The young adult genre has a vast library of books. From The Shadow of The Wind to the Harry Potter series, there is something for everyone. But there is one aspect that Young Adult couldn’t do properly- romance. Romance has always been a hole in the void of YA. It usually comes off as awkward and uncomfortable, taking great characters and squirming their emotions in front of their love interest; this is more so the case in the most recent YA releases.
Note: The post is highly subjective and is solely based on my own interpretation of the novel.
Note 2: Mild spoilers from Cinder and Shatter Me to follow.
In the vast sea of YA romance, I recently read one book which blew me away, not because its story is great, not because its characters are good, but because it got romance right, that book is Cinder.
Marissa Meyer began her fantasy re-telling of classic fairy tail stories, in a dystopian world, with Cinder (2012) finishing with Winter (2015). Collectively, the series is known as The Lunar Chronicles.
Before we analyze the book, let’s take a look at why the YA romance doesn’t work?
The Problem with YA Romance
If you’ve been in love, you can vouch for its inconsistent presentation in books (not only YA). An author frequently uses hyperbole literary device to describe feelings. In YA, all too often an author uses the most absurd metaphors or simile to describe the feelings of characters. The problem? It’s overwhelming, severely overwhelming.
Let us take an example from Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi:
“And he’s kissing me and I’m oxygen and he’s dying to breathe.”
“My body is a carnivorous flower, a poisonous houseplant, a loaded gun with a million triggers and he’s more than ready to fire.”
The metaphors above overstates the feeling of love. These sort of remarks threatens the existence of the characters. As you begin to like Juliette (the protagonist of Shatter Me), she starts to make these weirdly disturbing comments, which are easily understood, but their use is vague and unnecessary.
The first example has an absurd metaphor for a first kiss. I’m not certain if anyone feels like “oxygen” when kissing; it might imprint the line in your brain, but it’s a poor metaphor. The point of a metaphor is to find common ground between two, unlike things. What is similar, or even romantic, between kissing and feeling like going inside someone’s throat like air? I’ll choke before I can answer it.
Then, look at the second example. The sudden shift from like to unlike things breaks the impact of the metaphor. The sentence starts with Juliette conveying that her body is like a “Carnivorous flower,” which, when explained, would mean that she lacks nutrients or lack of will. As the sentence proceeds, it finishes with her saying that she is a “loaded gun” ready to be fired; this creates inconsistencies in a sentence because the metaphor is shifting, not only in the scenario but its meaning. “Carnivorous Flower,” and “Poisonous houseplant” doesn’t quantify the metaphor of a loaded gun. So, what is Mrs. Mafi trying to convey? It is hard to comprehend her metaphors, and they are present throughout the book.
What Cinder gets right?
Now, let’s talk about Cinder. First, it is a good novel. Good characters and a great world make it a fascinating tale. Marissa Meyer took liberties with the story of Cinderella re-wrote it in a dystopian future and the result is astonishing.
So, what makes Cinder’s romance distinct?
Marissa Meyer doesn’t rely on the overuse of metaphors while conveying character’s emotions. She uses simple sentences which are commendable and believable.
An example: Cinder’s android, Iko, remarks the following after meeting Prince Kai:
“Prince Kai! Check my fan, I think I’m overheating.”
The sentence is simple, it doesn’t contain any metaphor, and it is ironic and revealing (of the character’s feelings). It is ironic because an Android feels like overheating; it brilliantly complements the dystopian setting.
Meyer also doesn’t entirely rely on metaphors to convey the feeling of passion; she constructs sentences cleverly:
“He was the fantasy of every girl in the country. He was so far out of her realm, her world, that she should have stopped thinking about him the second the door had closed. Should stop thinking about him immediately. Should never think about him again, except maybe as a client and her prince.
And yet, the memory of his fingers against her skin refused to fade.”
The example above is sensuous. We can tell that Cinder is struggling to keep her feelings in check, she is unable to stop thinking about Prince Kai (the love interest of Cinder). The final line “and yet…to fade” marks the end of chapter fourteen, leaving Cinder in a dilemma. Ending a chapter with a conundrum like this is smart because it makes the character; also us, feel incomplete. The language is simple, but it catapults a conglomeration of feelings: love, confusion, and dilemma, simultaneously; it’s terrific.
This simplicity continues throughout the novel, even in some key moments:
“Before she knew what she was doing, she was storming after Kai. She grabbed his elbow and spun him back around to face her. Without hesitating, Cinder wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him.”
In above example, there is no great metaphor for the kiss; there is no aftermath metaphor either. Again, the simple sentence structure favors these type of scenes.
Cinder is not guiltless, though. The cringe-worthy dialog is present, but at a minimum:
“Cinder twisted up her lips. “Do you think it could have a virus?”
“Maybe her programming was overwhelmed by Prince Kai’s uncanny hotness.”
One last example I would like to use is from the ball when Prince Kai and Cinder are dancing:
“Without sensation in her foot, it felt like trying to dance with a ball of iron soldered to her ankle.”
The simile is, again, ironic because Cinder has a mechanical foot. Meyer uses the setting as an excuse for these kinds of remarks, which makes them, somehow, a part of the world.Cinder – YA Romance Done Right
Cinder gives a fair treatment to Young Adult romance. It portrays characters in their simplicity, without making them laughing stocks. It is not only a well-balanced novel but a magnificent example of how to write romance for young adults, maybe other authors will learn a page or two from Marissa Meyer’s romantic lore.