Maybe I’m showing my age here, or maybe I’m growing weary of the paranormal romance trend, but I’ve been wondering for a while where all the good old-fashioned teen paperback romances have gone. I’m talking the formula stuff, the Torn-Between-Two-Prom-Dates kind of romance, the I-Like-Him-But-Does-He-Like-Me? novels, the paperbacks that culminate with the mousy girl’s makeover, the Sweet Dreams (Bantam) the Love Stories (Bantam) and the Wildfire (Scholastic) series.
While I know that these romances have been criticized for their simplicity and reliance on formula, there’s a part of me that longs for just these devices. Simon Pulse’s Romantic Comedies line featuring stand-alone novels by Nikki Burnham, Jen Echols and Nancy Krulik, and some of the novels from Hachette’s Poppy imprint have more recently sated my thirst, and, while I would certainly never turn down a new installment of Maggie Stiefvater’s Wolves of Mercy Falls (Scholastic) or Elizabeth Chandler’s rereleased Dark Secrets (Simon Pulse) novels, it seems like paranormal romances are crowding out the more traditional titles.
Because young adult literature is written for a transitional reading audience who are not likely to remain YA readers into adulthood, it makes sense that the popular literature would be more attendant to popular trends than adult genre fiction would be. Also, since YA publishing is a business, it’s natural that its popular offerings would capitalize on whatever is trendy in bestselling youth fiction and media.
As an avid YA reader and someone who studies and teaches about this stuff for a living, I wonder what the paranormal romance trend says about our attitudes about adolescent romance. In the popular romances of my youth, lasting love was a definite goal and the path to romance was described in breathless teen-magazine terms.
Paranormal romance retains some of this content—lasting love remains a goal of its heroines—but tempers the heady romance with horror and anxiety. The metaphor here is obvious: as Francesca Lia Block wrote in Weetzie Bat (HarperTeen), in the contemporary world in which “love and disease…are always there,” love is a “dangerous angel.”
The Sweet Dreams novels of my youth refused to acknowledge this “dangerous angel” and in comparison to the paranormal romances now seem more fantastic than even these new genre-blenders. It’s funny and even a little sad that it would be the contemporary novels that blend fantasy and romance that call my attention to the hidden fantasy content in the novels I thought were just plain old romance.
Amy Pattee is an associate professor of library and information science at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College in Boston. She documents her reading on her blog, YA or STFU, at alanis.simmons.edu/blogs/yaorstfu/.