Thursday, July 8, 2010

You Can't Kill the Undead: Or, Paranormal Romance Isn't Going Anywhere

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.

The end.

56 comments:

Jami said...

Wow, talk about being thrown back to those crazy obsessed years! But you are right, and I couldn't have said it better myself. Now back to doodling hearts on my notebook.

Jessie Oliveros said...

That was just beautiful. (And I thought an eighties Power Ballad would have gone very well.)

Alice said...

This is such an awesome post! I love it completely, totally agree with you. You just put my thoughts into words. Which I couldn't do. So yay for you! :P

Lily Cate said...

Oh crushes! *heart* * sparkle*

Too true.
I also think crushes are a nice innocent way to explore the idea of a serious relationship when we are not quite ready for one.
And YA romance is the same way.

Creepy Query Girl said...

G.R.E.A.T. metaphore (damn, I probably didn't even spell that right). Sometimes I feel like ONLY sixteen year olds can really love like your supposed to in the books and movies. That all consuming, obsessive cant-live-without-you- love. We like to think that love like that is involved with marriage and kids. and if you're lucky, it is. But most often when you get to the after college age- your pretty much jaded with the whole frickin thing.

Natalie Whipple said...

I really hope your college papers had such hilarious parenthetical statements. I would have given you an A+.

Bring on the power ballad.

salarsenッ said...

This is perfect. And what's wrong with a little fang or fur fetish?

elissa said...

hahaha awesome.

lotusgirl said...

I think you've completely captured it. Kudos!

Cara said...

This is awesome in post form. Seriously, every time you blog about a certain topic I end up thinking about it all day. Debating things in my head. (This is a lot less strange than it sounds. At least I think it is.) Good stuff. (:

Also, Clary & Jace's relationship really IS confusing, isn't it? It makes perfect sense once you've read the books, but it's not the easiest thing to summarize.

Claire Dawn said...

This post is amazing!!!

"And occasionally sparkles."

That's going to be my catch phrase for the week. Thanks :)

Kiersten White said...

Whew, glad this managed to be coherent...I always worry when I write them late the night before!

And re: Clary and Jace, I know, isn't it funny how if you just try to summarize a book it'll make no sense or sound ridiculous, but somehow spread it out over four-hundred pages and three novels and it makes perfect sense?

Renee Collins said...

Well said! Your English professors would be proud. :)

Also, yay to paranormal romance not going anywhere!! I, for one, am glad. (And banking on it, hehe.)

Andrea Cremer said...

You are my hero.

Mundie Moms said...

This post totally took me back to my teenage years. You said everything I'm not able to explain correctly when telling other people why YA Paranormal Romance is so popular and why not only YA's love reading them.

Jennifer Foushee said...

The ever-present, exotic, unknown and objectified Other -- Kiersten, you are dead-on. (And way to pull us back into our college lit classes with the adroit analysis.)

It's not a new trend, in that the "finding someone different, someone just for me (and dangerously so)" love stories have been around forever (heck, look at Adam and Eve), but these types of stories are definitely here to stay! Great post!

Lisa said...

Dang, can't wait for someone to write that Yeti love story.

Patty Blount said...

Yes, an 80's power ballad would have been great. preferably, Bon Jovi...

I think you summed this up beautifully. I admit, I LOVED Twilight but couldn't really define why until now. I'm long out of my teens, but there is something of that age still deep inside me... the hope that such a love, a "forever" love in the truest sense of the word, is possible.

Great post.

Kimber said...

This was a fantabulous post! I completely agree with you. Just last night I heard Scene Girl in her room sobbing like her heart was breaking. I rushed down the hall and peaked into her room to find her wrapped up in her tattered Brats blanket, sobbing and shaking. When I asked her what was wrong all she would say was “Austin.” I wanted to tell her to get over it. Let it go. He's just a stupid boy. But, to my fourteen-year-old little girl...that conversation with Austin was her whole world. She existed for that moment. She didn't want to “let it go” or “get over it.” She needed to wallow in that feeling of hurt and love that only a teen girl can experience...and now I feel my own tears pooling in my eyes for my little girl trapped in a woman's body and ...well, I'm off to listen to some Warrant.

