Aging With True Love in YA
When I was younger, I could barely read a book without some sort of love story involved. I would zoom through plot to get to the parts where the heroine and hero would finally reveal their love for each other, finally realize they were soul mates. The soul mate principle, as explored by many authors with various theories and ideas within the context of YA lit, was a passion. At night, I would wish to the world that I would find my truest love. My teen years were filled with the idea that some day I would find that person who would defy death for even me. I'll never forget in middle school we were reading some love story, and our teacher asked us to pen an answer to the question, "Is love worth dying for?" This was a time when Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was my newest and favorite-st movie and Bryan Adam's "Everything I do, I do it for you," made my heart fill so much I felt it would burst. Yes! I fervishly wrote my answer, love is worth dying for!
You think you'll never change, your beliefs will always be the same. That your passionate believe in something so true will last forever. Then, suddenly you're in your thirties, much wiser, and you laugh a little at your silly younger self, all the while feeling guilty for letting that idealistic, naive girl down.
When did I stop believing in the "soul mate"? While I'm not sure, it could be when I met my husband—my life mate, which I believe to be based on something much stronger. And yet, while my reading tastes have broadened through the years and my love of plot is evident in my own writing and thought processes, I still embrace the love stories—fantasy, contemporary lit, chick lit, YA—whatever the genre. I will never understand the hate-on of the "insta-love" in books, because to me it's escape, fantasy, idealized versions of love, cosmic connections, and allowing yourself to believe that the worst thing that could tear you from your soul mate is some apocalyptic war that will ultimately be stopped in the end. The belief that goodness prevails and happiness can be found. Love is love, and I'm all in.
YA love stories allows those of who are older to relive that passion, and even though many would scoff at the "insta-love" connections, instant attraction and connections happen every day—in real life. YA love stories are often truly reflective of the big emotions of youth and a breakup can seem like the world is ending, that true love has been thwarted. But trust me, it hasn't.
While I'm reflective on the wisdom that has come from age and experience, some beliefs may have shifted, yet they remain the same. I do believe in true love. I see it every day in the face of my son. I do believe in spending the rest of your life with someone. My husband and I have laughter and new adventures planned for our silver years. I do believe in dying for love, not in the jump-off-a-bridge-because-I-got-dumped, which is ridiculous and even as a teen I had better presence of mind. But I would put myself in harm's way if the people I love were in danger, as would many people. #mamabear
The truth is, I will always be a sucker for a good love story, whether it's realistic or riddled in fantasy, in life and in the pages of stories. After all, great love between lovers, family, and friends is what life is truly about. That's why reading is so magical, because for a short time we find new adventures and characters to love, ones that can help us find insights within ourselves or provide a relaxing or stimulating escape from reality.
“Where there is love there is life.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
Don't miss the Valentine's Day-themed episode of the Quirky Book Sirens, where we'll talk about what makes a good love story in literature. Feel free to chime in with any suggestions!
The Reaper's Daughter: Excerpt
The October Frights Blog Hop is almost done, so I wanted to share an excerpt from The Reaper's Daughter. Look for Part III of Grim's Fall, coming in the next two days! Also, don't miss the giveaway, which will end in two days:
THE ROLLING GREEN of her eyes was dimming fast, losing color and life to the quick click of time that beat out her days and nights, a perpetual circle that was now fading to a close. Light brown hair that had been recently styled into looping curls was limp against the black pillowcase―a metaphor for her wilted spirit, I mused, thinking offhandedly how proud my English professor would be at my thoughtful use of language.
I sighed. I didn’t want to be here.
When her eyes met mine, I knew she saw me for who I really was—what I really was. She reached out an eager hand to take mine. I didn’t want anything to do with it. But it wasn’t because her fingers were slick with blood, deep crimson dripping down her arm and fingernails from where she’d so precisely placed a razor blade to her vein and dug deep, thinking she’d be free of her pain. It was because her face reflected back to me all the times I’d felt I’d been given a shitty deal. Current situation: case in point.
