Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Why was death so awesome?

Obviously none of us are here thinking there is quality lit in the Lurleneverse. That said, once upon a time, many of us would have said there was, or at least that we couldn't get enough of dying heroines and their dreams of white dresses.

So what is the appeal? Obviously there's quite a market for death-and-disease books in the YA genre, right? Lurlene's kind of got this market cornered, but it's not just her, and clearly kids want to read these. I would have read each and every one of these as a kid if I could have gotten my hands on them.

And let's see:
  • I myself never suffered from a serious illness.
  • No one in my immediate family suffered from a serious illness*.
  • None of my friends or romantic prospects suffered from a serious illness.
So clearly it's not about that. Also, while I wasn't a heathen or anything back then, I wasn't scoping out "inspirational" fiction, so it wasn't that either.

The always-fantastic Tiny Pants sent me some information about the book Loving with a Vengeance: Mass-produced Fantasies for Women by Tanya Modleski, who said the following about gothic novels for women:
On the other hand, [death] endows the woman with something like 'tragic hero' status: "What can a heroine do?" asks Joanna Russ in pointing out that men have taken all the active plots. She can die. And in dying, she does not have to depart from the passive feminine role, but only logically extend it. On the other hand, death can be a very powerful means of wreaking vengeance on others who do not properly 'appreciate' us, and it is in this form that the fantasy of death can be found in Harlequin Romances, which, with their happy endings, seem on the surface to have nothing in common with the tragic Clarissa plot.
Considering that in many ways, Lurlene's books follow the trajectory of a simple teen romance novel (and many are in addition to being disease books), is this what's going on? Girls can land a big plotline, but only by doing something super passive like DYING.

Anyway, I am really curious to hear why you guys think you used to be so fascinated with these books, or - if you weren't - why others were... AND STILL ARE.

*at the time of my reading these books


Anonymous said...

Because of the captivating cover art, of course. :P

I really don't know, I guess I was just a strange child.
It was kind of interesting to see the creative ways in which Lurlene could kill of her characters.
I know I never had that much creativity.

stephanie said...

I am very intrigued by the whole idea of a heroine's only action being dying...I think it's just the English major coming out in me, but it definitely fits with Lurlene's world in books. Not that she actively thought about it as being a logical extension of passivity (or maybe she did!) but that it just fits with general themes of literature.

I don't know why I liked them...It was fascinating, to read about something so far removed from my own life. But it was so relateable sometimes (seems weird now, re-reading the horrible dialogue!) Maybe it was a "sick people have feelings too" kind of lesson, or just that it was a twisted form of escapism. My favorite author was Poe when I was 7...I was a weird child, and the idea of "what would I do if this happened to me?" held some appeal.

Also, it left me with the feeling that if I have too many unexplained bruises I must have cancer. Still. I hate you Lurlene.

Anonymous said...

I dunno, maybe the drama? The same reason that I read all those stories on anorexia or autistic children or drug use. I would probably have read "Jay's Journal" if it had been available. :P Suffering and drama is interesting when you're 13!

Anonymous said...

I never got into the cancer books myself, but I agree that some of the appeal was probably "they'll appreciate me when I'm dead".

Incidentally, I remember reading a novel where the author made a passing reference to a series by "Arlene Spaniel" that was full of all sorts of tragedy. I fairly squeed when I realized that someone else shared my pet peeve.

Anonymous said...

I have no idea why I liked the books so much. I think maybe it was like what Stephanie said-I found it fascinating to read about something so far removed from my own life. Back when I read those books, I didn't know anyone who had a disease. I've also always been interested in reading about disabilities, which I always hoped Lurlene would do (the closest was "I'll Be Seeing You.") I am just glad I'm not the only one who was so into Lurlene's books!

Megan Reilly said...

When I was in 2nd grade, I used to write stories about girls who died of interesting diseases. I'm not sure why I liked this topic so much, but Lurlene's books seem to play to that same desire. I think the appeal is partially fascination with the symptoms and the struggle. The "you'll miss me when I'm gone" type thing might also come into play.

BadKat said...