Rachel said...

I really like your insight here, since I've actually been wondering about it myself. My daughter, who's 11, really likes retold fairy tales and YA fairy-type literature, just edging into fantasy, I guess, but she hasn't hit any crushes of her own.

When I started reading the post, I thought you were going to say it's because teenagers feel so awkward around each other that they can sympathize with characters they see as ab(para)normal. Your point kind of works with this notion, too, I think. I'm a little off-the-beaten-path, you're way beyond my understanding. :)

Tere Kirkland said...

You hit the nail on the head!

This is something I think about constantly when I write. While the paranormal bad-boy is a metaphor for the unattainable yet perfect guy who suddenly becomes attainable, I don't like the happily-ever-after to come too easily.

But the last thing I want is to sound preachy and inauthentic, so it's a fine line to walk between creating characters who could be role models for young girls and help them discover their own self-worth, and how it doesn't have to be wrapped up in what a boy feels about them. Which is hard when you're concentrating on the romance part.

But I wouldn't write in any other genre. And I was never worried about it going anywhere. ;)

Great post!

The History Chef! said...

That was just beautiful!

Natalie (Mindful Musings) said...

You are made of awesomeness! Lol. Loved this post! I think you nailed it!

Katrina L. Lantz said...

You are brilliant, Kiersten! I love it. Thanks again for stringing words together in a way I can only dream of doing, all to validate the magical worlds we love, like Evie's (umm, how long do we have to wait now?).

Lisa Gail Green said...

OMG that was brilliant! I laughed out loud. Especially at the Immortal Instruments analogy. I love it! Thank you.

Caitlin said...

Couldn't be more right sometimes blog posts are so more than blog posts! Loved it.

Marsha Sigman said...

You are the master of the literary analysis.

Really.

I also loved Clary and Jace, seriously freaked when I thought they were brother and sister, then cried when it all came together. This made perfect sense to me.lol

Mireyah Wolfe said...

1. I (heart) you, Kiersten.

2. I have not yet read CITY OF BONES so I'm glaring at you from Louisiana because you gave away part of the plot and I was confused because WHAT were you talking about so I googled Clary & Jace and NOW I KNOW and I am soooo needing to read this book now and I probably WON'T for like a LONG time!!! *cries*

But I still (heart) you.

Melissa said...

This. This is exactly why I love your blog and, well, you. (Not to be creepy or anything!)

Amazing post. Your analysis skills are totally paranormal.

And I had an eighties power ballad in my head, the whole time.

Dawn Embers said...

Interesting. Most of my studies surrounding the other (which were many cause I used the concept often in debate kriticism) most of the data was on the current fear/desire to eradicate the other. The goal was to increase the embracing of the other and I never thought how fiction could do such. Very interesting... *goes off to ponder paranormal, the other, and boy meets boy* hehe

Kimberly Franklin said...

I love this post and I agree with you on all of this 110%!

Myrna Foster said...

LOVED the title. LOVED the post. I even have an eighties ballad running through my head. :o)

KM said...

This is hysterical and SO TRUE! I also think the genre is popular because of the bad boy thing which pops up from him being a vamp/werewolf/fallen angel/whatever. That's been popular for decades. We've just taken it to the next level.

Great post! I now want to listen to "Every Rose Has Its Thorn." The new Miley Cyrus version, of course. (Bahaha!)

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

The great Patti Gauch said, "There are no new stories, only stories told in new ways." This is so true. When I read the Twilight Saga I realized a lot of it was like my teenage years...with a twist. Nice post!

Dara said...

Yeah, I definitely have an entire journal...and a half...obsessing over a guy. What did it mean when he looked at me like that? Or tried to sit next to me in church? Etc., etc. I did find out he liked me but much later on when I was already engaged to someone else. :P Funny how life works!

