A Disturbing Trend in YA Fiction

Starting now, I’m going to write my drafts on OneNote.  Why?  I don’t know whether it is just me, but sometimes, drafts don’t save properly; I click save and it doesn’t become ‘saved’ in faded grey text, and at times the time and date of the post doesn’t update to the latest (i.e. if I wrote a draft on the 8th of May and then edited and published it on the 21st of May, the post shows that it was published the 8th).  Maybe I’m not as tech savvy as I think I am, but for now, I thought I’d just play it safe and write my drafts elsewhere.  The benefits of this are that there are proper grammar and spell check tools on OneNote, so I’m happy doing things this way.  But, if you know how to fix this WordPress draft problem, your input will be appreciated!  Anyway, let’s move on to the real topic here.  Bear in mind, this is a rant, so I’m not exactly going to be formal, nor will my arguments be well laid out– this will be a train of thought.  I’m usually passive, not very argumentative about things unless it is something that I have a strong opinion on, so buckle up and go on this rocky ride with me.

Okay, so we aaaall know what this post is going to be about.  Countless other posts address this issue, but I’m in the mood to talk about my feelings about the ‘bad boy’ love interests in Young Adult Fiction.  Now before you think, ‘oh Louse, you’re having one of those “I am woman, hear me roar” moments, aren’t you?’ well, I wouldn’t be writing this if this trend in YA has died down, and I am quite fed up and concerned about the dead-horse trope that involves the good protag/troubled love interest.

But I will say that there are many love stories in YA that are healthy, normal, and describe what an ideal romance should be.  Though, do some people find these stories nice yet a tad bit boring? (I do)

That’s probably why a lot of these iffy stories are like Venus flytraps for our brains; I admit, the drama in these stories can be quite page-turn worthy.  The good girl and the bad boy.  I’m not going to provide too many examples in this post, but allow me to direct you to this Goodreads list with the narratives I’m talking about.  In my opinion, this trope is like some form of aggressive tumour growing within the circle of YA authorship.  The more I walk past the YA shelves in a bookstore, the more I see these sorts of formulaic novels out there.  Hey, at least these authors are getting their ca$$$h, amirite?

Here’s an observable fact, but since the boom of Twilight and beyond, authors want to get that money and clout, and have the certainty that their stories will be published.  Got to feel for them though, because it’s a tough life becoming an author.  Rejection, editing and re-editing, writer’s block–add in that the print and publication industry is not as popular nor desired as it once was in the previous centuries.  However, I find that a lot of these writers are good writers; they have a way with words that get you hooked into continuing to read their story.  But the problem is, they’ve hitched a ride on the bandwagon of the twisted, abusive relationships that we’re supposed to find romantic.

The one thing that doesn’t sit right with me is, that most of the authors that write these kinds of stories ARE WOMEN (or at least they have feminine nom de plumes).  Who hurt you?  Who in the f@*% hurt you?  Or are you that desperate to be published that you’re willing to be a sellout and write a carbon copy of all the other novels your contemporaries wrote?

If you’re going to say to me that a story’s just a story and that there is no need to be riled up about this sort of thing, well let me vent.  The female protag, usually young and naïve, gets involved with this dark, brooding bad boy who stalks, intimidates, controls, and is possessive over her, and disregards her boundaries.  In most case scenarios, the protagonist is convinced that her beau is doing this all in the name of LOVE.

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You’ll feel as small and fragile as a doll.  pixabay.com.

If you haven’t read up on the signs of an abusive relationship, manipulation tactics such as gaslighting and emotional blackmail are used by abusers to keep their victims on a leash, and in turn the victims stay in these abusive relationships because they’ve got nowhere to go, no-one to turn to, nor do they have a clear mindset to think straight.  That’s because they’ve been psychologically conditioned to be this way; a victim may be co-dependent or be knocked down (emotionally and/or physically) whenever they show an ounce of courage or free-thinking.  Also, a lot of the time, their abusers continuously tell them that they ‘love’ them and that they do these things because they ‘care’.  Another way of manipulation is constant repetition; this is a form of brainwashing in which if someone constantly says something to you numerous times, you’ll eventually come to believe it.  So if the abuser keeps saying to the victim that they ‘love’ them and want to ‘protect’ them, of course, the victim will believe it.  The victims go along with this because they’ve lost a lot of their power and are in too much of a fog (google Fear Obligation and Guilt) to see clearly.  Not to mention, that there are times that the abuser will act very loving and tender towards their victim as way to keep them at their side after bouts of abuse and hurt; thus the victim will stay for the sake these ‘good’ things in the relationships (look up ‘the abuse cycle’ for more information).  Unfortunately, a lot of abuse victims are misunderstood, blamed, and do not receive much sympathy from society i.e. “why can’t you just leave?”

