Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Questions about Paranormal YA

I've read a few paranormal YA romance novels recently. Memorably, the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer, Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, Impossible by Nancy Werlin, The Dark Divine by Bree Despain, Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick, and Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1)These books leave me with some questions as to what we're teaching the teenagers who read the genre about relationships. I'm not going to pick on any particular book, or rehash the Great Feminism/Anti-Feminism Twilight Debate.  I think authors have to be true to their story, even if aspects of it are objectionable to some (and let's face it, paranormal romance by its nature is going to have objectionable elements for a decently sized group, both those who object to the paranormal and those who object to the romance). I really enjoyed all these books, and I don't want to take anything away from them.
Hush, Hush
But as a genre, there are a few elements I see over and over again that bother me. These are:

1. The Fated Love. The majority of the books I listed above have Love At First Site to the Nth Power. This isn't a teenager's instant crush; it's a meaningful soul mate relationship established from first glance. To me this implies that there's no need to worry about getting to know a guy and choosing a mate carefully, because after all, you just knows when it's meant to be. Which brings us to point 2...

2. Even if he says he's dangerous or no good for you, even if others tell you that your relationship is inappropriate, whatever you have to give up... you know you're meant to be, so just hang in there to your happy ending.  After all...

3. No one can understand your love! (Many teenagers in love think this on their own, of course, but it is not a concept deserving of constant reinforcement).

ShiverI don't think any of these elements are inherently dangerous -- I think teenagers are capable of reading a book where the main character dreams their lover and then meets them, or is pregnant and married by 20 as a happy ending, for instance, and realizing that this is not a universally accurate depiction of life. It's the combined effect that worries me, when many of these stories have such repetitive concepts.

When I was a teenager, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson's Creek taught my friends and I about relationships to some extent. We argued about the concept of soul mates, whether or not it was okay for Buffy to forgive Spike for almost raping her, and when to give up on a relationship. These shows did help form our view of what we should expect, since they seemed a little more relevant to us than our middle-aged parents' marriges. (And I will admit that even in my 20's, I have described MJ to my friends with the words, "He's my Pacey," but that is another story).

So what expectations are we forming for today's teenagers? In Beautiful Creatures, Ethan and Lena know each other in their dreams; in Shiver they fall into love instantaneously, Sam saving Grace's life and Grace knowing Sam by his beautiful, distinctive eyes; in Hush, Hush, Patch pursues Nora no matter how hostile she is at the beginning. Well and good, for their stories, but no resemblance to real life here. Getting to know someone takes work, relationships themselves often take work (although it should be a joyful sort of work, in a healthy relationship), and people are vulnerable when they put themselves forward.

I just worry that, if these story components are repeated often enough, teenage girls will expect teenage boys to pursue them in the face of snarky rejection, find themselves more reluctant to cast a bad fish back into the sea, or be disappointed by the lack of magic in their romantic entanglements or the work it takes for a serious relationship.  I'm not trying to be the humorless adult here -- I like these stories. Romance was disappointing enough for me in my teens, though, with only middling-crazy desires, like a bad-boy soul mate who would always be there for me a la Pacey or Angel.

For teenagers who are a fan of the paranormal romance genre, are they reading a little too much about fated, perfect loves? What do you think?


Chasing the Moon said...

Fantastic post! The picture of Angel had me racing over to your blog to see what your post was about. I miss the Buffy and Dawson's Creek days!

This is so true and very insightful. I'm definitely going to keep this in mind when I get to writing my YA paranormal series.

What I like is when a MC is independant, strong, and smart and doesn't lose all of that when she meets her dream guy.

Kelly Lyman said...

Great post and great question. I'm struggling with this myself in my own WIP. Although it is not paranormal, I do have a "love at first sight" type of thing going- I need it for the plot of the story, but do wonder about the idea it sends to teens. Thanks for bringing up the others points too. It is something to keep in mind while I revise.

laurel said...

