3.24.2010

followup post on "why ya romance needs to change"

So I've finally got my thoughts to settle and I think I'm up to writing this followup post to the rant disguised as a discussion why ya romance needs to change that I posted yesterday.

First, I wanted to say that I'm completely amazed if not a bit overwhelmed by the amount of response I got from the post. I really didn't expect such a large reaction. This reaction indicates to me that YA romance is a topic that is in sore need of an active discussion, and I'm very happy to provide a place to do so. I enjoyed reading all of the comments--both ones that agreed and disagreed with my stance. What can I say? I love a good, intelligent discussion and thanks to everyone who contributed to it.

I want to mention a few things that I think got misconstrued and also clarify my stance on a thing or two. I didn't quite choose the best wording the first time around and I think this created some confusion.

1) I am in no way for book burnings or *actually* tearing books apart--I guess some of you thought I meant tear pages out?

I really have to clear this up because I am completely anti-censorship and I think some of my views on parent censorship are very strong (which I'll save for another post). The "book burning" reference at the beginning was an exaggeration, but I'll admit it was a bad choice of words. I always joke about "holding a book bonfire" for books I hate (mostly textbooks). I have been known to throw books against a wall but I do not condone book burnings in any way. Believe me, I am 100% against book burnings, which is only reinforced by the horror stories I've heard from my mom, who experienced book burnings first hand (again, I'll save this for another post). And when I said, "tear a book apart" I meant in a review, I'd tear it apart. It's a common phrase I use to indicate that I am picking a book apart in a negative review.

Bad word choices on my part, and I apologize for any confusion it caused. Really, I rather have kids reading Twilight than have someone banning it or setting it on fire. And I'd HATE for any of you to think I'm a pro-book burning/pro-book tearing apart/ pro-censorship bigot. Hopefully I didn't give that impression to too many of you! :)

2) I like paranormal as a genre in YA--even in it's current form. However, I can't support the trend shown in most popular books in paranormal romance (i.e. books where the main focus is the very hot [insert paranormal creature] love interest who falls in love with a normal girl) at this point in time. I really think that paranormal romance has the potential to be a great genre. But all the books that I've read from PR lately have exasperated me, so I'll be staying away from the mega-bestseller hits (i.e. Twilight, Hush Hush, Fallen) for the time being. I do think it's important to have negative reviews that do speak out against the twisted relationships in books such as those, so we'll see.

3) I am in no way trying to dictate to authors what sort of books they should write, or what sort of books publishers should publish. Rather, I was trying to get readers (and maybe some writers/authors) to think about YA romance and then do something about it if they don't like the current state of it.

Let me say this, though: I am all for creative license, and writing whatever the heck you want. Furthermore, I'm not trying to dictate what sort of morals/ non-morals an author should include in a book. I think the paragraph I had that started off with "So it is..." didn't communicate very well my stance on morals in YA.

  • I don't think YA authors must only write about happy sunshine books & healthy relationships.
  • I have absolutely nothing against YA books with alcohol/swearing/drugs/sexuality/ abusive relationships etc, the so called "edgy" elements of YA. I don't even find those elements to be edgy because they're the truth of what young adults are exposed to/ involved in. Pretending those things don't exist and excluding them from YA literature is a disservice to teens.
  • The only thing I ask is that when including "bad romance" or "bad decisions" is that the outcomes of these decisions are truthful and realistic.
  • I don't find the lust= love message to be truthful or realistic.
  • I don't like weak female characters who depend on overbearing men and engage in obsessive relationships. I suppose it's a truth since this may happen in real life; however, I don't believe that it's okay to portray it as the "ideal" teenage relationship. I don't think it's okay to conclude these books with the sentiment that the teens who participate in these relationships will live happily-ever-after fantasy lives with their soul mates.
To summarize, one of the problems I have with bad romance in YA is that it pretends to be something it's not. I'm asking that people stop calling the twisted relationship dynamics "true love" or stalkerish behavior "hot" or Twilight & co books "the ultimate love story."

