By Regina Peters
(Note: This article contains spoilers for the works of fiction mentioned.)
Girl meets boy. Girl finds out boy is a 100-year-old vampire thirsting for her blood and falls madly in love with him. Vampire abandons girl. Girl uses good-natured werewolf friend as emotional crutch, leading him on in his love for her without returning it. Girl jumps off a cliff to hallucinate vampire’s voice. Girl marries vampire straight out of high school without even considering a career. Girl gives birth to a human-vampire hybrid that tries to eat her from the inside, necessitating her painful transformation into one of the undead. Girl accepts werewolf, who declares the newborn baby his destined mate, as future son-in-law. They live happily ever after.
What more could you ask of a love story?
It turns out, a lot.
Before I continue, I must admit that, yes, there is such a thing as an intelligent Twilight fan. I’ve read many of their stories on Fanfiction.net, often clever, funny, well-written and insightful. Stephenie Meyer’s world can be quite compelling in its emotional intensity, its twists on the old myths (Sparkling vampires? You’ve got to admit that’s original!), and its seductive images of eternal love and youth. As a teenager, I could easily see myself in the heroine. However, the series’ charm is also one of its biggest problems. Is Bella Swan really the role model we want our daughters and sisters to live up to?
This holiday season, allow me to present a few alternatives for the young adult in your life …
1. Fairest by Gail Carson Levine
This is a retelling of the fairy tale “Snow White”, a story about the pursuit of beauty and its cost. Aza is an overweight girl with unusual coloring in a society obsessed with certain ideals of beauty; the unkindness of her peers have made her hate herself so much that she cannot appreciate the uniqueness of her talents, especially her voice. Ijori is a kind young man who loves her for exactly who she is, regrets and makes up for his mistakes. They bond over what they have in common: a quirky sense of humor, a love of music, and a shared concern for the threat to their kingdom presented by the vain and selfish queen. Physical beauty, in this story, is only skin deep; it’s the beauty of the characters’ courage and talent that helps them save the day.
2. The Matched Trilogy by Ally Condie
Yes, it’s a love triangle. But unlike some, it’s a love triangle in which all three sides are truly making an effort to be honest and considerate of each other, even the two rivals. The series is set in a dystopian future in which government officials choose where you work, what you eat, when you die and whom you marry. When 17-year-old Cassia is assigned two matches by accident, a crack appears in her illusion of a perfect life that slowly grows to shatter it, inspiring her to think for herself, discover her potential, and fight for what she believes in. Choosing between two boys is only part of the story; a dangerous journey through the canyons of Utah, an epidemic threatening the country, a shifting political climate, and the power of poetry all contribute to the three main characters’ evolution. Condie’s elegant, minimalist writing style is only the icing on the cake.
3. The Ruby Red Trilogy by Kerstin Gier
Gwen Shepherd likes pretty clothes, speaks in pop-culture references and prefers watching movies to studying. She is also a time traveller with a responsibility to stop a power-hungry 18th century alchemist from attaining immortality. Everyone expects her to fail: her enemy, her jealous cousin, sometimes even herself. She proves them spectacularly wrong. As for her teammate Gideon, who begins by looking down his nose at her lack of education, he ends up owing his life to her courage and falling in love with her wit and charm. He is a hero of the Mr. Darcy stripe, who is not ashamed to admit when he is wrong, and Gwen is a heroine who proves that being smart and being girly are not mutually exclusive. Bonus for Gwen’s sassy friend Leslie, who does not drop out of the story, but becomes one of her most important allies despite having no special powers whatsoever.
4. The Blue Bloods series by Melissa de la Cruz
To imagine this series, take Twilight and turn it on its head. Bloodsucking vampires? Yes – but only by consent and for mutual pleasure. Wealth, privilege, magic and immortality? Yes – but be careful what you wish for, as most vampires are a lazy, corrupt bunch who are fairly helpless before a genuine threat. Eternal soulmate bonds? Yes – but like any relationship, they can and do go sour unless enough effort goes into keeping them. The main characters include a man torn between his bondmate and the woman he truly loves; a girl fighting against demonic possession with her own strong will and the support of her lover; and a spoiled socialite learning to care for others besides herself. The character development from the first to the last book is remarkable, and the world-building so believable that you’ll be looking twice at every New York celebrity to check for fangs.
These are my gift ideas for young women in love with love stories, which will make hearts beat faster and teach them to value themselves. A truly beautiful romance is one that inspires both partners to love and respect each other – and we can never see enough of those, either in real life or in fiction.
Regina Peters was born in Rostock, Germany. Her family immigrated to Montreal when she was three years old. She studied Creative Writing at Concordia University. She may or may not be part Vulcan.