But finally I've had enough. If I read another YA book with a twisted relationship dynamic, I may well scream a bit, tear out my hair, and then invite everyone to a book burning. And that statement is a testament to how frustrated, annoyed, and exasperated I am by 80% of the romance I encounter in YA today.
Let's face it: YA isn't YA without romance. It's really, really hard for me to think of a single YA book that doesn't deal with romance. Which is okay, I guess, since teenagers are all hyped up on hormones or whatever. FYI: there are some teenagers who don't date or have crazy all-consuming crushes. I guess it's a minority though, and really, I have nothing against romance if it's done well. The problem is, most romance in YA is so botched and distorted it's not even recognizable as romance any more. It's very thin, it's very flimsy, and in case anyone doesn't know yet: LUST DOES NOT EQUAL LOVE.
Just thought I'd get that down.
So where'd this all start?
I really have no idea. I don't know if lust=love is a fallacy that's been perpetuated throughout the whole history (which is admittedly pretty short) of YA literature. But let's just start with Twilight. It's as good a starting point as ever because it facilitated the boom in YA we're experiencing right now, and everybody's heard about the basic gist of the story: passive female main character lets a domineering male character stalk her in the name of true love.
I really don't get to rant about Twilight enough, so excuse me while I do for a bit:
Not only is Edward abusive, the basis of their love is that Bella thinks he’s the most attractive marble pedophile on earth and he wants to eat her like a chocolate chip cookie. I really do think the appeal of Twilight is that millions of girls worldwide can buy into this situation, insert themselves into Bella’s story so they can imagine a "perfect" love interest that lusts after them and fulfills all their fantasies.
There's a reason why Edward is the most popular character, the source of much shrill squealing and fangirling. Because when you read Twilight, Edward is your boyfriend, he's stalking you, and he's sparkling right at YOU, not Mary-sue Bella.
Which is disturbing, I'd say. Does this mean that girls find stalkerish, disgusting men (under the mask of good looks) attractive?
Here would be the best time to check out the article I linked to in my previous post: Bad Romance (or, YA & Rape Culture) which really is a powerful essay that will make you think. I can't applaud the author enough--she basically laid out the chief points why some YA romance in it's current form is despicable. To quote "The complication is that so often, in Twilight, Swoon, Hush, Hush, Vampire Academy, and countless romances dating back to Pride & Prejuidice and Pamela, we're asked to accept that the outward facade of "I dislike you immensely" masks a subtle underlying attraction."
The author points out that we live in a society that grooms rape culture.
And YA, quite arguably, is at the forefront of this grooming. Do you not see all the girls walking around with Twilight clutched to their bosoms?
But it's not just the rape culture. It's the message in a lot of YA books (demonstrated through relationships) that's so, so wrong.
Usually, I hate to single out books and authors, but I think it has to be done. So here it goes; I'll boil down the basic message of a few YA books that are popular.
- Willow by Julie Hoban: When everything in your life sucks, find a guy you can cling to and then sleep with him. Then everything will be ALL better.
- Evermore by Alyson Noel: If a guy is horrible to you, fall in love with him. If your relationship is going badly, go become an alcoholic and get suspended from school.
- Twilight by Stephenie Meyer: Let a guy push you around all the time, watch you when you sleep, and stalk you. It's all good romance. Also, fall into depression and then jump off a cliff if he breaks up with you.
- Fallen by Lauren Kate: So what if a guy is a complete, utter jerk that treats you like dirt? If he's hot, he's your true love.
- Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick: Sexual harassment is love. Also, the guy who's trying his very hardest to kill you? SOUL MATE!
Paranormal romance is taking over the world. And I may be offending some of you PR readers/writers but I can't think of a single--not a single-- paranormal romance I've read in the last year or so that doesn't exemplify bad romance. I can't think of one that was actually--good.
