Some might call December holiday season. And it is! But it’s also the season of another cheerful, warming tradition: the romantic comedy. Think about it. What goes better with cozy twinkle lights and a steaming mug of tea than two people falling in love? With Hallmark finding new life with the Christmas rom-com boom—and Netflix getting in on the action—it seems like we’re all yearning for a little something sweet come the holidays. Personally, my current watch list is stocked with Love Actually, The Holiday, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and the like, and it will be until the post-holiday blues wear off.
The sudden resurgence of the rom-com genre in both film and book format seems ripe for analysis. Why are these stories so satisfying to us, when we can accurately map out each plot point and know literally from the beginning how they’re going to end? And why do they go through periodic booms? Well, like any genre, rom-com popularity is surely at the whim of trends, which come and go mostly without explanation. But I think there might be something more to it.
The most obvious place to look is, quite simply, the state of our world. With our relatively new access to the incessant, depressing, soul-crushing 24 hour news cycle—giving us access to previously obscure horrors from around the globe in addition to our own backyard—it’s easy to lose faith in just about everything. Whether or not the world is in a worse state than it’s ever been, the fact is we now know how terrible things are (whereas before, we may have only gotten the news in bits and pieces). So what better antidote to real-world horror than candy-coated, perfectly contrived narratives that by necessity end with a happily-ever-after? As Hugh Grant’s character says in the opening scene of Love Actually, “Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere.” Hugh’s version of Heathrow Airport holds the same kind of heartwarming, best-version-of-humanity qualities that we love in romantic comedies. It’s a world where the good outweighs the bad, where love always wins, where you know exactly how things are going to play out. It is, in a short word, comfort.
If you’ve ever read YA, you’re probably at least passingly familiar with Leigh Bardugo, author of the Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows series (collectively called the Grishaverse). Ninth House, her newest book, is Bardugo’s first foray into the “adult” category—and boy, she was not playing around with that categorization. Readers might need a stronger stomach than they’re used to with her previous work, and should be aware that there are elements that some readers might find triggering (there was a whole online discussion about this before the book even came out). While Ninth House might be a little too “adult” for some of her younger readers, Bardugo is no stranger to dark subject matter. If any Six of Crows fans remember Kaz’s backstory (or any of their backstories, but Kaz’s was the worst), they’ll know what I mean. In fact, one of the biggest criticisms of Six of Crows was that the characters being teens made no sense at all. So really, one could argue that she’s been writing adult this whole time, just disguising it under the YA banner.
With Ninth House, Bardugo relishes her opportunity to dig into the gritty, ugly real world with some magical touches. The story concerns the eight “ancient” secret societies of Yale—Lethe, our home base, is the extra secret, eponymous ninth. Lethe is tasked with overseeing the magic of the others, ensuring nothing goes astray. But of course, go astray things must. What’s interesting about Bardugo’s take on magic is that it patently does not make up for the ugliness of reality—it’s not an escape, it’s just another realm in which ugly things happen. In fact, Bardugo very purposefully crafted anti-heroine Alex—and the use of magic in general—as a “what if”. What if magic was real, and gifted only to a select group of already privileged people in New Haven? What if a trauma survivor was gifted this magic as well? The magic of Yale is used to explore very real topics, so that in the midst of all the ghosts and fantastical party drugs there are very real issues of assault, power plays, and murder. “You cannot write a story about magic, which is essentially going to operate as a commodity,” Barudgo said in a Time interview, “without exploring the kind of damage that we could do to each other if this were actually in play.”
Can you feel it? There’s a crispness in the air, beckoning you to curl up on the couch with a mug of hot apple cider, or maybe a PSL. Hot Girl Summer is officially behind us, and now it’s time for Cozy Girl (or Boy, or Person) Autumn. Hygge nights, the sweet scent of rotting leaves, Halloween candy at every turn…..if anyone tries to tell you fall isn’t the best season, they’re lying. In between reading spooky stories, planning my Halloween costume, and buying far too many decorative gourds, I picked up a copy of Pumpkinheads by the prolific Rainbow Rowell (her latest book, Wayward Son, came out just few weeks ago), and if you for some reason still need some autumn inspo to really get into the season, this young adult graphic novel should hit the spot.
Set in the span of a single night, Pumpkinheads is a short and sweet story about two high school seniors Deja and Josiah, who reunite every fall at the local pumpkin patch where they’ve worked for the past four years. This pumpkin patch, enthusiastically named DeKnock’s World Famous Pumpkin Patch and Autumn Jamboree, claims to be “the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world”—a bold claim and, if the artwork is anything to judge by, an accurate one. This night (Halloween) is Deja and Josiah’s last night at the pumpkin patch ever; they’ll be off to college next year. So, determined to live their final day to the fullest, Deja decides it’s time for Josiah to do what he’s been putting off for four years: confess his massive crush to the mysterious “Fudge Girl” girl who works at the Fudge Shoppe across the way. This sudden urge sparks a series of misadventures as, unable to find Fudge Girl, Deja drags the shy Josiah all through the pumpkin patch, past the smores pit and candy apple stand, through the corn maze and the hay ride.