I've been thinking a lot about why the paranormal genre has gotten so big, and just what, exactly, teenagers and people in general find so appealing about these books. So today, I'm going to talk to you about...
LOVE. TRUE LOVE.
My opinion on why paranormal romance in YA is so popular and isn't going anywhere is this: it's the ultimate metaphor for teenage romance.
(Yup, metaphor. Finally, my BA in English is paying off! I'm going to perform literary analysis on an entire genre.)
Remember when you were a teenager and that guy/girl was both the object of your affection (okay, obsession, because admit it, you totally doodled his/her name all over your notebooks, and you had elaborate daydreams involving nothing more than an imagined conversation and how it would go and what you would say and how that would then make him/her realize that he/she was desperately in love with you and then...but you could never really get past that part because you weren't sure what would happen or what you wanted to happen, so best just to go back to the conversation and make it even better, and make yourself sound even cleverer and flirtier and then, dude, STOP OBSESSING I NEED TO GET ON WITH THIS BLOG POST) and a source of constant, agonizing frustration?
Because you liked that boy/girl to distraction. But you did. not. understand them. What made them tick? Why did they always wear that particular sweatshirt on Tuesdays? What did the initials written in sharpie on their backpack mean? What on earth were they thinking and how could you ever, ever get to the point where you knew whether or not they liked you, too? And even if you did miraculously get to that point, how would you know that you didn't like them more than they liked you? How would you know whether or not your relationship would last until the next dance or until FOREVER?
Why couldn't it just be easy?
This agony, this feeling that truly connecting with your crush was impossible, stemmed from the idolization of the Other. That person was so foreign, such a mystery, it made you want them even more and terrified you that it was impossible to ever get them. The biggest obstacle of all was the sheer OTHERness of the object of your affection. It was almost like they were a different species...
(Did you see that transition? Genius. Clearly my skills of critical analysis have not faded over the years of watching Baby Einstein and Pokemon.)
And what is more Other than a vampire? Or a werewolf? Or a faerie-fallen angel-yeti-kraken-shapeshifter-cyclops?
What the paranormal genre does is take that sense of the Other and magnify it. We take all of the fear and all of the passion and all of the obstacles and blow them to life and death proportions.
Because admit it. When you had that crush, sometimes it felt like life and death, didn't it? When you take those delicious emotions and you turn it into literal life and death--not just if you aren't together you won't go to the dance but if you are together your parents might not approve, but rather, if you are together, one of you will die, or if you aren't together, one of you will die, or if you are kind of together, one of you will kill the other one (healthy relationships, all of these, by the way), or if you are together, THE WHOLE WORLD WILL DIE but you don't care because you love each other SO MUCH that nothing will stop you because love will find a way!--you've just taken what normal teenagers feel anyway and given it a kick-butt plot. And occasionally sparkles.
YA paranormal romance takes that tendency toward idolization of the Other and legitimizes it, romanticizes it, and affirms to teenagers (and adults) that yes, love is hard or even impossible, but it's also worth it.
(Man, is anyone else really feeling the need for an eighties Power Ballad right now? No? Okay.)
Sure, your 3rd period crush might not give you the time of day yet, but if plain and boring Bella can snag sparkly and eternal Edward, you are RIGHT. Your friends might not get along with your boyfriend, but if Sam and Grace can figure out how to keep him from turning into a wolf when the temperature gets too cold, you are RIGHT. Your parents might give you a ridiculously early curfew making it impossible to date your boyfriend, but if Clary can love Jace and then find out he's actually her brother and then love Simon but not be able to get over her feelings for Jace but then find out that Jace isn't actually her brother so it's okay if she loves him again even though their father (well, her father, not his, or is he?) is trying to use their magic to control the world and turns out Simon's a vampire anyway which makes Isabel want him again even though she originally didn't think he was good enough, then...you are probably really confused. But RIGHT.
Because in the YA paranormal world, love conquers all. It conquers species. It conquers curses. It conquers death, and undeath, and re-death, and any other kind of death you can think of. It bridges the gap between heaven and hell, and it conquers the greatest divide of all: the one between you and that other person.
Because that person you love? Will always be Other. They might not be a fallen angel or a vampire or a leprechaun, but they might as well be. And that's why I think so many people can't get enough of this stuff. Odd as it may sound for a genre populated with fantastic creatures and wild plotlines, people relate--people want what's been captured.
Boy meets girl.
Boy and girl can't possibly understand each other or ever be together.
Boy and girl somehow manage to do just that.
Add fur, add fangs, add feathers, and it all amounts to the same thing: a really great story. A true story.