Thank you for blogging about this! I am really bothered by the trend that glorifies unhealthy relationships (as you say, going weak-kneed for the abusive stalker). Can't we do better for today's kids who largely grow up in broken homes and almost never have healthy, worked-for, enduring love modeled for them? There could be something magical in discovering the old pal you never paid attention to is sympatico, shares your dreams and is willing to patiently know you slowly. If good guy happens to also be a fae or a shape-shifter or werecat, you'd have a good story just the same.

Tere Kirkland said...

This is something that I'm very careful about in my own writing. I want my heroines to be strong, if flawed, and able to make their own decisions.

Frankly, I'd rather see WHY the couple likes one another, something I try to show in a realistic, gradual way between my characters, than to be TOLD the couple are meant for one another. Blech.

Summer said...

Agreed, and it's not just in young adult, either. How many PNR border on abusive relationships? Anyway, I know that in my writing, I like to make both partners strong, intelligent, and as true to life as I can manage.

As for the youth, all I can say is that if they were foolish enough to believe in what they read, then they'll figure it out pretty damn fast.

roxy said...

Thanks so much for writing this. I agree with you on all points.

Anna M. said...

I really liked Hush, Hush. So much better than Twilight. Also, our students did not like Shiver at all...And great points too!

Julie Dao said...

GREAT post. I agree with all of your points; they were the ones that also raised red flags in my brain when I read some of those YA paranormal romances. The whole soulmate-at-first-sight thing is worrying to me. I'm afraid many teenagers will face a lot of disappointment if they expect real-life romance to work like that.

Check my blog tomorrow, I'll have something for you there! :)

Sarah said...

Thank you SO MUCH for blogging on this. I'm actually doing a vlog on the same sort of topic sometime later this week, so be sure to check it out! I also have the same concern when it comes to YA paranormal romance. This post was very informative (and there needs to be more concerned people out there)


Alexandra Shostak said...

I love this blog entry! What fantastic points you make about those romances. Thanks for writing it :)

Shelley Sly said...

I echo the others -- this is a terrific post! I am not a "love at first sight" writer. I like when books have the guy and girl have conflict in the relationship, and not just in the "I like you"/"But I'm dangerous"/"But I still like you" way. How many teens have instant, deep, mutual feelings right away, anyway?

I agree that teens are likely to be disappointed with real life relationships after reading so many different YA paranormals that depict this kind of romance.

Donna Hole said...

"We argued about the concept of soul mates, whether or not it was okay for Buffy to forgive Spike for almost raping her, and when to give up on a relationship."

See, that tells me you not only got entertainment value out of the series, but it stimulated conversation and an analysis of what is right or wrong in a relationship.

I see these YA paranormal-romances in the same light as I see category romance. It's all entertainment, meant to take you out of the here and now. There may be some degree of moral implication and philosophy, but its not the ultimate goal. Get people talking about certain societal issues in an alternate fashion; yeah, I can see that. But solving the larger issues through unrealistic settings; nah.

I think it's great you are concerned of what you are teaching young people about relationships. A good writer can get the point across that the world is not normal, nor the relationships; but it is acceptable in the fantasy you've built.

Same as any other genre. Unless you're writing non-fiction.

Well, I don't really read YA; so I don't know how valuable my opinion may be for this question. Good luck in resolving your delimma.


Guinevere said...

Great dialogue here, guys! I'm sorry I've been so out of the picture, work is literally sucking my soul right now. lol. I'm so busy, I haven't gotten the writing or blogging done that I would like to.

Kittie Howard said...

Happy endings are nice. But for a teen-ager to expect to find a soul-mate and a happy ending pushes the envelope. German and Japanese fairy tales do NOT always have happy endings, nor, I have learned, do fairy tales in most of the world. Kids know there is more to life than happy endings. Years ago, generational story-telling cautioned kids in the U.S. So, today, are we in the U.S. creating culture or writing about culture? I think about this a bit, actually. Great post, discussion idea!