“Hi,” she whispered, her once pink lips fading with every pump of her life, which was idly dripping away from her to the plush white carpet below. I could smell the newness of it, the fresh aroma of a recently laid floor. That’s going to be a bitch to get clean.
I looked around her bedroom, at the dance trophies and pictures of smiling friends, and wondered why. Why me? “Blake …” Hearing my mother's warning tone, I looked over at her where she stood in the shadows, overseeing my tutelage.
“Why can’t we just call an ambulance? It’s not too late. They could save her,” I whispered fiercely, staring at the girl’s hand stretched out to me as if I were her savior and not her end. “We should save—”
“It’s not for us to decide, you know that. We are only here to bring souls over, not save their mortal lives. Take her, she wants to go.”
“And will she still feel the same when she’s looking down at her body?” I asked, not even bothering to check my mother’s expression when she didn’t answer. Suicide wasn’t a peaceful death. It was pain―that much I knew.
I choked back the tears that wanted to rise in my eyes for this girl, for me … I turned to her once more and leaned down, brushing a strand of her hair from her graying face. “What’s your name?”
Barely blinking, her pale eyes darted to me. “Carly,” she said, choking around her words.
“Just hold my hand and I’ll help you cross,” I said softly, forcing myself to meet her gaze so that someone would witness her ending as they had her beginning.
She smiled slowly, and I saw that in life she had been pretty. When she’d believed. When she’d had hope.
“The light?” Her eyes widened, glittering green for a brief moment in their otherwise colorless depths at the prospect of going somewhere beautiful after this life had been so cold.
I nodded, although I didn’t really know where she would go. I was only in training, but I hoped it was someplace good, where her tormented soul could rest.
She had small, feminine hands, I thought, as she laced her slippery fingers around my longer warm ones. She didn’t last long, her pulse giving one last flutter before sputtering out.
The room was suffused with the silence left behind in the absence of such a simple thing. The thundering lack of a person’s heartbeat had never seemed quite so loud. As life departed Carly’s mortal coil, her soul lifted from the body, but unlike some souls I’d seen that were light and buoyant, at peace with the next step in their existence, hers was outlined in darkness, and it rippled, suspended in space like a special effect in a bad horror film. Her gaze turned from her body to me, sorrow coming to settle on the slope of her bowed shoulders and in the recesses of her eyes. Regret was a fickle creature. It always came too late.
“I hope you find what you wanted,” I whispered to her soul, waiting to feel the energy that usually infused my body during a crossover. As she blinked out, all air was ripped from my lungs and I was left clutching the bedpost for purchase, grappling for oxygen and drowning on the echo of Carly’s anguish. The room spun around me, and my rasping heaves hurt my chest as I struggled to survive the sharp, bitter sting of loss that clung to the drapes and walls and assaulted my nose with its acrid scent.
I inhaled deep breaths when air returned, staring at the pool of red on the floor, thankful the bedspread had been black. She looked like a zombie, gray and without light, her once green eyes staring into a void that held nothing for her now. Without thinking about it, I reached forward and closed her lids with the lightest touch of my fingertips. The hands of Death.
“Blake,” my mother warned again, a chastising edge to the velvety lilt of her voice.
I turned to look at her and sighed, feeling the darkness in the girl’s room overwhelm me, irritation surging inside me at my mother’s emotionless manner. “Don’t you care?” I asked.
She stepped forward from the shadows, her shroud of black hair sweeping around the marble pallor of her face. “Of course,” she said. But I had a hard time believing her when her features remained composed in an expression of sculpted apathy. “But it is what it is, Blake.”
“This was the worst.”
“I’ve seen much worse,” she said, her voice lacking the deep resonance of human compassion. It was flat, a monotone observer in a world colored by grief and heartbreak.
“Gee, thanks, way to make me feel better about this whole gig.”
“That wasn’t really my intent. This is who you are. You will have to deal with tragedies that far surpass this.
Tragedies far more encompassing. This was one girl. Be grateful it wasn’t thousands.”
I could barely look at her, nauseated by the way she acted as if one girl hadn’t been everything to someone. I opened my mouth to retort with something equally nasty, my body tensed to storm past her for the last time, but I was caught in mid-motion by a soft knock at the door. My head swiveled.