I'm done with PR now. Really. This may be a generalization, but from what I observe, authors are really just churning out one book after the other that follows the plotline of: ordinary- (possibly Mary-Sue)-girl-falls-in-love-with-[insert paranormal creature] boy-who-is -smoking-hot-and-their-love-has-no-basis *CUE CREEPY BEHAVIOR*
Um, who decided this was okay?
This is turning into a never-ending cycle, in which authors write books with twisted relationship dynamics---> the novel rockets to the bestseller list as readers go crazy over it ---> publishers are open to even more books with similar plotlines ---> authors hence write more of these books ---> readers buy MORE of these books.
Oh dear. And it does look like there's more and more books like this every year.
Because I'm just NOW noticing--within the last year or so--that love, as a whole, in young adult literature is based off of the looks of the love interest: teen girls are buying books in volume where the most noticeable characteristics of the love interest is their shocking good looks, smoldering eyes, and tendency to chase after girls either in a manner reminiscent of a psychopathic serial killer or a hopeless puppy, depending.
In Paranormal Romance there's a lot of stalkerish bad boys. In contemporary, as my friend Emilia pointed out to me once, there's the whole "Sarah Dessen syndrome" in which a girl has problems and the only one who can help her is a boy, who is ALWAYS right--about everything.
And from all the books I'm reading, I'm getting this from YA romance:
1) Girls should judge guys off of their looks
2) Lust equals love
3) It doesn't matter if a guy is rude to you, it just means he likes you
4) At the tender age of 16, 17, 18, your boyfriend is your undying, forever, and ever SOUL MATE.
6) If you're a girl with problems, make sure to find a guy who will solve them for you
7) Guys in a relationship should push you around
8)etc. etc. [insert bad messages about relationships here, I'm sure some book in YA will glorify them at some point]
We all know that young adult finds it’s main demographic with girls, and as I believe strongly in the power of books influencing the reader, I have to wonder what girls are getting out of these books. Nothing good, it looks like.
And you have to remember, preteens, young kids are reading these books.
But wait, you say! It's just a book! It's just fiction!
So it is. But I swear that every single book I've read has affected me in some way. And why, oh why, must the message in YA books be so disgraceful when it doesn't have to be? Who in the world thinks bad romance is a good thing? I really don't see the reasoning behind saying that these books are "just for fun" or "guilty pleasures." There's absolutely no excuse to be reading these sorts of books, to be buying them, to be praising them. There's absolutely no reason why we should have a whole freaking genre of fiction (YA) dedicated to romanticizing weak female heroines, stalkerish love interests, and sick relationships.
When I was growing up, I remember I was watching kick-butt shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Xena. I remember reading books like Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce and Sabriel by Garth Nix. These mediums all had strong female characters that I could look up to, that I could learn from.
What are kids a few years younger than me being exposed to? Twilight & co of crappy romances.
Sure, there's books like The Hunger Games, ( as Tere pointed out in comments) where the main character Katniss is kicking butt and her relationship with her love interest(s) is a healthy one. Of course there's a lot of YA books that are doing romance right. That are empowering strong female characters.
But right now, the overbearing trend throughout YA romance is a disturbing one. And it's not one I can support, either. I'm not standing for it, which is why-- if I come across bad romance in any of the books I pick up from now on--I'm going to make sure to dedicate a large part of my review to it. I won't ever be going: "I found the love interest to be stalkerish/I found the relationship between the two to be disturbing/etc." and still recommend a book ("But overall it was a good book"). Nope. None of that.
I don't care how hot the love interest is, how much tension there is between the main character and the love interest, how gripping a read it is. I'm putting my foot down: if there's even a whiff of bad romance in a book, I will make sure to tear it apart. And I'm urging everyone one of you book reviewers and readers to do the same.
But discussion time: What do you think about YA romance?
Edited to add:
1)You should definitely check out lovely Para's post: hush, hush, the designated love interest and gender relations in YA
2) Emilia adds that the original "Sarah Dessen Syndrome" terming can be found here: Clowns are never wrong, or Time to Let Go