I made a TikTok for a book tour for The List that mentioned that I would love a list outlining terrible men so I have a warning before I become romantically involved with them. But The List is messy, and I think I have rethought that desire.
The List by Yomi Adegoke is about an engaged couple, Ola and Michael, and how their relationship gets turned upside down with an anonymous post on [RIP] Twitter called The List. This list outlines different people who have been accused of violence against women. Ola is shocked to find Michael’s name, and Michael is devastated and shocked himself. Their trust is tested just a few weeks before meeting at the altar.
Here is your warning now that I will be giving spoilers because I just have to talk about all the issues this book brings up.
Michael is publicly vilified for appearing on the list. As he and Ola went viral for a post featuring them as Black love goals, their “loyal” followers are quick to demonize the couple, Michael for being an alleged perpetrator, and Ola for seeming to stand by her man despite being a very prominent feminist. Michael ultimately loses his job due to public pressure, and Ola resigns after feeling the pressure from her feminist magazine to write a story about it.
If I had written this review the day I finished The List, my thoughts on cancel culture would have been totally different, especially when it comes to people accused of sexual harm. I believe people who cause harm should be held accountable for their actions, but I do not agree with how he was destroyed on the internet.
I have participated in cancel culture before. I have called for powerful men to experience consequences, especially advocating for them to lose the power they used to harm others. But as I am learning more about community restorative justice practices, I think more about how people who cause harm aren’t encouraged to take accountability because we strip their community away. This is not to say I still don’t want accountability for the harm they have caused.
But I didn’t like that Michael was actually falsely accused. I thought that it was a lack of creativity to keep him as a “good guy” when there could have been so much opportunity for Ola and Michael to work through what it means to reckon with this publicly and privately. I might have been more connected to the characters, especially if Michael could have an arc where he grows to understand the weight of his actions (and not empathy built from “Oh, it happened to my friend who is nice, and now I care). I won’t give away the twist at the end, although I thought that was lazy too. Despite the twist, I thought the story still fuels the discourse around survivors lying about their assaults.
Despite all of my criticisms, The List is the first book of this kind I have read. I appreciate Adegoke using this story to have a somewhat nuanced conversation about what it means to have your life impacted on catastrophic levels because of people who mean well. The List was an entertaining commentary on how we drive each other apart in our quest for justice and our hope for a better world.