physically abused lover. She left behind her career and life to follow the Joker into violent madness and then struggles to get out of the relationship. But she is also a badass villain — an anti-hero in a screwed up world who holds her own with the worst of the male characters, who are all traumatized and problematic.

She’s a star, really. With her own “You Don’t Own Me” theme song.

That argument holds up in the world of romance novels, too. I support whole-heartedly that romance novels are feminist. They tell stories — more and more often — about choice and agency, not just as it applies to sex and love but about every parameter of a woman’s life. In the romance I love and write, the sexual romantic relationship only tells part of the heroine’s story. The hero – more often than not — is there to illuminate something in her story.

I believe, moreover, that both the Harley Quinn character and romance novels have become part of a larger conversation. They are lightening rods attracting controversy that force all of us to talk about big issues; feminism, sexism, equality, objectification and women’s stories.

That’s why that image of her behind bars, reading Between The Sheets, waiting to go save the world is so badass.

To whomever picked my book to be included in this film and whatever your reason: thank you.

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Beginning on August 1, Bustle will host Romance Novel Month, a celebration and examination of the romance novel genre. But don't worry, romance readers: the coverage won't end in August. We're proud to support romance novels, and we will continue to do so all year long.