Many books have some flaws, particularly character flaws. I understand that since my genre of choice is paranormal romance. As I ranted many times before, romance is predictable and unrealistic since the woman always “gets” her man in the end. However, paranormal is flawed as well in its overly masculine approach to strength. Big burly men—excluding vampire (I don’t know why vampires are usually tall, lean, and refined) of course—dominate the paranormal worlds. Even the paranormal heroines have a masculine edge with their “ponytails swishing ass-kicking boot-wearing no time for sensitivity or skin care” attitudes.
Authors’ worlds are imperfect, and I’m fine with that imperfection. Please understand that I am not unreasonable even as I tell you a current Young Adult (YA) trend angers me beyond reason–the school bully trope.
I hated high school, and YA just made the experience worse.
I browse YA because they often have fun reads. The plots are thoughtful, and the characters may be interesting interpretations of common characters like Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, a science fiction twist on well-known fairy tale princesses like Cinderella, Snow White, and Little Red Riding Hood. These ladies are badass, strong, and smart even as they live up to the fairy tale standards—making bad decisions, meeting some guy, and falling in love.
However, many recent YA girls have entered their last years of high school—according to many, many authors—and they are being bullied. These protagonists are bullied by the popular kids, the poor kids, the smart kids, the misfit kids. Everyone hates these girls, and again, I understand this situation.
Novels are often based on imperfect worlds. Besides, bullying is a particularly hot button issue in our schools today, so fiction is a great opportunity to address the challenges of modern high schools. Authors should use their voices—excuse me, pens—to shed light on discrimination, mistreatment, abuse, and more that occur within modern schools.
However, I cringe and shake my head when I read the implications of the protagonist’s actions. The trend conveys horrible messages to vulnerable girls.
First, female protagonist after female protagonist hangs her head in shame as she is bullied. The characters vow to just suffer through one more year of the uninvited (no, bullying is never invited) pain and ridicule of faculty, students, even parents. The girls’ salvation is knowing they will be legal adults by graduation. These girls never go to an adult. They never talk to the police. They never show evidence of their abuse. And even worse, no adult seems to notice or care.
Sure, seeking help in these situations can feel impossible. Plus, I recall instances when reporting the behavior hurt the victim more than the assailant, so reporting bullying is difficult and not for everyone. However, how about a little therapy because “put your head down and wait for the pain to end” is not a good lesson for teenage girls. Yes, some adults can become caught up in their own life drama, but usually, someone in the world cares and responds to abuse. And yes, unfortunately, the victim is mistreated for coming forward, but do we want our young women believing they should hide their mistreatment rather than speak to someone—even a counselor or a therapist—rather than hang their heads and hide behind the thick curtains of hair hiding the girls from watchful eyes?
Second, these young characters fall in love with their abusers. In every one of the high school books, the rich, popular, attractive people (also known as the kings and queens of the schools) bully these girls. The bullying takes on an array of mistreatment from physical pushing and beating to name calling and mind games.
One magical bully cast a spell to cause the protagonist to relive her parents’ murders in her nightmares. Another girl’s magical mistreatment was so severe, she thought she was losing her mind. Another group of bullies bets on which of them would have sex with the girl first. At the graduation recital, the students beat her up off stage, displayed nude photos of her on stage, then another group kicked and shoved her in the mud off stage. These events occurred after the bullies had driven away from the protagonist’s two friends.
These situations are too horrible for any child to endure, but when the girls fall in love with these guys, I dry heave as I question the author’s sanity. How could anyone love these men? (Yes, I’ve heard of Stockholm Syndrome. And yes, some of the girls are wooed.) The guys who kicked the muddy girl on graduation day spent half of the day drawing her in even as they criticized and subtly heckled her. I suppose if the girl ignores the males’ initial bad behavior and focused on the recent indifferent behavior, then it looks like love, right?
Despite what these authors tell, good behavior doesn’t negate bad behavior especially if there are no apologies, public correction, amends, or demand that other students stop their bad behavior. One girl slept with three of her four male bullies, within a month, and recognized her mistake the next day after each encounter.
I don’t fault an adult for having sex with three guys in a month. I don’t fault her for making bad choices—they were the wrong guys. However, I fault the author and the character for assuming bullies are okay when they stop bullying. I fault the author and character when hot and rich trumps broadcasting the girl’s personal business and mocking her feelings for her dead parents. I fault an author who pairs a girl with a guy who said she can apologize on her knees and her mouth open. (Yeah, he’s a catch.)
Again, this choice sets a bad example for young girls. The girl’s behavior and her quick acceptance of these lovers look like emotion over reason. Girls need to think about the choices they make and not jump into behaviors they’ll regret the next day. Plus, these stories tell their readers the girls are bullied because the guys like the girls (come on, that’s a terrible excuse) and ignore the feelings of hurt, betrayal, and anxiety because he’s cute and rich (which is awful advice). Even worse, the girls accept such superficial affection: he spends time with her (away from his bullying friends); they talk (like most humans should); he does something nice for her (again, like a good human); his touch made her feel good (umm, doesn’t that happen when reasonably intelligent and attractive men engage?).
Yes, YA paranormal romance needs some romance, but could we please raise the bar a little and teach readers some self-respect and thought?