Back in the heady days of 2010, when the Obama years were fresh and a Celtic studies degree still seemed like my best route to future employability, I decided to start writing reviews of paranormal YA novels. It was a Summer timewaster turned experiment to try and understand this weird post-Twilight boom of paranormal romance novels that were all similar in plot, tone, focus and with varying degrees of questionable gender dynamics. I haven’t looked at those snarky feminist recaps in years - RIP LiveJournal before the Russian spambot invasion - but over 8 years later, I am still haunted by one book.
Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick was pitched as ‘Twilight but with angels.’ I’d even heard rumours it was once Twilight fanfiction but never found any proof of that. It made sense though, as the story is structurally close to Stephenie Meyer’s book and even has its own awkward biology class scene. But Hush Hush was worse. Oh, it was so much worse. It was a level of rape culture bullshit that would have made even E.L. James side-eye. Naturally, the series was a huge success, but I never forgot the moment I flung that book at a wall in pure aggravation.
How bad was this book, you ask? Well, here is the blurb.
A sacred oath, a fallen angel, a forbidden love…This darkly romantic story features our heroine, Nora Grey, a seemingly normal teenage girl with her own shadowy connection to the Nephilim, and super-alluring bad boy, Patch, now her deskmate in biology class. Together they find themselves at the centre of a centuries-old feud between a fallen angel and a Nephilim…Forced to sit next to Patch in science class, Nora attempts to resist his flirting, though gradually falls for him against her better judgment. Meanwhile creepy things are going on with a mysterious stalker following her car, breaking into her house and attacking her best friend, Vi. Nora suspects Patch, but there are other suspects too - not least a new boy who has transferred from a different college after being wrongly accused of murdering his girlfriend. And he seems to have taken a shine to Nora…Love certainly is dangerous…and someone is going to have to make the ultimate sacrifice for it
Yeah, his name is Patch.
But the devil is in the details. Patch wasn’t a Byronic hero: He was a sociopathic stalker who would have made Ed Gein nervous. He spends the entire book stalking Nora, and basically every character in the book laughs off his aggressive behaviour with some variation of ‘ooh he’s got a crush’. There’s even a scene where, after Nora begs her teacher to help her get rid of this guy, he chastises her then says she should tutor him! Later, that teacher uses her as a public example of how to tell if a girl is sexually aroused.
Shall I continue?
The first third of the book does a lot of foreshadowing to suggest Patch may be a literal violent offender. Because that’s sexy. The dude stalks her, harasses and threatens her, and everyone thinks this is cool. Nora, of course, does as well because oh he’s so dangerous but so sexy. He is LITERALLY trying to kill her. LITERALLY! And this is a sexy YA romance. The scene that made me throw the book against the wall was one where Patch forces her onto a bed and tells her that nobody would hear her if she were to scream. Then sexy kissing.
Christ, I loathe that book.
It has three sequels, by the way.
I’m kind of stunned this is getting a movie for two reasons:
One, the paranormal boom is over. Maybe not entirely in YA - there will always be popular names in the field - but certainly in terms of films. Fallen, the other big angel YA romance of the time, had a film adaptation that sat in post-production for ages before going straight-to-DVD. Fitzpatrick isn’t really a big name nowadays. She still writes but she’s not in the ranks of someone like Holly Black or, dare I say it, Cassandra Clare.
Two, YA is a different beast nowadays. Audiences are savvier, they’re more socially aware and they want real variety. Look at the big names right now - Dumplin’, The Hate U Give, Children of Blood & Bone, Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda, Jenny Han’s contemporaries, even the big names like John Green … These are books that are progressively minded, pushing boundaries and evolving from the Twilight days. I don’t say that to shit on Twilight - lord knows we’re all bored of that - but to note how every genre must move forward or die.
We’re also in the #MeToo age. This generation of teens are both more socially driven and exposed to greater amounts of pop culture than ever before. Is there really an appetite in that demographic for a ‘romance’ about an angel who is a violent borderline rapist? And that’s positioned as a good thing? It wasn’t acceptable when the book was published so why bother now? Even if the book was still a million-copy bestseller, you should read the room.
Kellie Cyrus, who has worked on shows like The Vampire Diaries, will direct. Personally, I expect this to either be seriously watered down from the source material in an attempt to make it way less rapey, or it will just get pushed straight to Netflix for all your riffing needs.
@ me for old-school YA talk.
(Header image courtesy of Simon & Schuster).