Indigo said...

Hilarious! Teenage angst becomes the next creature feature. Love the way your mind works! (Hugs)Indigo

A Paperback Writer said...

Oh bravo!
Except you forgot to mention that all this agony usually takes place in less than one week -- sometimes all before the end of 5th period on Tuesday.

(Yes, I teach junior high; I SEE this every day -- only without the vampires/werewolves/fallen angels/mermen/automatons.)

Tara Maya said...

You nailed it.

Serenissima said...

Wow, what a brilliant post!

Kathleen MacIver said...

Man you got us pegged! Us girls, at least. Hubby said, when I read that first huge paragraph... "You can tell a chick wrote that. That's NOT what guys are thinking. If we weren't thinking I wonder what she... (okay, you know what)...then we were dreaming about saving the day and being the hero."

So I scrolled down to see how many commenters were women and did any guys comment?

Nope.

But you sure articulated what it's like to be a teenage girl!

Kiersten White said...

Kathleen--Exactly. And guess who makes up the vast, vast majority of YA Paranormal readership? Girls! Tee hee.

Kari said...

This post is pure genius.

Power to the paranormal!

Kristine Cruz said...

This post alone is worth 10,000,000 points.

Mentioning Pokemon and Baby Einstein in the same sentence means a kerjillion more.

Thanks for convincing me that I shouldn't throw away my WIP just because it's a Paranormal and some people think it's... *whispers*stale. GASP AND HORRORS.

p.s. I can't believe I'm not following you on Twitter yet! *runs off to fix it*

Lomagirl said...

and adult vampire books are all about sex- right? (Anne Rice is what i'm thinking of).
My former English professor studies and goes to conferences on Buffy, The Vampire Slayer. Apparently it's very rich in meaning.
She blogs at http://elrambo.wordpress.com/
and her last post is about one such conference.

Bella Street said...

Whoa. And then some.

Brodi Ashton said...

That was brilliant.

Rachel said...

Wonderfully written and entertaining post -- it did what a blog is supposed to do, which is take someone who had never heard of you or your upcoming book before, and have her add it to her amazon wishlist!

Just based on your witty, totallly relatable writing style in this post. Good job :-)

Oh and good to know that since I am just starting out, attempting to reconnect with my creative side and writing my own novel, that the past 5 1/2 years of Baby Einstein, Nick Jr. and Playhouse Disney have not squashed all knowledge out of my brain!

Madeleine said...

This post is freakishly brilliant! I had to tweet about it! And then I need to email a link around...

Anonymous said...

Oh. My. God. That was hilarious, I absolutely loved the Mortal Instruments reference.
Great post too, I think that your point is very right.

Adventures in Children's Publishing said...

I agree with everyone else. This was a brilliant analysis, and beautifully written. YA paranormal hits that element of forbidden romance that elevates it beyond ordinary into something to die for. It what we all hope love will be. (Er. Used to believe love would be, before the dirty diapers, husbandly farts, and toddlers smiling toothlessly as they offer to share their soggy Cheerios.)


Martina

C.L. Moyer said...

This post completely and totally KICKS ASS and I am sharing it and spreading as far as my little cyber tentacles can reach!!

Anonymous said...

I'd be more willing to agree with you if the vast majority of paranormal romances nowadays didn't read like Twilight, with creature X in place of vampire, boyname in place of Edward, girl name in place of Bella, and the exact same theme. Now they're spreading the same formula to Dystopian, etc.

Paranormal romance? Will survive. These books? Will all be forgotten in a year or two.

pensees said...

Excellent post. You are so right!

Jasmine said...

Wow, this was so helpful! I had a major glitch in my story and this blog really helped snap things into focus.

Sherry Soule said...

Wow. Thank you for sharing such a fantastic and well-written post. It cracked me up, but it so true. And paranormal romance in YA will around for a long time. ;-)
~Sherry

Sherry Soule Author Website

Marianne Willis said...

This made me laugh, but yes, so true :)