Before I further digress, let’s get back to the fiction.  A lot of these protagonists have their happily ever after with their bad boys.  Likely, they’ve somehow changed them to be good.  Here’s another thing, in real life, there’s an allure about bad boys (or rather, men that exhibit dark triad traits) which women do find attractive.  I suppose that the authors are appealing to this notion.  There’s also this desire to ‘change’ the bad boy and make him settle down with you.  Unfortunately, a lot of people get burned and spurned by their bad lovers because let’s face it; some people cannot change, nor can you force them to change just for you.  There is something going on with their pathology that makes them behave this way.  So a lot of these YA narratives, to me, are merely wish fulfilments.  In real life, a lot of these victims become psychologically damaged, that is if they even make it out alive.

The bad boy love interests are usually found in the supernatural genre of books, and they’re either vampires (because we all want a piece of Nosferatu, yeah?), werewolves, aliens, warlocks, angels (ironically), or hell, they could be freakin’ centaurs or mermen for all I know.  In other words, they’re not exactly human, they’re above them, and they likely have more POWER than the average human being.  Does this ring a bell for you?  So the protagonist and her supporting humans can’t really overrun him (or escape him).  Likewise, power and the exchange of it has a lot to do with any relationship between people, and if there’s an imbalance, then… well, you know what goes on with that dynamic (hint: it starts with A and ends with BUSE).

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Courtesy of pixabay.com

Another thing that gets to me is that a lot of these novels are targeted at adolescent girls and young women.  While I do hold a lot of faith that girls and women are smart enough not to idealise these sorts of relationships, the positive reviews left on the Goodreads pages of these novels speak to me otherwise.  On average, these novels get at least four stars (rounding off here), and I’m glad that most of the top reviews are 1-star rants from readers that have the same sentiments.  Yet, when I read through the positive 4 or 5 star reviews of these books, here are some things that I observed:

  • There is praise/adoration for the bad boy love interest, despite all his negative traits
  • There is criticism for the female protagonist; she’s either dumb, stupid, or bland
  • An idealisation of their relationship i.e. highlighting the ‘cute’ or ‘loving’ moments in the novels (despite all the shit he did to her)
  • Little to no critique about the author’s prose and style

(Look, I know that the reviews on Goodreads don’t have to be in-depth, academic essays)

I shit you not, this was from one review: “I recommend this book if you are into creepy paranormal romance.It doesn’t have role model or give a positive message but it is a fun read,especially for this time of year.I enjoyed it:)”  (from Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick)

There’s also this gem: “I’m not sure what to write about this book. The reviews for the book were SOOO incredibly misleading. I thought Travis was going to hit her, or come close, the way everyone was going on about the ‘abuse’ in the book. I get it, it was intense. But having seen real abuse with my own eyes, in real life..I didnt understand what everyone else saw that made it be worse and stand apart from all other books.”  (from Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire)

Hey, I get it.  People are allowed to enjoy what they enjoy.  If it is you that provided one of these reviews, I understand that you’re entitled to your opinions but I’m entitled to mine.  The first review I quoted did have a fair yet brief critique on the writing, plot, and characters, and the reviewer is also aware that the story is flawed, so they aren’t entirely blinded by the story.

To the reviewer I quoted regarding Beautiful Disaster, I’m going to have to be stern and brutally honest when addressing your words.  Firstly, how are the reviews misleading?  Obviously most of these reviews came from people who read the same book.  You also say that it’s ‘just a book’, and I’ll get to that later.

But the one thing I disagree with is when you addressed the abuse in the book.  You added quote marks around the word abuse.  You also claim to have seen abuse in real life, yet you didn’t understand how problematic this book is.  I can’t make sense of that logic.  I believe that you did, in fact, witness abuse in your life, but I thought you’d understand that people experience abuse differently.  You mention that there was no physical abuse from the love interest towards the protagonist, but I’m sure you’re well aware that not all abuse is physical.  There were instances in which the love interest was being threatening, possessive, and destructive.  Abuse is more psychological if anything and hitting is one aspect of it; abuse is all about changing the thinking patterns of a victim to reduce them to a doormat.  I can’t help but feel that this sort of thinking is somewhat ignorant, but I’m sure you’re a well-versed person in reality.  The fact that there are over 1000 likes on this particular review just goes to show how many people agree with this sentiment, and it worries me.  I just pray that none of these people end up in a relationship with a man that is very well like the love interests in these books that they adore so much.  To be fair, the review was written in 2012, and I hope that the reviewer’s attitude has changed since.

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pixabay.com

I’m very much disappointed and disillusioned with the reality that these sorts of relationships are present in mainstream YA publications.  But Louse, they’re only books!  F-I-C-T-I-O-N!  It’s not really that much of a big deal!  Yes, they are only books, but let’s break it down for a moment.  A book is a form of media.  As readers, we consume this media.  Also understand that each and every written piece has a philosophy attached to it; whether the author agrees with it or not, or whether the author is aware of it or not.  So, we read that there are bad boys out there that will love us, albeit he likes to live dangerously (bad boy is Austin Powers confirmed).  Unknowingly, regarding a young, impressionable mind, we are given an idea about a potential partner; and this is because the love interest is written with positive words, thus we view him in a positive light and even root for him!  All the more so when the book is adapted to film (and the dickhead in question is being portrayed by very sexy actor)!

