The story is very familiar. A high school girl, who is nerdy, shy around boys, unsure of herself, who suddenly finds herself captivated by the mysterious, drop dead gorgeous boy in the back of class. Sparks fly unexpectedly between the two teens, until again suddenly, she finds out the truth about her maybe boyfriend—he’s not human.
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This revelation catapults her into a world of fantasy and supernatural horror and/or awe. Here, another conflict soon arises, and our protagonists must defend either themselves or a community from a bigger third party threat, while keeping their relationship afloat.
This is essentially the basic outline for many plots of the young adult paranormal romance genre, which is a relatively new genre most prominent in Barnes & Noble, whose stores have a whole shelf dedicated to teen supernatural romance. Not only is it a new genre, but it is extremely popular and includes books like Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series, Lauren Kate’s “Fallen” series, and Cassandra Clare’s “Mortal Instruments” series.
The Writer and the Genre
“As an author and reader of paranormals, the diverse nature of the paranormal genre is part of its appeal for me,” author Caridad Piñeiro of Tor.com wrote.
I agree, as an author experimenting with the genre. The genre allows for much more flexibility that is not usually present in other genres. Authors can pick out which fantastical species they wish to use, and utilize that to explore different aspects of the teen relationship in different ways. “Twilight” does this with Edward and Bella.
Edward, a vampire, is much older than Bella, and this age gap allows Meyer to explore the role of age and age differences in a relationship without detracting from the plot and still allowing it to be teen friendly. I am aware that other novels of the literary genre are also concerned with age, but in the paranormal genre, age can be easily discussed and then just as easily put away until the author needs it again. This allows the author of the paranormal to focus on other things while acknowledging certain themes.
The plasticity of the genre allows similar plots to emerge. It may seem that the books’ similarities are a weakness to the genre, but this also means that readers know what to expect. Therefore, readers are more likely to buy other books in the genre because of the similarities.
Writers can follow the basic formula, but still greatly deviate from other writers in the genre as different species tend to bring about different themes. Werewolves can touch on the animalistic nature of mankind, while angels and demons can speculate about good and evil. The similarities in plot give the writers and readers some solid ground.
The Audience and Genre
If young adult paranormal romance is such a diverse genre, what is it that makes it coherent so that an audience would be interested in the genre? Piñeiro’s article pointed to escapism as part of the reason why it is so popular.
“Escapism magically relieves us of the stress of the ordinary world and entertains us with the what-ifs as we suspend disbelief to enter that other realm,” Piñeiro said.
This is true in a way. It is highly unlikely that a hot vampire will save your life at the last second, but is it really escapism? Any genre can provide escapism. Those who live in the Northeastern part of the United States probably do not experience everything described in books of the Western genre. Also, the science-fiction/fantasy genre has been around for quite some time, and reading books like J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” would certainly have an escapist quality to them.
Perhaps the reason why these books are so popular is because the readers aren’t really escaping from much when they read these books. A thesis written by Whitney Young of Georgia State University explained that the fundamental plot of many books in the genre reflects the reality that many girls face every day.
Young explored the discourse surrounding girls today as a result of the feminist movements. Now, girls are expected to be able to do anything, like an untapped resource that society just discovered. Following this discourse, the unexpected consequence is that girls feel that they must excel in most aspects in life or else fall in the “at-risk” category, which includes bullies and girl gangs.
The usual female protagonist in this genre, who often acts as narrator, shares many of the audience’s worries and anxieties. For instance, Bella in “Twilight” is revealed to be a smart student and a virgin, both of which are attributes that prevent her from falling into the “at-risk” category. She represents the ideal girl that Young described in her thesis, so many of the female readers can relate to her.
Bella also tends to excel at most things she sets out to do, for instance, she has high grades in school and she cares for her parents. Even Edward fits in the scenario, because Bella not only gets a boyfriend, but an extraordinary one who happens to be a vampire who doesn’t drink her blood.
Bella’s achievements, which include having Edward as a boyfriend, are things that the readers also want to attain as well. The readers want to share in Bella’s success of finding the perfect man, doing well in school, and being responsible even when her parents are less than exemplary. Bella is also unsure of herself throughout the novel, yet another aspect with which the audience can relate. Bella is literally living the life of girl that Young described in her thesis, minus the vampires.
Combining Piñeiro and Young’s insights, the most interesting aspect about the young adult paranormal romance genre is that it allows readers to relate with protagonists in intimate ways, but is still far enough removed from reality that the audience does not have to think about implications of the book on the reader’s life.
The genre’s very nature allows so much flexibility and diversity, while still remaining coherent, because it is usually about an ordinary character overcoming her ordinary shortcomings to face a greater opposition. Young adult paranormal romance stories end up telling the stories of their readers without letting their audiences know, and that is one of the big appeals to the genre.
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