YA Gothic at ‘Investigating Identities’ (2): Identity, Agency, Assimilation and Paranormal Romance

Following on from Sam’s post on her keynote talk for the Investigating Identities in Young Adult YA Narratives symposium at the University of Northampton on 16 December, I thought I should post a synopsis of the paper I’ll be presenting there on YA Paranormal Romance.

Loving the corpse, becoming the wolf: identity, assimilation, and agency in Daniel Waters’s Generation Dead and Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver

In the Gothic lineage of horror fiction, the monster can readily be interpreted as figuring the Other—the racial or sexual outsider rejected by the dominant groups of society. In recent years, however, the horror genre has been modulated by the unlikely genre of romance fiction, creating the new hybrid form of paranormal romance, where the monster is not only sympathetic but becomes the lover of humans. The appearance of the sympathetic monster and this new genre coincided with the absorption of identity politics into the mainstream, where calls for recognition by variously oppressed identities became acceptable discourse.

Among the most interesting examples are those aimed at a Young Adult audience;YA paranormal romance is often more daring, ideologically and stylistically, than its adult counterparts. I look at two such fictions. Daniel Waters’s Generation Dead employs the unlikely love object of a zombie to raise, through mimicry and parody, questions and arguments around identity politics as they have become appropriated or assimilated by contemporary Western culture. This leads to a refusal to countenance essences or mechanical determinism of human behaviour, or to embrace essential identities as the foundation of claims to autonomy. Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver uses the werewolf to perform a sophisticated interrogation of the boundaries of animality and humanity, highlighting the centrality of language and its relationship to agency, which is intimately bound up with the formation of identity in young people.

I will show how, in these novels, the issues of identity, not least the precarious identity of young adults themselves, are subjected to a critical yet sympathetic scrutiny.

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