My friend Ana has been working on a series of deconstruction posts at the center of which is Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. Basically, Ana goes through the book with a fine-toothed comb and offers insights during her reading. (Read it and subscribe if you already haven’t.)
When I finished reading a particular ARC, I suggested she do the same using that book because there was so much potential, but it suffered from some serious flaws.
Ana turned the suggestion around and said I should do it. I hemmed and hawed because I’m really not a deconstruction type of girl. I’m afraid I won’t be able to properly convey my ideas coherently, that my objectivity would be horribly skewed by my annoyance. But after thinking more about it, I decided I should at least try. If it works, yay!, and if not, oh well.
What also tipped the scales was my sudden epiphany regarding my annoyance, not only with The Nameless Book, but with most of the contemporary YA lit that’s crossed my path: the complete and utter lack of courtship.
The main characters see each other, decide they’re super-hot, therefore destined to be together, and suddenly they’re in love. Um, that’s not love, that’s infatuation. What’s worse is that there’s not even a reason for the infatuation.
But why not use Twilight, which is a more popular offender? Well, that’s because Twilight isn’t really an offender at all. In my eyes, Edward does court Bella (as does Jacob in New Moon), though not necessarily in the way most people expect (or respect).
And my annoyance is with the death of courtship in general, not the health of said courtship.
To break it down, females often seek out mates who are most capable of protecting them and their offspring. The side effect is that those males tend to be more domineering, overprotective, and aggressive, which sometimes leads to increased danger for said female and her offspring. It’s a fine line to walk.
As humans, we like to think we’ve progressed beyond this—and for the most part, rational thought does take precedent—however, it’s part of our basic survival instinct. (That’s just my way of saying that we haven’t, not really.)
While the perceived dangers have changed (i.e. the bank coming to collect on a debt as opposed to a hyena scavenging food), our desire to do what’s necessary to survive hasn’t, to include finding a mate most likely to protect against having the car repossessed or the house foreclosed. It’s why financial problems often tear families apart. But I digress.
And even though the way males demonstrate those abilities has altered (i.e. being a breadwinner as opposed to spearing a wildebeest), females still get a bit giddy when a man can display a certain amount of physical strength and mental acuity. It plays on that dormant part of human nature. (Finally, those anthropology classes come in handy.)
But, back to Twilight and how Edward courted Bella. All of that was to say, rather than relying on the modern conventions of courtship (think flowers and candy), he relied on the primal conventions. He displayed traits a female would look for in a suitable mate: agility, strength and power, a willingness and ability to protect her.
Though it’s been a couple years since I first read the book, a few illustrative scenes still stand out in my mind:
- Edward saves Bella from a runaway van using only his arm (strength);
- Edward caught an apple that fell from Bella’s lunch tray (agility/quick reflexes);
- Edward saves Bella from a gang of thugs ready to do heaven only knows to her (willingness and ability to protect);
- Edward pulls away when he and Bella are kissing (he’s so bad-ass, he needs to protect her from himself);
- Edward watches Bella sleep at night (creepy, yes, but also a display of his omnipresent protection)…
There are actually a lot of other scenes, but you get the idea, right? Edward’s goal throughout the book is, simply, to keep Bella safe. And he leaves no doubt in her mind that he can do it. Ultimately, that’s why the budding romance (however unhealthy) works in Twilight.
Most contemporary YA lit lacks that. Or, in some cases, a misguided attempt to make the heroine seem less feeble than Bella Swan backfires. (Please note that a girl can be tough and still get courted on a primal level, it just needs to be handled with care. Example: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.)
Now, I’m not saying that every man must go out and club something over the head or stalk the object of his affections in order to court her, but he must still court her in some way (and the reader needs to see it)—a pretty face only gets you so far.
Which brings me back to The Nameless Book. I’m not singling it out specifically to be mean or anything, because many titles suffer from the problem, however, it’s the most recent one I’ve read.
The goal of my upcoming deconstruction is to breakdown the romance that brews between E. C. and M. W. and the almost romance with K. B. and outline why it simply didn’t work for me. I may even do a compare and contrast with another title. We’ll see.
(NB: I’m well aware that males also have specific criteria when selecting a potential mate, but I’m excluding that angle because most of the YA romance lit is geared toward girls and women.)