“Carly?” A soft voice came from the other side, concern coating the lightness of her tone.
Oh god, I absolutely could not stick around to watch Carly's parents find their daughter dead from suicide on her comforter.
Turning quickly, I pulled a fleecy black blanket, folded so carefully before, up over the girl’s chest, trying to make the scene look less gruesome before I headed to the window.
“I’m outta here,” I told my mother. To her credit, she didn’t try to stop me with more inane platitudes.
“You could just flicker out,” she said dryly. The doorknob was turning, and I shook my head. I’d tried her way of traveling through realms to no avail. If I was going to make an exit, it was going to have to be the human way.
I hurled myself through the open window onto the tree outside without thought of my physical safety, only glancing back once to see that my mom had already disappeared.
Sliding down the tree, I hit the ground with a grunt, my sneaker-clad feet stinging from the impact. I didn’t pause, pumping my legs to power myself down the sleeping streets as fast as I could to get as much distance as possible from the death scene. But I didn’t run fast enough, because her mother’s shrieks of agony followed me from two blocks away. They don’t ever think about who they leave behind.
I blocked my ears and kept running, the late winter air biting at my cheeks with the hope of spring hanging heavy in the wind, even on such a desperate night.
When I got to my own house, I paused at the stoop, sucking in a few breaths and trying to make the images in my head go away. Smoothing back my long, dark hair, so like my mother’s, I checked my hands for hints of blood. But just like any normalcy that had previously existed in my life, the blood I’d seen stain my fingers had vanished. Licking my lips, I put my key in the door and pushed it open, stepping into the foyer.
My dad looked up from the living room, where his nose was buried in a book. “Hey, B,” he said, taking off his glasses and rubbing tired eyes. “What are you doing here? I thought you were staying at the dorm tonight.” He arched his brows and glanced at the cable box clock that glowed a green 11:15 p.m.
“Yeah, I was going to, but Shelby wanted me to stop by her parents’—you know, it’s weekly game night—so I figured that since I was so close, I’d just crash here tonight. I’d better get a little reading in though, so 'night, Dad.”
He didn’t stop me or question me, which I was thankful for. I bounded up the steps to my room. Movies always made it look so easy, but living a double life was going to be the death of me. Pun intended.
After closing my bedroom door behind me, I sat down on my bed, tossed off my shoes, and quickly headed for the bathroom to shower. My skin felt dirty with the cloak of death, and I wanted to wash it away. Even though I knew it was impossible.
I was struck by my reflection as I closed the door behind me and turned to the medicine cabinet. It was like looking at a younger version of my mother. Only my eyes were a pale crystal blue. Hers were black. I was thankful for the difference.
But what we had in common even more than looks was a legacy. A long one. You might have heard of her before; she’s really quite famous, although most stories have gotten it wrong and made her out to be a dude. She goes by the name Grim, but her full name is Grim Reaper. Do you know what that makes my mother? Yep, that’s “right. She’s Death.
So what does that make me? The Reaper’s daughter.
Realism v. Fantasy in YA
From a reader and observer's standpoint, magic, vampires, angels, and witches have been hot trends and themes since the dawn of Harry Potter and Twilight. In came the era of fantasy and paranormal geared for young adult readers. Meanwhile, us OLDER "young adults," who'd long been searching for romances between teen vamps and vastly vivid magical world-building suddenly had just as vast of a selection of books to choose from.
As a reader who has been reading fantasy my entire life, it was amazing to have so many new titles and wonderous stories. And of course, it's been helpful to have launched my writing career in a time when the kind of books and stories I like writing are popular, in literature but also in television and movies.
So the point of this post ... A recent article in the Irish Times made the statement that fantasy in YA may be on its way out in 2015, making room for stories centered around more realistic themes. Now, while the author admits it's a sweeping generalization, I still felt the need to argue the point, specifically because of the reasons the author, Robert Dunbar, gives for this prediction in Realism Replaces Fantasy in Young Adult Fiction:
"Traumas and tantrums, often arising from clashes with various authority figures, remain a feature of the “growing up” process, but in the more accomplished novels they are seen as providing the opportunity for enhancing inter-generational understanding rather than merely creating an excuse for prolonged outbursts of shouting."