Because that is not right, it's not correct, and I will not compromise my stance on this. When authors portray lust as love, it's a fallacy. When they romanticize it as something that all woman should want, when they assume that it's a good romance, when they call it good escapism, it's a travesty.

If you're going to write a book about a girl who falls in love with a hot paranormal guy based off of his looks (and vice versa) I don't think you have the right to call it "love" or "romantic." Own up to it: it's a story about lust, pure and simple. It's a story about bad romance. Don't try to disguise it as something else. And if you enjoy writing it or reading it, that's your personal preference and I'm not going to tell you what to like or not like. You have to decide that on your own.

My overall point: we need to stop glorifying lust and calling it love. Abusive relationships aren't "true love". Some YA romance in it's current form shouldn't be called romance. And if you don't like the romance in YA, do something about it. Don't support bad romance.

What I meant by the moralistic issues that I wrote about in my original post is that I have a problem when sick relationships are portrayed as beautiful, healthy relationships. I have a problem when that's majority of what I'm getting from YA romance. You--as an adult, or as an older teen-- might be able to differentiate between good and bad romance, but many younger people can't. I know when I read Twilight in 8th grade, at the age of 12 or 13, at first I found nothing wrong with Edward and Bella's relationship. I didn't know it was wrong. I hear the same story all the time--older teens didn't mind Twilight as a preteen and have since come to their senses. Most haven't. I'm in high school and I can't tell you how many girls I know who wish an Edward would walk into their lives and bite them and stalk them. It's disturbing. A lot of them call their boyfriends "Edward" and like to pretend they're Bella. And it's not just the movie, either. A lot of the girls only like the Edward in the book and like Jacob in the movie (once again, these preferences are based off of guys' looks). The Twilight bandwagon that became popular afterward are only spreading the lust equals love untruth that is so pervasive throughout YA. They're feeding a trend that I find very destructive.

As I mentioned previously, it's only in the last year or so that I've been noticing the trend in YA books. I wasn't equipped to understand and differentiate between healthy/unhealthy romantic relationships at 12 or 13. At 12 or 13 I believed pretty much everything I read in books and didn't question anything. I was impressionable. I still am at 16, but hopefully now I have a more critical viewpoint when I read books. I really do need to reread books I only read last year, or a few years ago. It's likely I have completely different views on how female protagonists are portrayed and how the romantic relationships are portrayed.

Funny how a few years changes everything, isn't it?

I still wish unhealthy relationships and stalkerish bad boys weren't considered good escapism. I think it's more a problem conducive of society that so many women enjoy reading books that degrade the ideal of love and romanticize passive female protagonists and domineering male characters that push women around. As some of you mentioned, it's a reflection on society and the author's unconscious beliefs that they perhaps didn't mean to include in their stories. Still, it's there, and I've decided I won't support it.

Since you all say that you're able to easily differentiate between good and bad romance, weak and strong female protagonists, good and bad messages, lovely and disgusting love interests, why not use that differentiation?

Why not support good romance over bad romance by reading and purchasing books with good romance?

Why not express exactly what you find wrong with bad romance? If you're a reviewer and you find the relationship dynamics in a book to be disturbing, point it out. Don't let it slip by.

Why not talk about what you find right or wrong with YA romance?

Maybe, if we all did that, books that glorify bad romance wouldn't be quite so pervasive in YA literature. We do need to talk about YA romance and not ignore things that bother us about books. We can't just shut up and take it--after all, we're the readers and the consumers and the ones who decide what's selling in the marketplace. Approach your reading with a critical eye--it's really the not-thinking about what's going on in a book you're reading that allows you to enjoy something that you'd otherwise find problems with. Think about the books you're reading. Talk about the books you're reading.

I'm still hoping that YA romance will change.

