Mackenzie Lee author photograph

Mackenzi Lee, is a bestselling young adult author who gained significant popularity with her historical fiction series, Montague Siblings. The first novel in the series, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue both was nominated and successful in winning numourous literary awards.

At the time of writing, Lee has published three novels, two collections and one novella, with the third instalment in Montague Siblings expected to release mid 2021.

Welcome to the “What’s the Deal With…” series; a place where we deep dive into the facts surrounding the drama, cancel culture and problematic issues of those within the book community.

These posts are to enlighten you about why certain names are being thrown around, discussed and/or bad-mouthed on the internet. They are not intended to shine hate on any one person, rather to lay out the facts and provide unbiased commentary on news in the book industry.

All facts will be provided with some type of screenshot, link or citation. If you notice any mistakes or key missing details regarding the story, please feel free to let me know in the comments below.

Check out the entire series!

And with that said – What’s the Deal With… Mackenzi Lee?

So how did Mackenzi Lee go from writing bestselling books to getting involved in author drama?

There have been more than a few situations that have made readers upset about both Lee’s books and her general behavior with the book community. I will try to keep this brief, so please make sure you check out the linked resources for full details on each situation.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky – The Pre-Order “Exclusive”

In early April 2019, Mackenzi Lee announced that the Montague Siblings novella, The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky would be getting released digitally and in hardcover.

Twitter screenshot: Mackenzi Lee @themackenzilee. THE GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO GETTING LUCKY, the novella previously only offered to those who preordered Lady's Guide, is not only being released for real, it's being released in hardcover AND digitally, AND the incomparable @ceeofcee is reprising his Monty for the audio version! Tagged in post Epic Reads & Katherine Tegen Bks.

This was something that upset a lot of fans. Why? Because this novella was originally a preorder incentive. And then when one fan spoke up about this disappointment, things escalated.

Lee responded less than positively, going as far as to make separate Instagram stories addressing this fan’s response.

For full details, make sure to check out the blog posts created by the original responder, Daniel, and fellow blogger, Sara, who was also involved.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice & Virtue – Bisexuality Erasure

The main character in The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, Monty, is a loved character for many because of his partying antics, his boistourous humour and his open bisexuality.

…his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men…”

Blurb for The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, Mackenzi Lee

However, Monty’s sexuality became less certain – and to some readers, erased – following an AMA with the author on her Instagram account:

Instagram story @themackenzilee. AMA about History's Favorite Disaster Siblings, What's Monty's sexuality? QUEER I DON'T LIKE LABELS SO READ HIM HOWEVER YOU WANT!

The erasure of Monty’s bisexuality, caused by the author’s response was raised by reader, Lori @ The Reading FairyBisexuality erasure is a common phenomenon in pop culture, including literature. In response to the concern, Lee responded saying “I do not see it as erasure, rather increased inclusion.

Make sure you visit Lori’s blog post for further details, including more of Lee’s email response. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any other sources about this issue (including screenshots or links to the original AMA), so take this one how you will.

Autographing Other Author’s Books

Almost exactly a year following The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky‘s announcement, Lee was called out for another situation. While working at the bookstore, King’s English, Lee chose to autograph books that were not hers. Allegedly, this was in response to customer requests:

Twitter @tnwhiskeywoman: Mackenzi Lee has been autographing books she didn't write, supposedly per customer requests, as promo for @KingsEnglish. She crossed out author names, added drawings that ate up real estate, etc. Authors of color affected by this began to complain. The store has been flippant. @KingsEnglish: Did Tolstory say something? @tnwhiskeywoman: Instead of acknowledging the very much alive writers of color who've been disrespected by Lee's actions, the store confirms it's more concerned with a dead white guy's thoughts thatn anyone else's.

More concerning than the action itself, was the fact that the authors’ whose books she chose to autograph did not know or give consent for this action.

This included a number of writer’s of color which received negative backlash because of their upset or choice to call out Lee’s actions.

