I'm always on the lookout for good things to read, and one of my sources for titles is Goodreads.com, a compelling, nay, downright addictive website my sister-in-law recommended to me. I can spend hours browsing through lists that attract my attention. I'm drawn to fantasy fiction due to my fascination with the magical, the far away, the long ago, the metaphorical. I'm drawn to young-adult fiction because I'm intrigued by the development of identity, the ways in which young people's self-definitions shift and change as they try new things, make mistakes, and discover gifts and talents in themselves and learn to take moral/ethical stands. When fantasy and YA combine, I'll certainly take notice. So when I came across a list on Goodreads entitled, "YA Fantasy Books That Are Better Than Twilight," I clicked on it eagerly, hoping to find some recommendations. My loathing for the Twilight series is already documented on this blog, so I need not reiterate it at length.
I clicked on a popular title called Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick, admittedly attracted by the shadowy gray and black image of a crushed angel on the cover. After all, several Goodreads users had voted for it as superior to Twilight... yet as I read the synopsis and reviews, I discovered the truth: it's basically a reworking of the central ideas in Stephenie Meyer's wildly popular series: distressingly average, ordinary girl becomes obsessed with a supernatural guy who treats her badly, then stalks her; despite the fact that they have nothing in common, she's convinced this hot, mysterious guy is her soul mate, and from that moment, her life becomes All About Him. In short, if the reviews are to be believed, this book echoes every single thing I loathe about Twilight.
The only thing of value I found on the page was a link to a blog entitled, "In Which a Girl Reads: Why YA Romance Needs to Change." According to this well-written examination of overdone, questionable pattern in the genre, the picture is even gloomier than I'd imagined: an overwhelming percentage of YA fantasy/romance fiction, most of it written by women, insists on echoing the tropes of ordinary, super-passive heroine and supernatural, brooding, stalkerish hero. Evidently these women are grinding out these books in the hope that what worked for Meyer will work for them, and these damsel-in-distress delusions will translate into money, money, money. Cynical as this sounds, I hope it's true. I'd certainly rather believe that than buy into the notion that nearly every woman writing YA romance fiction has the same wish-fulfillment fantasies of being a helpless empty vessel waiting to be filled by a hot, mysterious denizen of the otherworld.
Sure, many girls and women have embraced such fictions wholeheartedly. But many of us are crying, in the fiercely demanding tones of Hawkeye Pierce, "We want something else!"
Though I've assiduously avoided Twilight and all its imitators, I must admit they have influenced me as a writer. They have inspired me to make the following pledge to all my future readers as well as Atlanta Radio Theatre Company listeners who stumble onto podcasts of my produced scripts:
1) My heroines will always be good at something. They will have some tangible accomplishment (usually in the arts) as well as interests beyond boys and fashion.
2) Whenever possible, my heroines will be weird. I'm sick to death of seeing the word "ordinary" attached to 90% of YA's female protagonists. As a reader I'm drawn to heroines who have at least the potential to be extraordinary, so naturally those are the kinds of characters I like writing.
3) Even if their behavior is initially bad, my heroes will not "get the girl" until they display some genuine respect for her and demonstrate they are capable of behaving like gentlemen.
4) If stalkerish relationships appear in my stories, the plot and the description will make it clear that this is dysfunction and pathology, not true love.
5) In my love stories, the hero and heroine will talk to each other. I know one must always be careful not to overdo dialogue, and so I shall, but when I employ dialogue I will endeavor to make it mean something.
6) In the course of their interaction, the hero and heroine will discover something substantial in common. I've said this often but it bears repeating: opposites may attract, but likeness retains.
Many different kinds of stories may inhabit my head and heart over the years to come, but I think I can keep these six pledges, and in so doing take my own stand. Who will join me in my revolution?