Young adult novel characters defined by smells
By Sonam Kaloti, Arts Editor
Young adult novels have a particularly strange quirk which begins and ends with nonchalantly labelling characters with a collection of smells. Usually this strange description is made for the guy that the main female protagonist is falling for.
What’s strange is, in my humble experience, people rarely smell like anything that you could put a label to. Yes, each person smells different—but not like lavender or hummus. Each person has a pretty original smell, and unless they reek, it’s never really potent enough to make a big deal out of.
Let’s start with The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare. Clary Fray is said to smell like citrus soap and clean cotton. Of all the smells I’m going to list, this is likely the most realistic. Maybe she just washed her hands and wore clothes fresh out of the laundry. Jace Wayland, however, smells of soap, smoke, and coppery blood. Realistically, you’d have to be around smoke quite often if you were to always smell of it, and blood kind of makes sense since he’s a Shadowhunter and all that.
From the same universe, the Infernal Devices series—also by Clare—brought with it a whole new set of smells. Tessa Gray is said to smell of lavender. This series is set in the 1800s, and though perfumes were used, Gray was at first imprisoned by the Dark Sisters… who I imagine did not give her perfume or flowers. Also, Gray definitely must have been too busy saving the world to customize her smell on her own.
Jem Carstairs smells of soap and sandalwood, which again, I can’t imagine how Jem would go about smelling of sandalwood in the 1800s. The strangest of these three is Will Herondale, however, who smells of blood, sweat, magic, and soap.
Perhaps it is because I have not personally smelled magic before, but I do believe such a smell is probably just a ridiculously exaggerated metaphor to show that the speaker is falling in love. In this instance, that smell is used nicely to describe not Will, but rather Tessa and her feelings for Will.
Then there’s Divergent by Veronica Roth, who prides Tobias for smelling like sweat and metal. Seeing a theme here? Young adult bad boys smell like sweat a lot. And, very alarmingly, blood. I guess that’s what the metal is supposed to imply, unless you’ve ever encountered someone and thought, “Ah, yes, that is that tang of an iron rod right there.”
From the same series, Albert is said to smell like sage and lemongrass. This has to be the most ridiculous one. Not only is Al in Dauntless (the faction of bravery and physical skills), but according to the books and the novels, Dauntless members usually wear all black and wander bleak corridors with the occasional shooting range just off the hallway.
Al is not like the others in Dauntless, apparently shown by his smell alone. While it is clearly a subtle indicator that he isn’t “normal,” there’s likely no way for him to go about smelling like sage and lemongrass. Even if it were in his soap or shampoo, it makes more sense for him to smell like Tobias’ sweat and metal, according to the rigorous training they do in Dauntless.
Last but not least, Patch Cipriano of Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick is the classic tall, slender, and dark brooding boy. He smells of spice, mint, and leather. The protagonist Nora Grey describes him as the embodiment of “masculine perfection” and insists that he “radiates mystery.” If the mystery is what he does with his time, I would guess it was cooking in a Harley Davidson jacket.
Smell is widely accounted as an extremely powerful sense that is related closely with memory. Because of this, it can evoke intense emotional response. Although many of the smells used to describe characters are potent enough to allow readers to connect with their own memories, they are hardly realistic enough.