Thursday, 16 January 2014

In Defence of Romance in YA

Romeo & Juliet

At my latest 'YA only' book club meeting, we were discussing our favourite novels that we'd read over the Christmas holidays. See the list at the end of this post for our top picks!

We got on the topic of how we'd like to see stronger friendships for the main character to develop in addition to the love interest. “There's romance, of course,” someone had said, “but you can't escape that in YA.”

Everyone nodded and then the conversation progressed to the next novel on the list. But I couldn't stop thinking about that one particular comment. It wasn't said with a negative intonation, but it wasn't a compliment either.

“You can't escape romance in YA.”

Sometimes, as adults, we forgot how different our brain worked as a teenager. I remember my entire happiness riding on the simplest decision. And don't get me started on bad hair. A whole day could be ruined by a wayward curl. That is, until the guy you've secretly been crushing on for two months, finally smiled at you in history class and let you borrow his pen.

In high school, I was terribly average in every way. I wasn't fashionable, athletic or an outstanding student. Reading was my escape. It was a place where I could be the smart, stylish girl who was brilliant on the soccer field.

YA was limited back then—not the cornucopia of selection today. Thank God for Judy Blume or I'd be stuck reading Sweet Valley High over and over again. I discovered Lois Duncan and then branched off into Ray Bradbury and Stephen King.

And even in these genres of horror and mystery, there was still romance. The protagonist always had someone they were in love with or were falling in love with—there was someone worth fighting for.

“You can't escape romance in YA.”

You can't escape mystery, humour, horror, fantasy, or science fiction in YA either.

But why is the romantic element viewed differently?

Would The Fault in Our Stars be more compelling if Hazel hadn't fallen in love with Augustus? way! A female protagonist motivated by love isn't weak or boring; she's genuine and compassionate.

One of my favourite books is The Republic of Love by Canadian author, Carol Shields (Pulitzer Prize winner). It's told from the view points of both Fay, a folklorist whose passion for mermaids has kept her from focusing on any one man, and Tom, a popular radio talk-show host, who has been married and divorced three times.

When they finally meet at the mid-point of the book, they fall in love at first sight.

'But Fay's noticed something she's never noticed before. That love is not, anywhere, taken seriously. It's not respected. It's the one thing in the world everyone wants—she's convinced of that—but for some reason people are obligated to pretend that love is trifling and foolish.'

“You can't escape romance in YA.”

What about Romeo and Juliet? Do you think anyone took Shakespeare aside and told him Juliet seemed weak because she was consumed by her love for Romeo?

So far in the last four hundred years, no one's mentioned romance ruined the story.

Recently, Alice Munro (another Canadian author) won the Nobel Prize for Literature. In the presentation speech, Professor Peter Englund said, “Over the years, numerous prominent scientists have received their well deserved awards in this auditorium for having solved some of the greatest enigmas of the universe or our material of existence. But you, dear Alice Munro, like few others, have come close to solving the greatest mystery of all; the human heart and its caprices."

“You can't escape romance in YA.”

Here, here, I say!

And in honour of romance, check out this post on how to write a simply head over heels, swoony worthy, kissing scene.

Awesome YA titles highly recommended by a bunch of smart bookish people

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

Namesake by Sue MacLeod

Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff

Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow

Undercurrent by Paul Blackwell

Hemlock by Kathleen Peacock

What are your views on romance in YA?


Katy Upperman said...

Uh, the more romance the better, I say! My very favorite YA books are romance centered: Judy Blume's FOREVER..., Melina Marchetta's JELLICOE ROAD, Jandy Nelson's THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE, Stephanie Perkins' LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR, Rainbow Rowell's E&P, and most recently, Katie Cotugno's HOW TO LOVE. I was completely fixated on romance as a teen, and I highly doubt I'm alone in that admission. So, bring on the fictional romance!

S.P. Bowers said...

I love me some romance. As you said, there are a lot of things that occur regularly in YA, Romance is just one of them. Most likely because that is such a huge and constant part of life.

Laila N Mysis said...

HERE HERE!!! I mean, I don't usually always go for straight up romances, but I like it, y'know? As a side dish. And I don't think it ruins a story. Not always.

I feel so blegh. In this weird way, I really want you to write a post that I can disagree with, for once ^_^

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