Discussion time!

Note: I'm perfectly alright with writing a follow-follow up post if necessary. It seems that the subject of YA romance needs a lot more discussion. And I do recognize that my views on the subject are pretty strong--they're my own personal interpretations on the matter and you may completely agree with me, completely disagree with me, or fall somewhere in between those extremes. I'm just glad that I can express my views on the matter and hope you will as well.

24 comments:

Audrey; (AyC) said...

You go girl! Excellent follow-up post, you cleared the air and clarified your stance :)
I completely agree with you on the love=lust thing, but I dunno, I don't think I'd mind a book with a stalkerish boy if the girl could be a kick-ass heroine who is definitely NOT a doormat. It's just those weak heroines that bug me in the relationships.

thanks for another amazing post, I'm sure there's gonna be a ton of discussion

Patty said...

Awesome follow up. I never misunderstood what you were trying to say. And I want to thank you because I talked with my dad about this and I was glad that I could bring this sort of discussion up with adults. Luckily, he agreed with the issue, so thanks :)

Mrs. DeRaps said...

Sounds like the beginning of a dissertation. I mean this in the most complimentary sense possible. You are intelligent and well-spoken. There's an obvious interest in this topic, why not dig a little deeper? Thanks for sharing your thoughts--Can't wait to see what's next!

Frankie Diane Mallis said...

All of your posts on this subject are made of awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I love it! And Im so impressed you're only 16!!! Go you. You rock!

Kelly said...

Nice clarification! The thing is I don't think you can call it "lust" in YA (even if that is what it really is), so it gets disguised. I don't think it is pure lust or true love either. So what is the alternative? What are you supposed to call it?

Alex (Tales of a Teenage Book Lover) said...

I agree with everything you have said, BUT my opinion is that I understand if the romances are unhealthy and I still read them because I read for FUN. Again, I still agree with everything you have said and I love your blog!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I am in awe of you. You are outstanding at presenting information, taking a stand, and defending your viewpoints - not to mention an ace at dealing with negative feedback. I admire your courage. The ripple-effect your post created across the blogosphere yesterday shows this is certainly a topic worth discussing! And Patty's comment shows that the discussion is valuable. You go, girl! I wish you were a student in MY class. :-)

Donna said...

I read the post on Live Journal you linked to in yesterday's post and holy crap. What an amazing post that was!

It's kind of sad that this kind of message is seeping into YA lit purely on a subconscious level. I don't think any woman in her right mind would purposely write a bad romance. Ask Stephenie Meyer and she'll explain why Edward and Bella have the most awesome relationship ever. Of course, it would leave someone like us to question her perception of reality but that's besides the point. Everyone interprets things differently.

We say stalk, they say love. Kind of makes you go cross-eyed and I think it's a product of how people are raised but it's really hard to change the way people think. You can only hope they come into sense on their own.

These books are good escapism . . . if you can tell the difference between fantasy and reality. It's okay to live with your head in the clouds so long as your feet are planted firmly on the ground. You should read my reviews of the Twilight series. I certainly wasn't nice in them!

The only part I disagree with is not promoting them. I think if we write reviews that are honest and decipher how the relationship is a bad one but at the same time can read past it, it's not necessarily a bad thing. Again, being able to differentiate fantasy from reality. Just look at the entire romance genre. I'm sure like 80% of those can fit into the bad romance category but they're fun to escape into. For me, though, with YA paranormal romance, I wouldn't put my feet in the female MC's shoes. I'd slip on Buffy's and take a stroll.

But I do agree in that I wish that these types of stalkish relationships would be portrayed more realistically, along with all of the peripheral casualties that come with it. Albatross, again, highlights all of that. Such a good book!

Liam said...

Great post! I always laugh at these books, because in my current WIP, it's vice versa on the girl falling for the guy.

Bwahahaha. Steph Meyer, you're cool, but I do believe that this round, I win.


