I Like a Girl Who Can Eat
Female Hunger, Food, and Desire in Maggie Stiefvater’s Wolves of Mercy Falls Series
In mainstream discourse on the genre, the contemporary young adult (YA) supernatural romance is frequently dismissed as one-dimensional and low quality; literature that reproduces traditional and conservative ideologies of gender and sexuality for an undiscerning adolescent female audience. In this article I contest this dismissal, arguing that the genre contains complex and contradictory representations of femininity and female sexuality, and that these representations expose and rehearse ambivalence surrounding adolescent girls and girlhood in the early twenty-first century. Drawing on the growing disciplines of both romance and YA studies, I conduct this contestation through close reading and analysis of Maggie Stiefvater’s Wolves of Mercy Falls series, which consists of Shiver (2009), Linger (2010), Forever (2011), and Sinner (2014). Ambivalence and complexity are discussed in the series through representations of female gustatory and sexual hunger as well as food and feasting and the presence of the supernatural through representations of female lycanthropy. Through the symbolic associations of food with sexuality and sexual activity, scenes of female gustatory hunger and feasting within the corpus attempt to negotiate the engrained diet culture and repression of adolescent female sexual desire within the late 2000s and early 2010s in the anglophone world. Female hunger and appetite are at once encouraged and praised (within human characters) and presented as dangerous and in need of restriction (within female lycanthropes). This emphasises the still-rigid boundaries and fears surrounding feminine excess. In this article, I not only analyse the ambivalence and anxiety that surround adolescent girls during this period, but also emphasise the importance of popular literature as a site in which these attitudes and anxieties can be explored, resisted, and reproduced.
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