The Imaginary Heroine

searching for the plot

A New Dawn part 10: “A Moon…A Girl…Romance!” by James A. Owen March 22, 2010

[Part of a series discussing the essays in A New Dawn edited by Ellen Hopkins. These posts may contain spoilers about all four Twilight novels and Midnight Sun.]

Eerily similar, no?

Although romances make up over half of all book sales, James Owen couldn’t find a single friend or colleague willing to admit that they read them. They actually became offended when he suggested that not only do they read romances, but they read them frequently.

How does he know this? Because they’re all Twilight fans. Owen’s main thesis is that Twilight, when boiled down to its essentials, is really an old-fashioned romance novel.

According to Owen, the only reason the Twilight Saga is considered a Young Adult book is because a Young Adult publisher was the first to like it and pick it up. He argues that due to the characters’ ages alone, Romeo and Juliet would probably be published under this banner today. The label doesn’t define the book – just the publisher.

Twilight actually bridges several worlds, including horror, fantasy, and, of course, romance. How well it performs each genre varies. Clearly Meyer’s monsters are not quite up to snuff for horror. “[T]he anomaly of Stephen King’s classic Carrie aside – I’m unable to think of a horror book deserving of the name in which the denouement takes place at the prom,” Owen remarks. Fantasy is, in his opinion, also not the essential point of the Twilight Saga. Sure vampires and werewolves are interesting literary devices, but they’re mostly window dressing. The real focus of the books is the characters and how they interact. The main action of the novel involves a girl meeting a boy and trying to make it work against all odds. It’s a romance.

Owen makes a great point about why we’re so resistant to admit that we’re reading romance novels. The term has become so narrowly defined that all we can think of is cheesy Fabio men named Dirk clutching some swooning ninny while her heaving bosom tumbles from her ripped bodice. It’s a pretty suffocating genre label.

In my personal experience, adult genre labels are getting narrower and narrower all the time. When you do find something that combines several different genres, it’s difficult to explain to someone else what kind of book it is that you’re reading. Is it a mystery if there’s romance? Is it a fantasy if it’s about catching a thief? Giving book recommendations labels is a loaded proposition.

Meanwhile, J.K. Rowling’s Harry potter series has transformed the Young Adult label into something much more flexible. Young Adult books are allowed to dabble in sci-fi, fantasy, horror, romance – whatever!

As readers, we’re looking for wonder and excitement – things Owen notes were part of the romance movement and its literature in the first place. The publishers in the adult section are taking themselves so seriously, their books have lost a lot of their hypnotic powers. It’s no wonder that some of the most wildly popular books among both teens and adults right now are Young Adult novels.

[Aside on the New Moon book cover: I recently heard someone call Bella’s pose (head and hand against man’s chest/shoulder/neck, depending on respective height) “dialing in Tokyo.” The phrase tickled me so much I just wanted to pass it along.]

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