Anyway.

bookaholic said...

I agree! I agree! Especially with your claims/complaints about the paranormal genre. You go girl!

Liz Czukas said...

I think I caught all of that in the first post, but thanks for spelling it out. Yay for no censorship and Yay for positive girl role models in YA books!

- Liz

Amie McCracken said...

I have to say, writing romance is very difficult. Especially to have it come across as sincere. I completely agree with you about the stalkerish PR problems, but we should still read them. If you hadn't read these books you wouldn't have these opinions. And when you end up writing your own book you will know how you want the romance in it to be because you read so many different books.

MeganRebekah said...

I'm late to the discussion, but I find this post (and the original) absolutely fascinating.

I think one major problem these bestseller paranormals face is that in the author's mind they WERE creating a story about love and not lust. In their mind the characters have genuine feelings of love for each other. The problem is they fell for the biggest issue in writing: Telling not showing.

The authors of these books TELL us the pair are in love, but they don't SHOW us anything but lust. They don't take the time to allow the characters to have meaningful conversations about life and hobbies and beliefs. Instead we're just TOLD that they have so much in common and they're in love.

And sometimes, as a reader, I can get caught up in the author's telling and just accept that these crazy characters are in love. It's not until I sit back later (as the excitement of the read fades away) that I analyze the book and motivations and am left scratching my head.

Cleverly Inked said...

Hey Choco,

I am having a hard time getting ahold of you. So if you could please email me regarding the book tour. Thanks!

in which a girl reads said...

@Audrey: Thanks! And non-doormat heroines are great, haha. Especially if they show stalker-boy what' what.

@Patty: I'm really glad that you talked to your dad about it! After writing the post I went and talked to my mom about it and it really helped. Parents are awesome, aren't they? :)

@Mrs. DeRaps: Thank you very much, huge compliment :)

@Frankie: Thanks! I'm glad you like them :)

@Kelly: Hmm, that's true--and what I think is lust might seem more like love to many readers. Maybe a hybrid word--lovust? Haha.

@Alex: Very good point. If it doesn't bother you and you really enjoy reading those types of books, go for it! :)

@Shannon: Wow! Thank you very much, your comment made me smile :)

@Donna: It was a great post, I agree! Made me think quite a lot :)

And I really love your comment--very thoughtful and it's making me think. I agree with you that a lot of people interpret things differently. I definitely have a more unforgiving interpretation of most of PR romance than most. And since most of the authors in YA are woman, I'm hoping they aren't intending to send that message. It's just what I'm getting. *sigh*

I *still* wish though, that this type of romance wasn't the chief form of escapism in YA lit. Y'know? It's wishful thinking and there are obviously more people who enjoy reading this type of escapism than those who don't. Just look at how well these books are selling, haha.

And I would like to read reviews that decipher those relationships. If you can get past it and enjoy it, more power to you :)

@Liam: Lol. I hope your book is going well :)

@Bookaholic: Thanks!

@Liz: Great to know you got it the first time around :) Woot!

@Amie: Very true. I seemed to have forgotten the author's viewpoint in all of this--they probably didn't intend to write romance like this. And I'm kind of just tired of the bad YA romance, and a lot of people are just going, "Don't read it if you don't like it." Which I'm pretty tempted to do at this point.

@Megan: I find your comment very interesting!

Made me think a lot :)

You're quite right: the authors in the PR books are *telling* us characters are in love, and then reinforcing it by describing a LI's looks every few seconds.

So that just makes me think it's lust...while an author is intending to portray love.

I do find it hard to believe though, that PR authors aren't aware of the criticism of Twilight: weak female character, stalkerish love interest, and there is no basis for their love, to name just a few.

I would hope they are aware of this.

Maybe they did attempt to change this in their books, but I can't help feeling like they're using a formula--over and over again--without stopping to think about it. And this formula is pretty flawed.

