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Critical Book Discussion: XO, OX: A Love Story

By December 16, 2017May 13th, 2021The Kerlan Blog

XO, OX: A Love Story Adam Rex, illus. by Scott Campbell. Roaring Brook/Porter, $17.99 (40p)

I am not a person who immediately reacts to anything. I hate it when the movie ends, the lights come up, and my companions want to know, “What do you think?”

I need time. I need time to mull, recall, think, and replay. This brings me to XO, OX, A Love Story by Adam Rex, illustrated by Scott Campbell (Roaring Brook /Porter) As I turned the pages, I became more and more horrified. This is not a love story. This is a fantasy stalking story. Am I being too harsh?


Ox loves Gazelle from a afar. He does not know her. He assumes all sorts of things about her. She tells him to stop writing to her. He persists. Her heart melts. Perhaps he has a chance.

This is straight out of an eighties romance comedy.  In Julie Beck’s article, Romantic Comedies Where Stalking Meets Love (Beck, Julie, Atlantic Magazine, February 6, 2017) she explicates a study examining the relentless romantic pursuit. I thought we were passed this. So I mull. I reread. I hand it to others to read. We discuss. 

Am I overreacting? Can’t I lighten up? 

First of all, how do we define “stalking?”

According to the National Institute of Justice, “stalking is conservatively defined as ‘a course of conduct directed at a specific person that involves repeated (two or more occasions) visual or physical proximity, nonconsensual communication, or verbal, written, or implied threats, or a combination thereof, that would cause a reasonable person fear.’”

Gazelle doesn’t seem fearful, just self-centered. Ox’s obtuseness is explained away in Kirkus Review as “Well, ever heard the saying big, dumb ox?” He is just not reading her tone or her signals when she writes.”“Ox! Stop this! Please do not write me again. You are wasting your time.” Whose point-of-view is this story told from?

A Study: Did It Because I Never Stopped Loving You: The Effects of Media Portrayals of Persistent Pursuit

Julia Lipman of the University of Michigan, published her research findings I Did It Because I Never Stopped Loving You: The Effects of Media Portrayals of Persistent Pursuit on Beliefs About Stalking in the journal Communication Research. Lippman found that the subject pool of 426 women who watched edited versions of ManagementThere’s Something About MaryEnough, and Sleeping with the Enemy,  had “false or exaggerated beliefs about stalking that minimised its seriousness, which means that someone who more strongly endorses these tends to take stalking less seriously.” 

The Washington Post reported on the study with the headline “In romantic comedies, it’s cute; in real life, it’s stalking” I have linked to the video that they created  “Your Favorite Rom Com Is Actually Creepy” 

Review Round Up Excerpts

So do I write about my concerns? Is this the place for it? I read the reviews from the “usual suspects” because many librarians make purchasing decisions based on reviews.

From Booklist :

“…the epistolary format is appealing, and Campbell’s lively watercolor illustrations are entertaining, particularly when depicting the comical contrast between hulking, boxy Ox and lithe, graceful Gazelle.” (Booklist October 15, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 4))

Kirkus, “…Children get their first lesson in unrequited love reading the letters between lovelorn Ox and self-centered Gazelle…” But is it unrequited? “…The letters degrade from there, going from a discussion of Gazelle’s faults (or lack thereof) to a letter stating outright that she could never love a “smelly thing…an animal that is…so thick and ungraceful and awful and unlovely. And unlovable.” Ox loves her even more for admitting this fault to him. This frustrates Gazelle, who rips his picture to shreds. But the next page shows the start of a letter to him; she sits under his pieced-back-together picture, her heart seemingly softened… Persistence pays off seems to be the message in this bracingly un-Valentine–ish love story.” (Kirkus Reviews October 1, 2016)