I totally agree with that article. Women are either supposed to get married or die. Or get married then die. Plus, most of those death-books (especially Lurlene) have major issues with purity/chastity. They often seem to die just in time to avoid sexual encounters or after they have been dis-purified by some saintly boy or devilish scamp.

I wanted to read about dying because I never knew anyone who was sick and I never had anybody die on me (until 2006, so I made it awhile). But I always wanted to read about sex more. Man, Lurlene would have killed me off right away. I would have suddenly sick with one-day Lymphoma

Anonymous said...

I have no idea why I was into death and disease as a kid. I just was. I was a weird kid.

Anonymous said...

I was never into these books growing up, although even before I had friends who came out, I enjoyed reading about LGBT teens. (And I am straight, btw.) I think part of it is just intrigue at the unknown (sorry if that makes no sense, it's been a long day).

meredith said...

I agree with you, maybeimamazed. I read a lot about anorexics and I was definitely never one myself, though I was really interested in the subject.

Plus, all the drama! My life never had any of the fun kinds of that.

Meg said...

I started reading the Lurlene books because other girls in my sixth grade class were reading them, and I was intrigued by the rather morbid titles.

I've never really thought about why I liked them before, but maybe it's because I'm interested in the medical field and the various sicknesses and conditions people can have, but I'm waaay too squeamish to ever work in medicine. Maybe the Lurleneverse allowed me to learn more about it in a safe, non-threatening or graphic way - unlike surgery shows on TV that make want to puke (if that makes any sense at all).

As an English major, though, I can definitely see the classic "damsel in distress" tactic at work in the Lurlene novels, and as an eleven-year-old, maybe I was wanting to have a cute boy to help me out if I was ever sick.

Interesting point of discussion!

Lucy Honeychurch said...

My sister was a juvenile diabetic. I think I loved these books as a kid just because I wanted that kind of attention, because I just couldn't compete with a sick sister. I figured if I had a fatal illness that I miraculously recovered from, all while being gracious and brave, I'd get attention. Sick, but true.

Anonymous said...

I'm a newbie here, but I have to say, first of all OMG OMG LURLENE DEVOTEES OMG.

I liked angst and drama and abuse (child, drug, spousal) and LOVED illness as a kid, but I honestly don't know why. Injuries were also cool.

Even once I realized how preachy, formulaic and plain old BAD Lurlene's books were, it took me years to finally stop buying them.

Anonymous said...

When I was a kid, I LOVED Lurlene McDaniels. I would get all her books that I could and then I would re-read them until I practically memorized each book.

I think that I craved strong feelings of sadness, melodrama and romance that were severely lacking in my preteen life. There was just nothing to sob into my pillow about.

Another thing I did: If my classmates made fun of me or my parents grounded me, I could sulk and say to myself "They'll all feel sorry for me when I get leukemia and DIE!"

Anonymous said...

I have Briana's Gift en route to me right now. It's the only book recapped here that I didn't read as...well, I'd like to say as a kid, but I totally owned A Rose for Melinda and Telling Christina Goodbye, and those were published WAY after I was a kid. (I hated them, but I could never quite get out of Lurlene's clutches until my 20s.) When are we getting a new review? I'm jonesing for a whole mess of cancer right now!

Also, I got dumped a few days ago, thought to myself, "She'll be sorry when I GET LEUKEMIA AND DIE!" and laughed my ass off. Now whenever I get mopey about it, I think that and laugh until I don't feel crappy. Thanks for that, anonymous! :)

Anonymous said...

There is definitely something of the tragic heroine in Lurlene's books. But I think the real appeal for me was that it was a cheesy, not-too-scary to start thinking about the issue of mortality.

When I read these books I was about 10 years old, just old enough for death to move from an idea to a reality. I needed to accept that it existed and these books provided a safe, easy way to explore the concept of mortality without getting too freaked out.

Diana said...

I just found this blog. I was a huge fan of Lurlene's books. To this day I can't tell you why. I think I found illness tragic and appealing and mysterious, and like a few previous commenters said, I was also a fan of eating disorder books. I know I had huge crushes on several of the guys--Lacey's hemophiliac bf Jeff from the One Last Wish books was a big one--so subconsciously the damsel in distress thing had to be going on. The moral lessons never stuck with me, but some of the boys did.

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