Move over, vampires. Angels are taking over as the popular supernatural in teen fiction. Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush, Hush appeared on shelves in October 2009, an early offering of what was being predicted as the new craze to follow on from vampires: fallen angels. Even before publication, the buzz surrounding Hush, Hush helped to create positive reviews. Publisher’s Weekly called it ‘a gripping thriller’, Kirkus Reviews referred to it as ‘a thrilling debut’, while Booklist said: ‘Horror and romance fans … will welcome this new take on the heart of darkness’.
The sales confirmed the high praise; Hush, Hush debuted at number ten on the New York Timesbestseller list and has sold over 100,000 copies in both the US and the UK. The best-selling sequel, Crescendo, came out in October 2010 and debuted at number two on the New York Times bestseller list.
At first glance, Hush, Hush has many similarities to Twilight, the first volume in Stephenie Meyer’s vampire romance series which has made teen fiction sales soar, introduced the genre to adult readers and turned creatures of the night (fanged, furry, and feathered) into romantic heroes. When Nora Grey is forced to be partners with the mysterious and gorgeous (but unfortunately abrasive) Patch in her Biology class, they are quick to clash. Despite her growing attraction to him, she is reluctant to ignore the secrets she’s certain he hides. As Nora tries to discover the truth about him and deal with the growing threat of a stalker, she soon realises that she is far out of her depth.
On delving deeper into Hush, Hush and its roots, the similarities to Twilight and its ilk soon become superfluous. On a purely visual level, the iridescent grey covers, splashed with key points of red, stand out in a sea of black on bookshops’ teen tables. (On an even more superficial level, putting a shirtless guy with wings on the cover of Hush, Hush couldn’t have hurt, either.)
Yet one of the strongest aspects of Hush, Hush is the comparison of its male lead character, Patch, to Edward from Twilight, who has reached Heathcliff-levels of teen adoration. Within the opening pages of Hush, Hush, it’s clear that Patch is not Edward — and Patch’s many fans consider him to be far superior. While Edward is portrayed as sensitive and regrets his becoming a vampire, Patch is presented as the ultimate bad boy. He’s out for himself and unconcerned about who gets hurt or in the way of what he wants — until he meets Nora, who is unwilling to simply fall into his arms and is repulsed by his attitude and lack of empathy.
Fitzpatrick admits that she had to soften Patch up a little bit before publication as her editor thought he might be hard to relate to, and that he was ‘a little rough around the edges.’ While he is still very much a bad boy throughout Hush, Hush, by Crescendo he has begun to soften in demeanour, though he hasn’t lost all of what made him mysterious and compelling in the first book.
Even though it may seem safer and easier to categorise Patch as a fallen-angel bad boy, Fitzpatrick is quick to point out his past. ‘He used to be an archangel,’ she explains, ‘so he was a good guy a long time ago. I think being with Nora reminds him of who he used to be and trying to be that person once again, but at the same time he will never be that same person. Too many things have happened to him. He’s changed, so he’s at war with himself.’ Despite Patch softening in Crescendo while Nora becomes stronger and learns to assert herself (something that will continue in Silence, the third book, as Nora becomes still more self-assured), Fitzpatrick promises that the two characters will join together in Silence to fight against their enemies, hinting that it will be both dramatic and epic in scope.
While Hush, Hush is marketed as paranormal romance, and the relationship between Nora and Patch is the driving force of the books, Nora’s friendship with her best friend Vee is also important. Vee is a strong, continuous presence in Hush, Hush, helping Nora discover the truth about Patch. Their friendship makes a refreshing change from some of the trends in teen books, in which mean girls and friendships are abandoned once romance is pursued. While Nora and Vee suffer from the latter in Crescendo, their friendship recovers quickly and strengthens during the course of the novel. Neither of them is popular, but they both knew they could depend on the other for the truly important things.
‘I think you either love [Vee] or hate her,’ Fitzpatrick says, ‘but she does remind me of a very authentic sixteen-year-old girl. She’s happy with who she is. She’s obnoxious, but at the same time she does look out for Nora. I love her character.’
‘I THINK YOU EITHER LOVE VEE OR HATE HER, BUT SHE DOES REMIND ME OF A VERY AUTHENTIC SIXTEEN-YEAR-OLD GIRL’
She’s adamant that she didn’t set out to write characters who are perfect role models in books considered to be a ‘guideline for how teens should handle their lives’. In her opinion, fiction should reflect real life where no one is perfect. ‘[Teenagers] are trying to find out who they are, and they’re learning who’ll betray them and who their real friends are.’ Her characters reflect this: they aren’t perfect and have flaws, often many. They make mistakes.
Her characters and plots often incorporate memories from her teenage years, including those of people she knew. Even Patch’s real name, revealed in Crescendo, comes from one of her sister’s ex-boyfriends in high school.