Some of you may roll your eyes and think, ‘hey, I’m not that stupid’.  But I’ve read the Twilight series way back when, and was seriously Team Edward (because I didn’t want Bella to end up with Jacob because I didn’t like their chemistry), and there was that one part in the first book where Bella was about to be gang-raped but was luckily saved by Edward coming in on time.  I breathed a big sigh of relief when I read that bit thinking how much of an awesome guy he is, but looking back now, I didn’t even realise that I completely overlooked Edward’s creepiness.  I don’t class myself to be stupid either, but I rooted for that pasty, blood-sucking stalker.

Sometimes, we switch off our brains, suspend our disbelief, and enjoy the escapism we’re in.  It’s natural, and we all do it.  But we also have to be aware of the fact that constantly portraying these sorts of relationships which involve power imbalance, possessiveness, and a disregard for the protagonist’s boundaries and concerns is a problem.  I just feel that these sorts of relationships are being glorified and idealised, and I fear that over time, may become normalised since it is being frequently portrayed in the media and is consumed by young, budding minds.  Girls may want to find their ‘Edward’ or ‘DracoJace’ or boys may emulate these sorts of brooding, dark, domineering characters since they are supposedly desirable to females.

Though it doesn’t mean to say that we’re not allowed to enjoy books like these; I’m not out to spoil someone else’s fun.  Though, I think we have to better educate ourselves on the red flags and signs of abusive/toxic relationships, as well as domestic violence.  Then, we as readers can acknowledge (while we’re engaged in a book) that the love interest is being abusive, and that this isn’t a relationship that we’d want to be in ourselves and know that this sort of relationship should not be glorified nor romanticised.

Additionally, in an ideal setting, it would be astounding if the YA community moves away from writing these sorts of romances and write more healthier relationships that don’t involve abuse and violence.  Yeah, they may be boring, but they’re only boring if they follow the same ol’ insta-love formula or love triangle (see numerous videos and posts about clichéd YA tropes).  Put your creative minds to the test and see if you can write a romance that doesn’t incorporate the clichés and tropes at once (because let’s face it, some of these are unavoidable).  A slow-burning dance to a satisfying ending makes for a good romance, but that’s my take.  Or perhaps, abusive relationships should still be written about; but they should explore just how dangerous these sorts of relationships can be.  But not to fear, there are a heap of them written, and some feature on the GR list provided i.e. Stay by Deb Caletti, which I’ll add to my want-to-read list (and when I obtain it, I’ll review it).

Lastly, I do hold optimism that people have the ability to change.  Someone with abusive tendencies can try and break the cycle if they wanted to, but they’ll need a good, good amount of therapy, perhaps even years’ worth of it to manage their behaviour.  Yet these YA novels that I speak of seem to think that love will cure them of their abusive pathology.  Two words: AS IF.  This also further insinuates (stupidly) that a little TLC can cure anyone of their mental anguish and turn them good, which is complete and utter Taurus droppings.

So tl;dr: the romanticisation and glorification of abusive relationships found in many contemporary young adult novels is toxic and perpetrating that a dark triadic dickwad makes for an ideal boyfriend, and this shit needs to stop.  While it is fiction, it is being lapped up by young impressionable minds.  Maybe I’m just an old hag.

Oh, and by the way, if you ever see me praising a book that has the problems I’ve just outlined, dig up the archives, find this post, and shove it right up my…

Inbox.

Anyway, rant time is over, and I’m itching to play The Sims.  Thank you for tuning in and enjoy the rest of your day.

new siggie again

2 thoughts on “A Disturbing Trend in YA Fiction

  1. I’m sick to death of this trend as well. I can see why it appeals to young girls, though, in the same way I understand how girls can end up in abusive relationships in real life. Abusers tend to have an *obsessive* interest in their girlfriends, and in the early phase that can seem very appealing to emotionally vulnerable adolescents. ~It’s because he just loves me so much!!!~ No, darling, it’s because he wants to own you; it’s not the same thing.
    It’s so upsetting that this a trend particularly in YA because most of those girls are not mature enough to view that obsession as a red flag rather than a sign of love; to them it’s romantic, and the narratives certainly don’t do anything to dissuade them from that notion.

    • Absolutely, Jenna! Additionally, abusers often go after people who they’ve observed to have some sort of vulnerability. They seem to have a nose for these sorts of people too!

      When you’re new in a relationship, you’re often wrapped up in your feelings and feeling very honeymoon-y, so nobody thinks to see the red flags that their partners exhibit too. It’s sad that younger, more impressionable girls and women buy into this sort of thing, and it goes to show just how influential the media is.

      That being said, women are also abusers towards men in the media too, but unlike in these YA books, they’re actually portrayed as villains! But that’s a whole other post.

      Thanks for commenting!

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