Monday, May 27, 2013


One of the reasons I don't read a lot of high school YA (which is to say, YA that takes place in an actual high school, as opposed to fantasy, science fiction, or generally speculative YA) is because of the predominance of romance plots.  I generally find straight-out romance to be a pretty tedious basis for a story, though it makes delightful subtext, fun B-story, and generally great background content.  But even my romance novels need some other pretty serious conflict going on--even if it's all personal/emotional--if I'm going to tolerate it.

High school stories, especially, also run the risk of the instalove problem, which is where two characters meet and are immediately in a romantic entanglement.  As in, there's no getting to know each other, no reaction besides attraction and affection and desire, and their feelings take on the same weight of importance as other, actually weighty things in the real world.

And example of this is Every Day, by David Levithan, which I loved, but which, it was pointed out in my book club, really rides on the fact that A and what's-her-name are meant to be together, and that they both feel instant, life altering feelings (and not just pants-feelings). At least that book was entirely about the life of this one person; the things that changed and were considered important because of this instalove were the things that are actually affected by being in love--your motivations, your life choices, whether you should try to date them.  Too often, instalove is also supposed to Change the World.

And oh, here's why Daughter of Smoke and Bone has ceased to charm me as much as it did when I started it. The first half is about Karou and her unusal life, her at school and wishes and friends and dangers and it's wonderful.  There's the mystery of what's going on with Brimstone, and the strange handprints and the ominous angels, and it's just really coming together.

And then Karou and Akiva make eye contact, and they are in LURVE.  And after almost no conversation, they know that they need each other, and they trust each other, and they're considering (one more than the other) giving up everything for each other.  And the story becomes about what's more important, your love or  your family, and UGH.  There's a promising undertone of what happens when your morals don't align with those of your loved ones, but it's muted by OMG HE'S SO GORGEOUS and you're so impressive, let's just be together. 

It's to the point where I'm almost disgusted, although really, it's just a chunk.  I think if could just get past the insta- part and take the -love as given--pretend the drama had been earned--I might be able to get back to enjoying the story, like what's up with Brimstone and what are Akiva's siblings going to do, exactly?  But oh, how his manly soul aches for her, and I can really hardly bear it.

Now, I just read another book, Gated, which had a much more appropriate use of the immediate infatuation thing.  First, it was very clear that the attraction was mostly physical--it was very much a 16 year old girl realizing that looking at this boy was just really, really enjoyable, and she'd REALLY like to look at him more, to the point where she makes what she would normally consider some bad decisions.  This is entirely reasonable and realistic--I'm not pretending teenagers don't get crazy over lust-crushes.  I'm just pointing out that I, the reader, am going to think they're being idiots if they treat them like life partnerships.

More on Gated soon; it was a lot of fun.  I really hope that, by the end of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I can say that about this.

1 comment:

Lianna Williamson said...

Instalove doesn't annoy me so much as it bores me. I am a Pride and Prejudice kinda gal; I prefer romances in which the lovers either don't like one another or are full of mistaken assumptions about each other, or both. I like watching a couple fall in love-- not in an instantaneous world-shattering boom of rose petals and angels farting rainbows above them, but slowly, as they learn more, understand better, let their guards down, and begin to change as a result of knowing each other.

In the book I'm writing now, my female main character doesn't even find her love interest attractive when she first encounters him; she's been raised in a very ethnically insular culture, and he just looks weird to her-- his skin is too dark, his eyebrows too heavy, his nose too long. He becomes beautiful to her the more clearly she's able to see him.

I'd be interested to hear the perspective of someone who enjoys and relates to the instalove plot. Lots of people must, since they're so popular, but I just don't get it.