I think that when I wrote these two posts, I just wanted to express that I didn't like YA romance as it is and wished it wasn't most of what I'm seeing. I may have overcomplicated it from there, haha :)

@Cleverly: I'm sorry about that! I've emailed you back :)

Giu Fernandes said...

Hi!
Love this post as well. I got the message the firt time (about the book burning thing) hahaha :)
I'm not going to say that I absolutely hate Twilight now, because it would be lying, but I do think that Edward/Bella relationship is a not healthy one, and should not be an example.
I have an suggestion: when you said that people should give more attention to 'good romance', why not do a post about these books? About good YA books, that you highly recommend? I think it would be great - but it's just an idea. :)
Well said :)

Jenn (Books At Midnight) said...

Girl, you know that's an awesome post. I'm not even going to try talking about this, because I think I'll have just as much to say... I'll just say that I pretty much support everything you said. Especially those bullet points, which are spot-on!!! :O

Ugh. *cringe* You're not serious about girls calling their boyfriends "Edward," right? I can see that perhaps as a middle to elementary schooler you might be sort of oblivious to the stalker-ish part of the relationship, but really. Who do they think they're dating? Edward, or a real person? That just makes me sad... :(

bookshop said...

Thanks for the original post and the follow up. I think your clarification points are excellent, especially since I feel like the #1 comment I see in defense of this type of literary trope is that it's "fantasy." Yes, and no. The one thing I would add to the comment I left in that post is that, like you, I am all for escapism in healthy doses. But when I read Becca Fitzpatrick gleefully explaining how "Some people say, 'Oh, it's because girls want to change the bad boy, fix them,' but then I always think 'I don't want them to change! I want them to stay the exact way they are' ", then I seriously have trouble seeing where the fantasy is in this scenario. What is there to love about a boy who's sociopathic, manipulative, controlling, violent, and, oh, yeah, murderous, *unless* the appeal is in watching him change? It's the fact that characters like this, like Edward with his stalker tendencies, and Sin (in Swoon) with his rapist tendencies, are being glibly presented as admirable just as they are, that's the basic problem here.

And yes, abusive/controlling/power-imbalanced relationships are today's reality, absolutely, and it's perfectly okay to portray them. But it's never okay to glamorize them. It's not okay because it trivializes and overwrites the suffering of the people who have gone through, will go through, and in some cases will suffer serious injury or death from those kinds of relationships.

(Also, I didn't thank you for linking to my original post about this! I am so so happy to see people openly and seriously discussing this issue. Thank you for adding your opinions to the mix. They are awesome. <3)

bookshop said...

This is still Aja (bookshop) - it's not letting me post logged-in, sorry!

Oh! one more thing, which is just that I think there's a dangerous thread of internalized misogyny inherent in the idea, which i've seen tossed about in a bunch of places, that the 'bad romance' scenario would be okay if only the girl (or weaker partner) were more of a badass/stronger/tougher/more capable or more inclined to call the boy/more powerful partner on their bullshit.

Part of the reason I find that original Fugitivus post so important and crucial to any discussion of rape culture is because it highlights exactly why girls wouldn't do this. It's not because they're weak. It's because girls are socially conditioned to behave in passive, noncommittal ways that encourage controlling behavior from the men around them. In a hundred or a thousand ways that most of us don't even realize. Before reading that post I wouldn't have had my eyes opened to all the tiny ways that the behavior of Nora in Hush, Hush falls into the pattern of the passive well-trained female.

The reason I didn't focus more on Patch's behavior in my original post is because I wanted to point out how *her* behavior, which really could slide under the radar, was just as implicitly part of the entire cycle that's visited upon women: they have their agency and personal power taken away from them, they're taught not to behave in ways that allow them to reclaim that power, and then they're encouraged to love the people who are violating them and harming them. And all of those elements are present in Hush, Hush, not just the male predator. To say that the female character should have behaved differently is to continue the whole social cycle of shaming girls into silence and non-resistance that Hush, Hush already does plenty of.

