There are a lot of reasons I don’t like the romances in many YAs, especially those that fall under the paranormal genre. I’ve never been shy about my dislike of them, even to the point where it’s gotten me a bit more attention than I’m usually comfortable with. A lot of these romances follow a stock pattern and generally fit into the same mould – outcast girl, beautiful boy, instant attraction and love, little development, etc – but they also contain one feature that I can’t help but be annoyed by.
There’s a complete lack of respect and equality in these pairings from the offset, which in any other situation would doom the relationship from the beginning, but in the paranormal YA environment, they’re true love embodied. How often have you read a paranormal romance YA where the guy acts like a complete jerk to the woman and yet she’s still attracted to him? How often have you seen the ‘bad boy’ card played to justify a man treating a woman like dirt? Often, this less than respectful attitude is the man’s only defining characteristic, other than being incredibly handsome (because if he was described as anything less than male model material, his actions would be creepy and not those of the perfect man.) With no personality or defining features beyond good looks and ‘bad boy’ attitude, there’s no way a strong and defined relationship can be formed between the heroine and her love interest, especially if the heroine is as badly written as the male, only with a more passive attitude. We at the Book Lantern have been open in our distaste and disappointment for the archetypal gender roles the young men and women in these books adhere to. From Bella Swan onwards, passivity and a general damsel-in-distress demeanour are not only acceptable, even in the face of complete disrespect from their supposed one true love, but it’s now the romantic ideal.
We’ve seen these jerks saturate YA, with their actions that would be seen as reprehensible in any other situation be forgiven because they’re ‘sexy’ and ‘mysterious’ and a ‘bad boy’, and those two words right there seem to be the get-out-of-characterisation-free card that gives authors a free pass to avoid explaining these actions. The bad boy trope is a tale as old as time itself, it’s evolved over the years but the general message stays the same. There’s the misunderstood troublemaker with the heart of gold and the girl who can change him. Yet in books like “Hush Hush” and “Fallen”, these bad boy actions are desirable and the guys the smouldering heroes, even when they do completely deplorable things like threaten to kill the heroine! Do you remember the scene in “Hush Hush” or its sequel “Crescendo” where Patch apologised for his disgusting actions, and he and Nora attempted to build a relationship based on trust and mutual respect? Neither do I.
I’ve talked a lot about how much I hate the portrayal of women in these sorts of relationships but think about how much this sucks for the men too. The ‘perfect’ man is unnaturally handsome, usually extremely wealthy with no real responsibilities, and has the chivalrous attitude of a cave man, without the club. Of course, no man’s going to read “Hush Hush” and immediately start sexually harassing a woman in school, but it is adhering to the age old gender norms that we still live our lives by, even though they’re extremely archaic and ultimately damaging. Men are the heroes who save the day and women are the pretty objects and home-makers in training. We force this standard upon kids from freakishly early ages (see this enlightening video on gender marketing in toy ads for more details), then we continue to use it throughout the rest of our lives, even our teenage literature. This isn’t a blanket statement, there are many great books out there with varied, stereotype busting relationships, but the big, bestseller list filling series do tend to stick to these gender expectations pretty rigidly. If you keep telling boys they have to be strong warriors and girls they should play with dolls and princess tiaras, change will never come our way.
I have no problem with romances in YA, I genuinely don’t, but when that romance revolves around a 2 dimensional jerk treating a 2 dimensional meek damsel like dirt and her letting him get away with it, that’s just not on. It’s not just that these default relationships of paranormal romance YA are so ethically questionable, they also reek of bad writing. It’s so easy to go from first glance to true love without building a proper foundation of common interests, getting to know one another, and trust, but how believable is a relationship when it’s built solely on lust, and realistically, how long would that relationship last in the real world? Romeo and Juliet never would have lasted, and neither would Bella and Edward. Of course, Bella and Edward did split up for one book, but that doesn’t count because that’s now the default mode for creating tension in a series (for examples, see Becca Fitzpatrick and Cassandra Clare.) Angst should not be the defining factor of any relationship, especially a teenage one. Teens have enough crap to worry about and so do I!