Twitter Rin Chupeco April 20, 2020: She responded and apologized. There are... things she is defending that are making me go huh, and apparaently she "doesn't even know who I am" despite asking me for agent advice in the past, which is pissing me off all over again... but she apologized. Let's leave it at that. QRT Rin Chupeco: ...are authors who autograph books written by other authors actually a thing? Because I just saw this happen to my book, and the optics of a white author autographing a POC author's book and then using that as promotion... doesn't look good to me? Rin Chupeco: if she'd reached out in the first place and agreed to put hers on a different page, one not for the actual author to write on, I would have helped her promote it. I told her this. That we had the same agent & she emailed me for advice... only to claim she doesn't remember, is...

I could find no official response from Mackenzi Lee regarding this situation. However, I highly recommend checking out articles by Steff Fox and Sophia Ismaa who explored the situation in detail.

The Madness Blooms – Misgendering & Deadnaming

The most recent, and possibly the most discussed, controversy surrounds Mackenzi Lee’s most recent standalone novel, The Madness Blooms.

This historical fiction novel’s main character is a trans male. However, in the original synopsis and early marketing, the book is described as if it is a sapphic or lesbian story, using she/her pronouns, as well as deadnaming and misgendering the character.

Love is a fever. Holland, 1637. Lena Schoon is an orphan, sold to the owner of a flower shop, along with her older brother, Bas. When Lena and Bas's master dies, Bas inherits the flower shop at the hype of Tulip Mania, a time when single tulip bulbs were being sold for prices equivalent to that of Amsterdam's finest houses. Along with the shop come debts that threaten to uproot the siblings, leaving them without a home or a trade. In desperation, Lena hatches a plan to dress as a man and attempt to sell a fake Semper Augustus bulb, the rarest and most valuable tulip of the time, to one merchant in town with the money to pay for it. But when Lena meets the merchant's daughter Elsje, she is smitten. And her plan to save her shop and her home is suddenly challenged, both by her heart putting down its roots, and also questions about her own identity that emerge the longer she lives as a man... Mackenzi Lee's The Madness Blooms is perfect for the teen and adult fans of Jessie Burton (The Miniaturist), Tracy Chevalier (Girl with a Pearl Earing), Sarah Waters (Tipping the Velvet), and Ruta Sepetys (Salt to the Sea).
Original synopsis posted on Mackenzi Lee’s instagram
themackenzilee Here it is! The exquisite cover of my next book, The Madness Blooms, comin February 4 from @flatiron_books! I've been working on this book since 2012, sold it in 2015, and it's finally coming out in 2020! Also, in spite of the fact that many people have been calling this the lesbian tulip book, the main character is actually a trans guy who figures out his identity over the course of the book. We decided to use she/her pronouns in the jacket copy, after much conversation, to reflect how he identifies at the start of the book. But. Yeah. Preorder link in the bio

In addition, Lee stated that part of her inspiration was to break down the problematic trope “girl dresses as a boy in historical fiction”. Let us be clear – cross-dressing and trans rep is not the same thing.

Understandably, many readers questioned whether Mackenzi Lee – as a cisgender white author – was a person who should be attempting to explore and share such themes.

Trans author, Meredith Russo, supported Lee’s new book saying it was “…a perfectly good piece of trans rep…” However, this is one opinion within any and Russo has her own problematic history.

Since the primary controversy, The Madness Blooms has been postponed indefinitely. The synopsis has also been updated on all platforms, assumedly in response to uproar (for example see Book Depository product page).

I am not going to comment on the book itself, it is not my place, especially with the concerns that surround it. Instead make sure you check out the responses from trans readers such as Anniek, Eli, Caidyn, and Arwyn, both for and against Lee and this book in particular.

I am not saying that you should write off Mackenzi Lee as a bad person.

I am not telling you to cancel her books. What I am encouraging is that you look at the facts, the screenshots, and the situations presented to you and make your own decisions about whether Mackenzi Lee is an author you want to support. 

Happy reading, bec&books