The House of Night and Authors' Responsibility with Social Issues
There’s never been a YA novel, nay, a novel in general that has me contemplating the influence of novels on readers as much as the House of Night series has. Now I had missed the initial House of Night party when the series first launched in the heat of the late-2000’s vampire craze because I was a serious Potterhead and serious Potterheads didn’t read vampire novels (The Twi-hate was REAL, children).
A full decade after the first book’s release, my friend Tori and I were discussing trashy YA novels we read when we were in middle school and she mentioned the series. I decided to give the series a try because I’m a good friend like that and also technically it's a "vampyre" series, not "vampire" because the authors were going for originality?
The first book, Marked, was honestly a delight for me to read. I found the main character, Zoey, endearing and was mildly impressed with the LGBT, feminist, and racial representation in the novel. Nostalgia had blinded me to the constant slut-shaming and blatant misogyny. Every time Zoey rolled her eyes at a “slut” before proceeding to exhibit those exact behaviors to her own romantic interest, I just shrugged my shoulders and attributed it to potential character development. Maybe she’ll realize those “sluts” she keeps shaming are just young women who are actively pursuing romantic interests while empowering themselves to act independent of their previous patriarchal identities, just like what she was doing
About halfway through the sequel, when Zoey climbed on top of her not-boyfriend to make out with him a literal page after she went on a rant about how terrible non-monogamous women were, I realized the slut-shaming hypocrisy was never going to end.
Reading through the synopsis of the remaining ten books (who even writes series that long any more my god), I can confirm that the hypocrisy never ever ends. Sexual and independent women are shamed and villainized. “Good” characters who go evil start having sex. “Bad” characters who go good stop having sex. All except for our heroine Zoey Redbird, of course! I wish this was an exaggeration, but its not. The fan made wiki for Zoey can’t even be nice about it.
The terrible story quality aside, all of this hypocritical slut-shaming has me stressed out on what to do with my personal copies of Marked and Betrayed. I don’t want this disgrace to feminism on my shelves any longer so initially I thought I would donate them to my local little library. But then I realized a young girl might read them then. I can’t have the fact I helped distribute this fake feminist propaganda to children on my conscience!
That led me to question, just how much responsibility should authors have to educate their readers on social issues?
I mean, it’d be one thing if this series had a strict abstinence only philosophy. It wouldn’t be the first YA vampire series to push that agenda, even Twilight was guilty of it. But the fact it keeps switching back and forth on whether or not sex is okay and is aggressive on the belief that it isn’t makes the novels dangerous. The authors were clear on their attempts to make the novels socially progressive by consistently telling the reader that the vampyre society is matriarchal and including POC and LGBT characters in the main cast. However, as any author knows, telling and showing are two different things and the House of Night series shows young women that having agency means returning to patriarchal ideals and feeling shame for pursuing sexual relationships.
But is it the Casts’ responsibilities to teach their primarily young female audience the opposite? If it was just supposed to be some fun YA trash about vampyre finishing school, do the authors really need to be socially progressive in every aspect of the novel? Should YA novels be used to facilitate a discussion rather than force a lesson?
It’s these kind of questions readers and authors alike need to ask themselves when reading or writing a book. From a strictly statistical standpoint, there are more books out in the world that haven’t defined our society than have. However, the books that have changed our society have arguably made a really profound impact.
From my personal library, Every Day by David Levithan is a great example of a book that aims to be socially progressive but still highlights a main character who doesn’t fully accept social progress. The tension between the need for social progression and whether or not someone actually accepts it is a wonderful conflict and is best portrayed with this book. It is not best portrayed with a main character who treats women who enjoy sex as her inferior before proceeding to have sex for enjoyment, House of Night!
(By the way, if you think House of Night should be forgiven for their social oversights due to the fact they were written in the late 2000’s, I will inform you that the last book of the main series was released in 2014 and a spin-off series, still set in the same world with the same characters, was launched last year.)
If you want to read more about the misogyny of the House of Night series, you can read this blog post by a brave soul who managed to actually finish reading the whole thing. I can’t even tolerate the second half of the second book! If you have any thoughts or words of defense, feel free to comment below or @ me on Twitter. I also have a YouTube channel and this blog post about the sexism in Ready Player One.