Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Up All Night
I gleefully read the entirety of Meg Cabot's Mediator series - about a girl who can talk to ghosts - in the summer before 6th grade, and R.L. Stine's (yes, the Goosebumps guy) duet of books, Dangerous Girls and the Taste of Night, served as my introduction into the world of teenage vampires. I read about werewolves in Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause, and all other sorts of beasties, borrowed from the oft-tread Teen section of my local library. Yes, I will even admit it: I borrowed Stephenie Meyer's Twilight from a friend, and in enjoying it so much, immediately bought the next two over-priced books in the series - New Moon and Eclipse - from the school book fair. This was a much simpler time, back in middle school, when you could still be considered that-weird-girl-with-the-vampire-books, but not care, because you were too busy reading about dark forests, dangerous kisses, and a fight to the death. Back when Twilight's sheer size and subject matter still turned most normal young teenage girls off of reading it, we few slumped in the back of the science classroom happily, with our overly-criticized, much-loved teenage fare.
Then everything changed, when the Hollywood studios' mass-production machine attacked.
Suddenly, Twilight was being made into a movie, with hot young actors and blockbuster headlines. We original children of the dark recoiled in horror, as bubble gum pink talons reached for our beloved books and crowed, "Oh, I love Edward!" (or Jacob. Like it really mattered). It was impossible. No one whose hair smelled like strawberries could possibly love these dark, romantic tales like we did. And yet, that same Teen section of the library was flooded by teenage girls, and ransacked of all the novels that I loved most.
Then, the shelves began filling up again, with new novels, and more handsome vampires. Paranormal teen romance was the number-one genre on the market, TV shows and movies starring things that went bump in the night started popping up in every major studio and network, and, all of a sudden... it was cool to be a batgirl. The hype hit what I thought was critical mass, and then kept growing and growing, until it seemed that there wasn't enough breathing space for us originals anymore. So, I sighed, and abandoned that genre that I loved, for the romance of the British classics, and the supernatural horrors of Shelley, Stoker, and King, vowing never to read a book that combined the two genres again. Until now.
As it is, so many years later, paranormal teen lit is still a major selling point, and I've grown to be okay with that. Still, in a genre that has become so over-populated, it isn't easy to determine which are actually well-written, and which have been mindlessly churned out by a career stock writer on a tight deadline. Therefore, if one of these books does grow to become a much-celebrated #1 national bestseller, I'm willing to give it a chance. And that's how the Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, ended up in my to-read pile.
The story, about two conflicting schools of magic at war, fought out by skilled manipulators whose hearts are connected by more than simply the challenge, features all of the best parts of those books I read in middle school, with nary a vamp in sight. However, the mystical, paranormal romance never manages to feel overdone, or like a repetition of something I've seen before. Even the calling card of the genre - the colors black, white, and red - take on an entirely new tint when represented in this novel. Sure, there were some sections I found a little boring or bumpy, and the chronology of the book (the effect of which was revealed to be quite clever, eventually) was pretty irritating when you were trying to really get into the story, but for the most part, the idea that I was the most impressed with, was that there was actually an interesting, emotionally-involving, dark and twisted romance left in this genre, the echos of which I haven't seen anywhere already.
I'm not calling the Night Circus the rebirth of my love of paranormal teen romance, by any means. And I still find all those teenage fangirls obnoxious. By I really must accredit Morgenstern with accomplishing a major feat: which is, to revitalize an entire genre, by finding new ideas and ways of thinking - by creating a clever format, an amazing cast, and enchantingly, whimsically, dark venue - to craft a compelling story, the remarkable nature of which is not often present on those kinds of bookshelves.