The writer of the article then goes on to mention two books, both of which explore elements of homosexuality, and the deeply moving adolescent experiences that are involved in these books. I'm not questioning his analysis, I'm sure they're quite deep. But in the midst of all that, fantasy in YA still has a place. Harry Potter himself dealt with insecurity, loss, bullying, child abuse, discordant friendships, consequences, and the sacrifice that comes with choosing to be a leader in a world of followers. These books were not just so wildly popular because of the amazing world and epic battle JK Rowling created, they also resonated on a human level.
Many YA fantasy books delve into heavier themes, including homosexuality, suicide, shifting parental relationships, abuse ... So my response to this article is no, realism is not going to be replacing fantasy in the YA genre in 2015. I think there's plenty of room for both. And often, they can be one in the same.
Is YA Growing Up?
When I was in middle school the most risky, scintillating book we read covertly in the hallways and during study halls was Go Ask Alice. This book about a teenage girl who spirals into drug addiction was about much deeper issues, obviously. But I can remember reading alongside my friends passages filled with cursing and sex. It was horrifying and yet at the same time, exciting to read such gritty, dark stuff. A cursory look at Amazon shows me it's still a bestseller. But I wonder if teens have the same reaction me and my peers had back in the day, or do they possibly read it now for it's true content? Because I've noticed a shift in YA that's more mature and sexual in nature.
Back in my day when I was reading the likes of RL Stine, Christopher Pike, Richie Tankersley Cusick, and LJ Smith, the teens in those books stayed pretty clean. There were no sex scenes, nor were they ever really implied. Pike bordered a little bit more on the risky side of sex, but it was still fairly chaste. Flash forward and as a woman in my thirties, I've read a number of YA books that have sex. Take the House of Night series by Kristin and PC Cast, which even goes so far as to portray oral sex in scenes. I recently read the Goddess Test series by Aimee Carter, and while there's no sex scenes, sex is definitely happening and is heavily implied.
When I wrote Fractured Dream, the first in my epic fantasy series, I did not write directly for any age group. My intention was to just write a high fantasy adventure novel, much like the ones I'd read growing up found in the Fantasy/Sci-fi section of the book store. So when I put one sex scene in it, I assumed it would be marketed for more adult audiences even though I'd increasingly been reading YA books with sex in them.
Once it was out in the market, however, Fractured Dream began to get slotted into the YA category by readers and bloggers. And while there have been a couple of readers I've noticed who thought perhaps the sexual content was more adult than it should be in the YA genre, sex seems to be a more accepted element in YA books overall.
And yet, had I been writing with a strictly teen audience in mind, I would have left that scene out, truthfully. Even despite knowing that I read all sorts of graphic sex scenes as a young reader from books outside the YA genre. When I started writing The Reaper's Daughter I always had a YA audience in mind for it and like the books of my day, it's more Christopher Pike-ish in the sex department.
I do think the change going on in YA of today, however, is an attempt to be realistic. Teens do have sex. They deal in all sorts of situations and to portray them all as virgins or never really addressing sex between young characters is not based in reality. This shift in YA makes writing it a bit more exciting, because there can be a more gritty factor, and that's what I like to do best, write fantasy and paranormal around relationships based in a real context.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? IS YA GROWING UP?
K.M. Randall writes fantasy and paranormal for both a general and young adult audience. Her debut novel, an epic fantasy called Fractured Dream, launched in June 2014, and her second book, The Reaper's Daughter, launched May 2015. Randall also published Fairytale Lost, a prequel to Fractured Dream, as an exclusive on Wattpad. She blogs about dreams, female heroines, and activism and its relevancy to the literary and fictional world. And when in the season, sometimes she just likes to talk about Halloween. She is currently hard at work on the second book in the Dreamer Saga series, Shattered World.