When the concept makes you squicky

In work the other day I was listening to other people’s conversations while I was in the bathroom. Two colleagues were discussing The Hunger Games movie. From what I could gather through the stall door, one of them had watched it the previous night with their kids. Anyway, she deemed it too violent for her children, which is fair enough comment to make – I’m not sure I would want my 8 year old watching it either. However, it was her next comment that stuck with me:

I hope the book’s not like that!


Okay, okay, I loved The Hunger Games, I didn’t expect to for reasons I’m going to try and touch on in this post, but I can honestly say that I see why it might not be for some people. I can see it in people’s faces when I try and explain the concept to them. I get as far as ‘…and they have to kill each other’ and then their expression goes squicky.

I realised that there are a lot of books out there like, be they good, or bad, that just make you feel a little…wrong.

The top of my personal list is Twilight – mainly for it’s borderline domestic abuse and glorification of controlling behaviour – and before anyone starts, YES, I did read the books. All of them. And no, you are not going to convince me that it’s normal to allow someone else to bully you into marrying them, control who you are friends with, and make every decision for you (including what clothes you take on holiday, where you live, what the decor is, what car you drive, where you go, if you go to college) for ALL ETERNITY. That’s not romantic. That’s controlling and abusive. I could go on all day, but that’s a whole post in itself. The point is, it made me feel awkward and angry.

A friend of mine stopped reading Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series the second incest was hinted at. She stopped watching Veronica Mars for the same reason. She said it was just too much for her and made her feel a bit uncomfortable. I think she missed out, but that’s my opinion.

Most recently I’m having trouble with the concept of arranged or forced marriages/relationships or that whole ‘fated to be together’ thing, because, in the vast majority of cases, the guy involved is a dick who spends the whole story fighting with the heroine until he eventually wears her down out woos her and she gives in falls for his roguish charms.

It actually makes me feel pretty uncomfortable every time I come across it. I guess it’s that notion of not having a choice, and it seems to be a theme that is gathering pace in YA – The Forest of Hands and Teeth suffered for this very thing – that concept that you had to wait for a man to choose you and if he didn’t then your basically worthless and a drain on society. And when our heroine sits back and meekly lets that happen to her, it becomes hard to see her as a strong character.

But it’s when the characters are forced into it that really makes me uncomfortable. I had this problem with The Selection – taking away that choice – and let’s be honest, even Maxon didn’t really have much choice – is degrading for both of the characters involved. It’s not romantic and dramatic. It’s…yeah.

Trust me, the fact that I wrote a book about Persephone doesn’t make me any less uncomfortable with the idea. In fact, at the time of writing it, I really struggled to keep true to the story, and not just have Persephone throw up her hands and leave. She was such a strong character, and to see her independence and choice stripped from her was a difficult thing.

So what is it about this idea that is so appealing, especially in the YA genre? Psychologically I suppose it could come down to that feeling of being a little lost and scared of the world, and having someone else make decisions for you can be a little bit reassuring and take away the scary elements of something huge and scary like love.

And it doesn’t seem to matter how necessary it is to the plot, or how interesting a way it’s used – such as the rather excellent Matched by Ally Condie – I just can’t get past the control thing.

That idea of having someone chosen for you, or choosing you out of a line up is so prevalent now – just look at any dating show. It’s not a new concept either – Cilla was doing it back in day, and then you didn’t even get to see the person you were going to date before you chose – you had to go on things like personality.

I’m aware that I’m potentially missing out on some really great books, much in the same way that folks who can’t read about child abuse, or violence may be missing out on something too.

So folks, what’s your squicky button?


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