Thesis Thursdays is a weekly(ish) feature where I rant, love and talk about young adult books I’m reading because I’m conning my college into thinking this is all for academia! Find out more here!
So I just turned in the first draft of my first chapter of my English thesis. It’s 21 pages yelling about romance in female assassin YA books. I cannot remember my own name but I can quote you full passages of the five primary texts I used and I can make it rain with the pages of all the research I printed out that I didn’t use. Well. So it goes.
One of the texts that I used, however, was Robin LaFevers’ Grave Mercy. When I first read and reviewed this book in 2012, I gave it five stars. One of my specific reasons was this little number:
And the romance. Color me SO HAPPY. Sure, it’s the typical line where they start off disliking each other and then realize they love each other, but it worked. The reasons they were so untrusting of each other were REAL. The worries they had were REAL. The progression of their relationship was REAL. They came to trust each other before they came to love each other, which is how it should be. Hallelujah.
THREE YEARS AGO GRETCHEN WAS SO DUMB, GUYS.
The romance between Ismae and Duval may be real, but for all the wrong reasons. I had no idea until I started picking apart the book for my thesis how DAMN AWFUL the romance is. In my thesis, it ends up being my example of the weird, physically emotionally domineering dynamic that YA books cook up and call love.
How did I never realize that Ismae is constantly equating her feelings about Duval with panic and fear? How did I never realize that almost every time he touches her, she mentions wanting to run away? How did I never see how physically domineering he is towards her, and how often he undercuts her agency? How did I not notice, in the end, when she panics because she thinks he’s going to force her to marry him in that moment and she won’t be able to say no and she isn’t sure she wants to say yes?
This isn’t a direct attack at Robin LaFevers. I get that half of it is because Ismae has had a bad history with men and violence. Duval is sometimes kind to her. But her decision to move past her abusive past and towards Duval is never fleshed out and he’s so physically domineering towards her that it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Now, anyways. I mean, look at that quote from three years ago. I thought this was the bees knees.
Way too much romance in YA is not the healthy kind, but very few people realize it. (I’m looking at you, Twilight.) That’s part of what the argument of my thesis is. But it just wasn’t what I expected from Grave Mercy, because I remembered loving that book SO MUCH.
I still do. I think the concept is great. Killer nuns? Always and forever, a great idea. However, in terms of the romance, I’m honestly still in shock. 2012 was right in the middle of my stride as a reviewer, where I thought I’d gotten pretty great at sniffing out those terrible kinds of story lines. I don’t want it to be true. But there’s the textual evidence to prove it.
I don’t know if I’m frustrated with the state of YA publishing, myself, this book or my thesis more right now. It’s sort of the same feeling that I had after I wrote a whole paper about how terrible Disney’s Tangled really is. I loved that movie. I can’t watch it anymore after the way I dismantled it in my paper.
Maybe I’m still in shock. I don’t know. Maybe I’m going crazy. I’ve spent the past 72 hours with my nose in books, research or my computer, working on this stupid thing.
All I can tell you is that I’m worried there are other books that won’t survive a re-read, and I don’t want to know which ones.
Has this ever happened to you?