Fitzpatrick kept journals all through middle and high school, which she goes back and reads for inspiration and to root herself in the appropriate emotional state. She uses a lot of these memories in her writing, changing enough details to make it fictional. But the most important thing from these memories, she feels, is the emotion. ‘We all remember what it feels like to be humiliated, or betrayed, or to fall in love for the first time,’ she says, smiling. ‘Those are things that everyone experiences.’
It could well be her use of her own memories of falling in love that has helped readers become so passionately invested in Nora and Patch’s romance. Fitzpatrick feels that Nora’s behaviour when falling for Patch, claimed by some to be almost obsessive, is no different to what many teenagers do when falling in love for the first time. ‘These are the things we did: following our boyfriends around to see if they were cheating, staring. So we all have those tendencies, we just don’t like to admit it, and we like to make fun of people in books when they do it, of course.’
The biology scene from the beginning of Hush, Hush, often compared to a similar scene in Twilight, actually came from Fitzpatrick’s own high-school experience. During her writing class, the teacher had asked them to write a scene showing humiliation. ‘So I wrote a scene about my own life,’ she explains. ‘When I was sixteen and I was in my high school biology class, my teacher asked me in front of the whole class to list the characteristics I’d want in a mate, which of course happens to Nora. So that was the beginning of the book, just writing about this experience that happened to me in Biology, changing it to make it fictional.’ This was the seed of the idea that would grow into Hush, Hush.
Another theme that runs through the background of Hush, Hush and becomes more predominant in Crescendo, is family and blood, and whether blood can determine someone’s destiny. Blood lineage is important in this, a series about the descendants and vessels of angels. While Nora is haunted by the death of her father in Hush, Hush, the shadow of which haunts her and her mother as they struggle to cope and keep their own relationship from crumbling, it quickly becomes clear that there is more to her father’s death than Nora first thought.
Nora soon realises that even more dangerous secrets have been kept from her. She soon finds herself in a situation that many teenagers eventually experience; realising their parents aren’t perfect, and they make mistakes. Like many, she has to choose how to react to this. ‘There’s no such thing as a relationship where there’s never a fallout, but you can either choose to part ways and let that fallout destroy your relationship, or you can make it stronger because you overcome that fallout. Nora has a big decision to face.’ The repercussions play a huge role in the next book.
One could be forgiven for believing that writing Crescendo would be easy for Fitzpatrick after the success of Hush, Hush, but she had only just handed in the rough draft when Hush, Hush was released and then had to do ‘massive, massive’ rewrites of the second book during the heights of the first book’s success. The second book, she had heard from other writers, was the hardest one. ‘I had five years to write Hush, Hush, and most writers have all the time they want to write that first book. And then it sells, and suddenly you have one year or less to write the next book, which is a challenge.’ Considering the positive reviews and sales success Crescendo has already received in the short time since its publication, it’s a challenge that Fitzpatrick has made look easy.
Hush, Hush’s success also put a great deal of pressure on the author concerning Crescendo’s reception. With Hush, Hush, Fitzpatrick felt as if she were writing for herself, but in the lead-up to Crescendo’s publication, she had to balance readers’ expectations for what they hoped would — and felt should — happen in the next book. ‘You can’t satisfy everyone,’ she says, ‘and you have to do the best you can and take the story where you believe it needs to go, but at the same time you know there are going to be people who will be upset and people who are going to be cheering.’ She laughs. ‘It’s a lot of pressure.’
The tone and atmosphere of Hush, Hush and Crescendo seem to reflect the books’ covers: grey and gloomy with an undertone of menace and intrigue, something Fitzpatrick puts down to the books she read as a teenager. ‘My favourites were gothic romances,’ she remembers. ‘I read a lot of Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart and the Brontë sisters. Gothic romances relied heavily on atmosphere, that’s what carried the book through, so I’m sure in writing these I went back to my love of reading those books as a teen.’
While Silence wasn’t completed at the time of this interview, Fitzpatrick hopes to tie everything up if it turns out to be the final book, in which all the big questions of the series will be answered. Possibly in keeping with her refusal to write books as guidebooks to teenage life, or to have her characters be unrealistic, perfect role models, she is firm that the series will have a happy ending.
‘I like the feeling when you close the cover of a book and you’re in a happy place,’ she says. ‘Things are going to work out for these characters.’ But if Silence is anything like its predecessors, the happy ending will only come after several twists and turns and much uncertainty and danger. But Fitzpatrick’s readers have faith in her, and if the anticipation for Silence is anything like it was for Crescendo, they’ll be eager to find out how Nora and Patch reach their happy ending.
So stand aside, vampires. The original bad boys are making a comeback! HC