Carrie at In the Hammock Blog said...

Once again, awesome post!! I personally never thought you literally wanted to tear up any books or burn them!!! But it's good that you cleared up your censorship stance, I would never want to censor ANYTHING either. However on the other hand is age appropriateness and wanting young, impressionable girls and women to not idealize this type of relationship!!

I think Patty hit the nail on the head when she said that she talked to her father about the issue. That is AWESOME!! That is exactly what needs to be done!! That way girls can talk about these situations with someone more experienced.

One thing that kept coming up in the comments on your other post was that the 'bad romance' only counts if you are reading it from a perspective that sees it that way. I don't agree with this at all. I think that people who don't see it as something bad are setting themselves up to be hurt in the future. If they are constantly looking for their Edward, will they allow themselves to be stalked and controlled in a relationship later? Will they tell themselves that this behavior is ok and stay in an unhealthy relationship?? This is really scary.

@ Donna, I read a lot of romance and I definitely don't feel like 80% of these portray bad romance. I don't read adult paranormal romance, maybe that is what you are referring to, but in historical romance, I feel like 80% portray healthy (yes, very idealized, but still healthy :))romances.

Thanks for your post, Choco!

michellesinclair said...

Way to drive your point home! I'm new to your blog, but the previous post and this follow-up have convinced me I need to come back more often. :)

I agree with Carrie. Adult romance may be idealized but the grand majority of it makes a good case for why the hero & heroine are perfect for each other--all by showing. It's such a shame their counterparts over on the young adult shelves aren't spoiling young readers with the same kind of treat.

Miss Dashwood said...

I don't have anything more insightful to say that that I agree with you 100%, and that I wish I could have been saying things like "I think it's more a problem conducive of society that so many women enjoy reading books that degrade the ideal of love and romanticize passive female protagonists and domineering male characters that push women around" when I was in high school. Man.

I disagree with Aja re: criticism of female characters, though. There is a slight parallel to RL victim blaming, but we can't forget that we're discussing fictional creations of authors, and by criticizing their characterization we're really criticizing the author and his or her choices and opinions. I regularly decry misogyny in fandom, btw. I just don't think it's what's coming into play here - I see an equal amount of criticism for both stereotypes. To say that Bella or Patch should have acted differently is just to say that the author should have presented a stronger role model which would encourage teenage girls to stand up for themselves.

cyranothe2nd said...

*late post is late*

I just wanted to say that your point about impressionable children reading bad romance and thinking it's what love should be like is well taken. When I was 12-13 I read 'Phantom of the Opera' (this is back when the musical had first come out and all the girls were swooning for it)and it became my obsession . While the book is pretty explicit that the Phantom is a creepy stalker, Christine tells him he's a creepy stalker, and in the end he admits that he's a creepy stalker, the musical really doesn't do these things (or not well) and instead turns him into a romantic hero. At 12/13, I bought into this wholesale, so much so that I spent a lot of years looking for a creepy, obsessive, possessive type of love and was oh-so-disappointed in the world when I (thankfully) couldn't find it.
It took me YEARS to figure out how unhealthy that model was and how I was dissatisfied with good men who treated me well because they weren't like this ideal I'd created.
So yeah...it can happen. Books (and musicals/movies/TV shows) do show kids how relationships are supposed to work. And it can have real repercussions in their lives. That's why I let my 12 year old read the Twilight books (because all her peers were) and then talked to her about the unhealthy messages in the book, about what real love should look like and how, if a man treated her like Edward does Bella, she should run.

knowthyself said...

I just have to say I'm stunned you're so young. Your writing is incredibly mature and well-presented, your critical analysis of these books and their nuances and legitimate greater affect on society and teens is...well, downright awesome! And encouraging to see someone your age recognizing, dissecting and discussing them in such a way. Bravo!

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