The Darker Side of Dark Romance: YA/NA Edition

One aspect of being a writer is being a voracious reader. Being an author is not just about experiencing life and then writing about those experiences. A large portion of writing involves being a student of the craft. The best way to learn is to read. I don’t understand how anyone can call themselves an author and not be a daily reader. It doesn’t compute. But I’m not writing today to lecture on the merits of reading and why it’s a must for any writer. It almost seems silly to make the statement. Stay with me, I have a larger point. It was while reading the work of another author ( a romance author) that I had a moment of reflection. More like a pause. When I came upon a scene so incomprehensible I couldn’t wrap my mind around its existence. It got me thinking. Particularly, about romance novels marketed to youth. There seems to be a trend…

Hate equals passion. Stalking is a romantic pursuit. Rape is a kink in disguise. Obsession is love.

None of these assertions are true to the human condition. They’re actually antithetical to survival because they wreck unwarranted destruction and in too many cases cull what otherwise would be productive members of society through avoidable harm and violence.

If an adult chooses to read a book that claims that hate is passion…and all the rest, fine. But I’d hope that most well-adjusted, moderately intelligent adults have the maturity and experience to separate the wheat from the chaff in regards to the truth in fiction. And those who don’t at least have a level of emotional maturity to recognize the real from the absurd. But our youth, not so much. Which is where the danger resides. Their minds are still pliable and they’re still figuring out their inner selves and the world around them with emotional resources that are limited and chaotic compared to the rest of us. Which means that what we allow non-vetted and unexplained into our children’s heads are of vital concern.

Porn, music, and film get a lot of blame for the emotional and sexual corruption of youth. But all have been around for a relatively short time compared to another art form that has been capturing youths’ minds for much longer: literature. From Shakespeare to Nabokov, Emily Bronte to Gillian Flynn, books have been highly influential to youth and adults alike. They inform our views on love and relationships and shaping societal norms.

But in the latest iteration of young adult and new adult romance, a disturbing trend has emerged. Unlike in the syrupy enemies to lovers tales, the angst-ridden star-crossed loves, and the bodice rippers of the past, it seems that too many authors are penning stories in which the message they foster supports the view that gallantry is a weakness. The result of such propaganda being played out every day in classrooms, social media, and social gatherings across the globe. And it’s damn scary.

I’ve always maintained a strong opinion in regards to censorship in literature. My position is that writers should have the freedom to go wherever our limitless imaginations take us. But whether due to time, wisdom or both, my thoughts on this topic have slightly changed. Let me explain why.

We do owe it to the current and future generations to be courageous in our writing, but to also be truthful. Even in fiction. Truthful to the human condition and its consequences. When writing to a younger audience we must take special care in writing with a higher level of prudence and honesty. Even when we want to cross boundaries to tell a darker story, the truth must always remain a silent partner on the page. We’re shaping young minds whether we want the responsibility or not. Because, like celebrity, books are too influential and our reach too long to be absolved from the effect our words have upon the masses.

And this is especially important when dealing with matters of love and sex. Asserting through storytelling that acts such as rape are vulnerabilities of love is pure misguidance and malevolence. And the consequences are too steep and lasting to ignore.

The unfortunate among us that have been victimized by sex crimes such as rape know that no matter how much mental fortitude you have to move ahead with your life, the emotional mar rape puts upon the soul is everlasting. To see the act as a precursor to romanticism in literature is not only mind-boggling but deeply tragic. A metaphoric slap in the face to the many victims alive and dead who have suffered in the wake of such a brutal act.

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