Stalkers are hot, right?
I know I’m dying to find a guy whose entire world revolves around me. One glance at me, and he’ll know I’m the one. He will obsess over me. I will become his entire life. He will watch me as I sleep. He’ll want to spend every moment with me, and always want to know where I am when not with him. Even if I don’t warm to him right away, he won’t back down, because he knows that it’s true love. At some point, he’ll save my life. Or put my life in danger. Either one is good. We will be destined to be together.
Wait, what? That’s not how healthy relationships work in real life?
I recently read a popular YA novel called Deadly Little Secret by Laurie Faria Stolarz. Brief summary: it’s Twilight, with psychics instead of vampires. There were lots of things in this book that ranged from “kinda pesky” to “oh my god make it stop,” including a “I should stay away from you, but I love you” romance and a group of female characters who never (never!) have conversations about anything other than boys and clothes. Barf. However, the thing that initially bugged me the most about this book was the stalking.
In the novel’s defence, the major stalking ick factor came not from the plot itself, but from the general standards for romance in Young Adult fiction. In Deadly Little Secrets, the protagonist Camelia must deal with a creepy, creepy psycho stalker. Throughout the book, we get pages from the stalker’s perspective, and the first few times this appears, I legitimately 100% thought that it was from the point of view of her mysterious new love interest, Ben. Not that the thoughts were any less stalkery. But they were words that I had seen time and again in Young Adult fiction. “She’s just so perfect.” “It’s easier to watch her in private.” “What I’d give to be with her… in time I know it’ll happen. I’ll make it happen.” “She’s become my addiction” (now doesn’t that sound familiar?) “I want to see how far she’ll let me go – how far I’ll have to push before she has no choice but to let me in.”
Oh so stalkery. And all similar to cliche “romantic” lines from YA paranormal novels. I wish I could say I just mean Twilight here, but it seems every other vampire, werewolf, angel and other urban fantasy book has these kind of themes. Think Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick, a New York Times bestseller where the protagonist actually notices that her love interest is a total stalker, but still falls for him anyway. Or Alyson Noel’s Evermore. Or Maggie Shiefvater’s Shiver. Or… actually, I think most of the YA paranormal novels I’ve read on my many plane rides over the past few years fall into this category. Even Deadly Little Secret doesn’t get off the hook entirely. We’re supposed to contrast the stalker ex with the wonderful hero, but our “hero” is incredibly violent with the protagonist (unwittingly, of course, because it is part of his supernatural condition), who has a suspicious past. A guy she’s constantly warned to stay away from.
I get why writers do this, to some degree. The paranormal aspect adds a certain amount of danger to the relationship. There’s going to be some uncertainty at the beginning. The idea of being the center of somebody else’s world… that’s a powerful thought. And it’s interesting to put those teenage feelings that “this is the most important thing ever” or “this is the end of the world” into paranormal terms, where those things might actually be true. But it’s become so common that it appears to be normalising controlling, obsessive stalker behavior in relationships. When I read the words of a stalker in this novel, I immediately thought “love interest.” And this also leaks across into real life. Although victim blamers expect women to be constantly aware of their situation and avoid anything that seems unsafe, we also constantly tell women and girls to “be polite.” Rejecting a guy’s advances makes someone a “bitch.” Women who become upset about a man’s behavior are often dismissed as overreacting. Hysterical. Hormonal. Crazy. Hear these things enough times, and you start to believe it. Maybe he is a nice guy. My instincts are wrong. I need to be nice. I need to stop worrying. I’m just being crazy. And these epic romances, where stalker-behavior is simply a sign of true love, are contributing to these thoughts. They are telling a generation of young female readers that it is OK for a guy to act this way. That it’s even desirable. According to these books, this is what true love looks like.
Young Adult Literature, in general, is a wonderful place for the female reader. There are plenty of well-developed, compelling female protagonists coming into their own in a huge variety of genres, from contemporary to fantasy to science fiction to historical to everything else under the sun. So it makes me even more angry and frustrated to see such malignant themes appearing in these books, over and over again.