Publishers Weekly starred review “But Ox persists (in a non-stalkery way, it should be noted {my italics}), and his good-humored self-awareness and unflagging devotion eventually win her over. Rex and Campbell don’t end with a romantic clinch, but with delicate evidence of Gazelle’s changed heart-though the endpapers will satisfy diehard romantics. It’s about as lovely (and funny) a story of opposites attracting that one could ask for.”( Publishers Weekly)   

School Library Journal “Campbell’s whimsical watercolor and colored pencil artwork features sepia outlines and earthy hues on Ox’s pages and more textured patterns and shades of pink and purple on Gazelle’s. The notes are easy to read, and the sensibilities, emotions, and body language are child-centric and brimming with humor.” School Library Journal Xpress April 1, 2017)

Junior Library Guild ” Hilarious, sweet, and (at times) heartbreaking letters between a hopelessly romantic ox and a conceited, beautiful gazelle. Full-color illustrations created with watercolor and colored pencil.” (Junior Library Guild)

Someone Who Agrees with Me

So who cares what I think and why can’t I just let this go? Lets hear it for the Google. I found this blog posting by Kate Stadt, Return to Sender: The Problematic Back and Forth of XO Ox at Women Write About Comics.

Kate Stadt “When I saw that Adam Rex had written a new picture book and Scott Campbell had illustrated it, I nearly jumped for joy.”

Yup, me too. For me, I wasn’t reviewing in 2017 yet because of Caldecott commitments. So the title sat on the to-be-read pile for a long time. So here we are at the end-of-the-year. Can’t wait to spend some time with Adam Rex. Full disclosure, I thought True Meaning of   Smek Day was a staggering work of genius. Billy Twitter and his Blue Whale Problem is one of my favorite picture books of the last 20 years,  I laugh out loud every time I read the Chu  books.

Kate Stadt: “The book came in; I dropped everything to settle in for some laugh therapy. As I read the heartfelt replies from Ox to the generic form letters from Gazelle, I laughed. “This is an amazing coincidence! I have written you two letters, and both times you have written back using the exact same words!” writes Ox (pg. 14). This is really clever! I can’t wait to read this in storytime! I thought.”  

I thought “exactly “

 Kate Stadt: “I am deeply uncomfortable with the overall dynamic in this book. A similar story plays out every day in real life for female celebrities, from Twitch to Instagram to Hollywood, except that usually the receiver of the messages doesn’t suddenly realize that the sender has been their Prince Charming all along. In real life, Ox is that creepy guy who forces a level of emotional intimacy that is not present, not wanted, and not healthy.”

Me too.

Let Us Discuss

So I get it. I am one person, Kate Stadt is one person. People whose opinions that I respect liked the book and have recommended it for purchase. But I couldn’t get over it. This is a book about stalking. Isn’t it?

Please read the book. According to WorldCat there are 804 copies held. Please read the whole of the positive reviews. Please read Kate Stadt’s full review on Return to Sender: The Problematic Back and Forth of XO Ox


Could we discuss this in the comments section? I really want to know what you think.



Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Pat Cummings says:

    The line between romantic pusuit and stalking has gotten even fuzzier given recent revelations/accusations/confessions/denials in the news. I personally have known people who were pursued by folks they rejected and later came to love. It’s an ancient narrative. So clarifying where that line should be drawn is still in debate to me. But it does seem that a picture book isn’t a healthy forum in which to consider this adult issue. Picture books socialize little readers in such a profound way that it makes sense to have a team vetting every book…at least in traditional publishing where stories go through editors, art directors, marketing people and often agents (not to mention writers/illustrators groups). When little readers are shaping their understanding of how to interact with others, it does feel a bit creepy to introduce the notion that your own ardor is more important than the discomfort it may cause for others.
    Save that for YA.

  • Alec Chunn says:

    I, too, am really unsettled by this book. And I may be even more unsettled by the notion that clever wordplay, cute art, and/or a beloved creative team is any excuse for a book’s message. And this is coming from someone who stubbornly rejected his current partner multiple times until I eventually came to love him.

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