Haunting Adeline (2021)

Published on 21 June 2024 at 22:54

When I chose this book to read, it wasn't a blind read. With that being said, wasn't because I thought I'd enjoy it, or perhaps someone had recommended it. While I will talk about "Haunting Adeline" in this review, I moreso want to use its contents and nature to critique a genre in which is a poison increasingly tainting modern trending YA works.

The nature of this book is graphic compared to most of my other reviewed content. Please be advised that this book features themes of abuse, manipulation, and assault.

Someone that is no longer in my life talked once raved to me about our shared interests in books. I love few things more than to have meaningful discussions with others about our shared passions, including works of media; and specifically books. I do not need us to have shared preferred works for this to be true. I also do my best to recognize and respect the appeal of as many varying genres as I can, even when reading certain books, TV shows, and movies to filth. With that being said, I have developed a severe distaste for the genre dubbed "dark romance."

Before I continue, I would like to specify what a dark romance is supposed to be. For one, by definition, it includes "darker" themes. This includes, but is not limited to: morally grey characters, manipulation, violence, power dynamics, and trauma. Trending Wattpad fanfictions that I might've sat reading on my kindle on the toilet when I was 14 involving kidnappings, mafias, and stalking would be considered dark romance. They're more often than not falling under the umbrella of "smut," with heavily intense sexual themes. Think, "dominant" alpha man, strong willed but ultimate "submissive" woman.

An important feature of dark romances, however, is that romance is a key point.

I think dark romances can be very interesting and provocative. I personally find the idea of featuring characters multi-faceted, depicted in situations more jarring and forcing readers to question their characterization, can be interesting. Given that the right audience finds these books, recognizing that these toxic situations are not to be fully romanticized, I see the appeal. But that gets into my critique: oftentimes, the lack of romance and blurred line of toxicity straight into abuse makes for some incredibly dark books being marketed incorrectly and subsequently harmfully.

The premise of this book is as follows: some vigilante stalker with a savior complex (murders sex traffickers because of their heinous deeds, only to assault the main character under the pretense of obsessive love) plays a "cat and mouse" game with Adeline, a very very stupid heroine. Like she's actually pretty dumb. I'm not just saying that because of the ridiculously sub-par inner dialogue that essentially dumbs down the story and takes away from the  tension in the book, but because she's just missing any basic survival instincts. The assault scenes are pretty brutal, too. They're consistent. It involves a gun. And, my favorite manipulation tactic that abusers use to negate the harm they're causing: convincing the victim that physical arousal and a biological reaction means consent, when it's anything but.

A book I've read before titled "The Devil's Kiss" by Gemma James was an interesting read for me, for example. Deeply troubling to read, I strangely enough found myself enjoying psychoanalyzing the characters. The main character was coerced by blackmail into a BDSM relationship with her boss, with her daughter's life at stake. She has the mental fortitude to recognize and address her situation as non-consensual throughout, but you see her wavering faith in resolve as her body betrays her mind. I feel as though this book could have been something really special if not calling itself a "romance," and perhaps a "psychological thriller." The same way that no one in their right minds would call "Lolita" by Vladimir Nabokov a romance, nor is it officially categorized as such. "The Devil's Kiss" could have been an examination of the complex effects of assault, specifically in situations involving enduring coercion. We could have been seeing a character's struggle for freedom from the legal shackles of her contract, as well as the shackles she faces once she is beaten into routine. Instead, the book is a "dark romance," which makes her strong attempts to keep dignity in the face of such daunting odds seem for nothing, as the expectation is an eventual happy ending. That he either apologizes for the nature of their relationship that can never truly be rectified, or she simply gives into she shame she describes feeling when she "caves."

At the end of the day, involving any scenario where there is an equation of abuse with love is hard to stomach. And because of the chatter that these books often get, as they undoubtably get a lot of buzz for their jarring nature, the threat of the wrong audience picking them up is incorrigibly worse than your average smut. "Haunting Adeline" is rape. Several of these books are just rape. And as someone who knows the effects that CNC (consensual non-consent) can have on a person, where it completely blurs the reality of the horrors of assault and its dangerous nature, I don't believe it's possible for true dark romance fans reading these particular works to separate real from not. Especially when you go to places like Goodreads and witness the real things some of these young teenagers, incapable of critically realizing the implications of the claims for "romance" in this book, are saying.

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