I recently decided to have another go at reading some YA paranormal romance. There’s so much of it, and it’s so popular, that I thought there must be more of it I would like than I have thus far discovered. I do have luck sometimes – I enjoyed Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore, and I loved the sequel, Magic Under Stone. (I even drew fanart of the main characters – click the image twice to get the full size.) But otherwise, I’ve been largely unimpressed by most of the YA paranormal romance I’ve read, despite having the book suggestions of my coworker, who has read approximately every YA paranormal romance ever written.
This does relate to the title of the post! One thing I frequently notice in paranormal romance is that the protagonist either has no female friends or has female friends who are so awful that I wish the author had left them out. I get it: an intense romance (as these romances typically are) plus the worldbuilding required for the paranormal stuff takes a lot of space in a book. Most of the character development goes into the protagonist and the love interest. Oh, and maybe another love interest to form the third point of your standard-issue love triangle.
As an aside, some YA authors’ views on love triangles were recently compiled and discussed here. I generally fall into the “not a fan” category, though partly because I’m bitter that the guy I like is never the one the girl chooses. What’s wrong with a guy who’s sweet and not mysterious and arrogant? My favorite views presented here for and against love triangles:
Speaking for the prosecution, Gayle Forman, who has a lot to say on the topic, but I especially like this bit: “When you fall in love, you know who you love.” She admits that love triangles are a good way to build tension, but doesn’t think they are realistic.
Speaking for the defense, Carrie Ryan: “To me, a love triangle done right isn’t about a female character’s affections bouncing back and forth between two men, it’s about her internal struggle within herself as she figures out who she wants to be and what’s important to her.” So, it’s not about choosing who you want to be with, it’s about choosing who you want to be.
Anyway, back to the female friends of these triangulatin’ fiends. (Or fiend-daters, as the case sometimes is.) They’re often one-dimensional, largely due to how little page time they receive. They’re frequently unaware of the whole paranormal thing going on around their friends, which typically relegates them to even less story time. Indeed, they often serve little purpose aside from providing a chorus of praise for the main love interest’s hotness.
What really burns my cookies is when the female protagonist has friends who have, and encourage the protagonist to have, an unhealthy take on relationships. In one book I recently read, the girl was avoiding the supernatural guy. She was highly vocal about being uninterested in him. In fact, he seriously scared her! Yet her crowd of girlfriends, none of whom was differentiated enough for me to remember any names, constantly pushed her at him because he was (A) hot, and (B) interested in her. They invited the guy to eat lunch at their table, told the girl she was crazy for rejecting him, and even told the guy – in front of the girl! – “don’t worry, we’ll help you wear her down.” They just met this guy! He makes their friend uncomfortable, and not in a “strange new feelings awakening” way. Taking his side and pushing her to give him a chance is rotten friend behavior!
This isn’t the only time I’ve seen this from female supporting characters. In another paranormal romance, the protagonist’s mother asks why she won’t go ahead and date the arrogant, pushy vampire who’s pursuing her. After all, Mommy Dearest reasons, “he is attractive.” Then there’s my least favorite line from a paranormal romance that I’ve read so far: in response to Protagonist Girl asking whether Mysterious Paranormal Guy is always such a jerk, a girl who’s friends with Mysterious Paranormal Guy says yes, he is, “But that’s what makes him so damn sexy.” NO! No! Bad friends and relations!
Now, to draw out some kind of lesson that will make this a constructive post rather than just a rant. I guess what I’d say is, make the protagonist’s friends be her friends. Not cheerleaders for the romantic interest. Make them take, or at least attempt to understand, her side. If possible, it’s nice for the protagonist to have at least one friend who knows about the paranormal stuff, whether because she discovered it (think Willow from Buffy) or because she was part of the paranormal scene all along. Otherwise, their relationship is going to have a lot of holes and dishonesty. Or, more typically, the friend will simply be phased out of the book as the paranormal stuff and the romance get more important.
While I don’t want to name names with the books that made me mad, I will mention one YA paranormal romance that I think did a pretty good job with the female-friend thing: Warped by Maurissa Guibord. Protagonist Tessa has a close friend, Opal. When weird stuff starts happening to Tessa, she (here’s a novel idea) tells Opal about it. Opal thinks she’s crazy or joking at first, but is willing to at least humor her. So when fantastical things start happening, Opal realizes that Tessa was right – and becomes someone who can help out and support Tessa in the midst of freaky unicorn time-travel adventures.
Note: In theory, a platonic male friend could fill this role, but I have never ever ever seen this happen in a YA paranormal romance. The protagonist’s “platonic” male friend always turns out to be in love with her and become the third (and losing) point on the love triangle.
Any other examples of YA paranormal that doesn’t include friend fail? Other ideas about what makes or breaks a good gal pal in the genre?