I was in a chain bookstore the other day and walked through the YA section, as is my wont, when I saw this heading on a shelf – “YA Paranormal Romance.” Well, it’s been quite a while, but I’m pretty sure that all teenage romance is paranormal, so it seems to me a bit redundant. We can probably thank, for lack of a better word, the Twi-hards for this. Anything dealing with vampires, werewolves, dragons, and zombies is hip right now, as long as it involves some heavy sighing from lovelorn girls and the breathtakingly beautiful young men who inspire such, ahem, expiration (that’s one chock-full, respiratory metaphor right there).
Aprilynne Pike has her own version of this, but hers is about fairies. This would be a hard sell if not for her ingenious vision of fairies – they are actually plants, not little flying humanoids like Tinkerbell. They are human sized, they have human habits and they are – male and female – exceptionally beautiful. Sounds like a winner for sure.
There are some obvious parallels between Ms. Pike’s books and the Twilight series, which is to say that all teenage romances are the same formula – girl meets boy and likes boy a lot, girl meets other boy and also likes him a lot. Boy fights boy over girl. Sexual tension ensues. Only now there are the added bonuses – someone gets bitten, someone shape shifts, someone tries really hard not to eat his girlfriend. But the Laurel Series in many (many) ways are not even in the same category as those vampire books.
Foremost, Illusions (and its predecessors Wings and Spells) are WELL WRITTEN! I will be the first to say that there are some amazing YA novels out there. I’m an adult and I read a lot of this stuff. I wouldn’t if they were all slapped together slovenly. Not all are empirically good though. For the most part teenagers are not exactly a discerning audience. They know what they like and they don’t so much care if the method of delivery is a little shabby (sort of like men and porn).
Which makes these fairy stories that much better, because these books are well written and, delightfully, kind of geeky in a lot of cool ways. There’s a lot of science-y stuff in them – In her world, fairies are plants. Not only is this an ingenious idea, the explanation for it is pretty damn cool for a science dork like myself. I mean the author uses the phrase “thylakoid membranes” and then her characters explain what they are. Really. And for the book geek in all of us – she references Oberon, Titania, Camelot, Arthur, Lancelot and the “real” fairy story behind them.
My highest most elaborate praise has to be for Ms. Pike’s responsibility as an author. Her bio says she’s a mom, and from her acknowledgments it appears she has daughters (Ms. Meyer has three sons – just sayin’). I can tell, because I would venture to guess what bothers me about YA romance, even before I had my daughter, probably bothers her too. Here are several reasons why I love her books where I take issue with some others:
- Her main character, Laurel is the fairy. The book is not about a human girl looking for a super-man/wolf/vamp to save her from her dull, dreary life. Laurel has her own life, even before she realizes how special she is. Though it does get significantly more interesting after she figures it out.
- Laurel does occasionally need to be saved (you can’t be a hero without being in danger sometimes). But she’s not always get saved by the handsome boy (sometimes it’s a weird woman named Klea), and she is often the one doing the saving.
- Laurel loves and respects her parents. She doesn’t let Tam spend the night, not because she’s afraid to get caught, but because she knows they won’t like it and she doesn’t feel that she can lie to her parents about it.
- Speaking of Laurel’s parents, they are loving and supportive and open to her – but they are real parents. One of my favorite lines is from her father (when Tam comes to visit) “You look gorgeous, keep your [bedroom] door open.”
- (My favorite!) when Laurel’s two love interests – David, a human and Tam, a fairy – start fighting over her (literally) she DUMPS THEM BOTH! No sighing, no whining, no sulking and not eating for several months because she lost her man. I LOVE this girl!
I was a teenager girl once and I know how stupid they can be – particularly about boys. Even the smart girls. Now that I have a daughter I appreciate so much more that there are stories out there that don’t advocate losing yourself, your life, or your sanity over a boy.
Even if he is paranormally hot.