Thursday, January 24, 2013
The results were … disturbing.
Most of these books follow what I’m coming to recognize as the Twilight formula: a beautiful young girl with low self-esteem becomes obsessed with the new boy in school, a brooding but physically perfect douche who treats her like kaka. Of course he’s harboring a Deep, Dark Secret—that he’s a vampire (or werewolf, or demon, or fallen angel, or Jehovah’s Witness)—which only makes him that much more attractive to the love-blinded heroine. He, of course, is totally smitten with her too, and demonstrates his undying devotion by insulting her, lying to her, humiliating her, ignoring her, keeping vital information from her (for “her own good,” to “protect her”), stalking her, and in some cases threatening her life. At least until the bad guy attacks, in which case he comes to her rescue, thus magically erasing the previous 400+ pages of abusive behavior and proving to the heroine (and us) that he’s a good guy after all, and theirs is a destined love for the ages.
Have I mentioned these guys are blindingly beautiful, and usually very rich? Have I mentioned the girl is a virgin with no confidence and woefully short on brains? Or she may be smarter than we think, since she manages to latch onto a hawt dude with money who makes her immortal at the height of her own dewy physical loveliness, so she never has to deal with backaches and saggy boobs or jiggling underarms or weight gain. Or having to look for a job, for that matter.
Having waded through more than one of these plots, and discovered the existence of uncountable others on Goodreads, I have to wonder: was the Women’s Movement just a mass hallucination? The girls in these books seem to never have heard of empowerment, or self-respect, or common sense, or rational thought. Their lives revolve around the totally hot boy who tells them to stay away, breaks into their bedroom to watch them sleep, and occasionally tries to kill them. They don’t appear to have any interests other than HIM. Quick: somebody tell me what Bella wanted to with her life after graduation from high school. Do not use the word “Edward” in your answer. Can’t do it? Me either.
The same holds true for the “heroines” in the other books young readers are devouring in droves. In some cases the girls themselves possess magical, even godlike powers. And they still act like emotional basket cases and let Prince Charming walk all over them with his perfect feet. It’s like Buffy and Xena and Hermoine Granger never existed. This is what we want our impressionable young daughters spending their time on? Lessons in Doormattery 101?
And then it hit me. Suddenly I recognized the pattern. I know now what I’m dealing with. All these books … they’re gothic romances.
Mostly extinct since the ‘80s or so, the genre has apparently raised its hoary head and risen from the grave to infect the YA shelves. The foggy English moors have become the Oregon coast, the creepy mansion is a creepy boarding school (or a plain old high school, which can be creepy enough), and the brooding older man is a vampire or angel or some other paranormal creature, which makes him decades or even centuries older than the jailbait chick he’s dating. Why these guys keep going back to high school I have no idea. You’d think they’d use eternity to find a cure for AIDS or cancer or something.
The creepiest thing about these books is the message they send to the readers. Girls, it’s okay to act stupid and have no interests of your own, as long as you’ve got a really, really good-looking guy to build your life around. So what if he’s arrogant and demeaning? So what if he treats you like shit? He’s cute. He’s your eternal love. That trumps everything. Anyway, you’ll be living on blood soon, so who needs grocery money?
My book is nothing like that. Hope it doesn’t tank.
I suspect we’re going to be stuck with these neo-gothics until somebody writes the next breakout bestseller and starts another trend. I hope the girl in that one’s smarter and the guy’s not a douchecanoe. Or she can be the dark and brooding older heroine in love with the high school geek. Cougar Gothics! Throw in some steampunk and who knows, I might be on to something.