Discussion: Romance in YA Novels

No, this is not a discussion about whether romance is appropriate for YA novels, but rather a discussion of the romance we already find in YA novels.

I, for one, find most YA romances unbelievable and/or just plain creepy.  Yes, I know young love is crazy and even a little clingy, but some books take this to a whole new level.  In some novels, we see the male love interests take on qualities I would consider to be borderline abusive or worse: controlling what the main character does, who she talks to, giving her mixed signals constantly, etc.  The most notable example is, of course, Twilight.  However, I’m still seeing some of these behaviours in mostly male love interests in young adult novels.  It’s certainly not sending out any great messages to impressionable teens about what is love and what is not.

The other thing I have a problem with in YA romances is that they’re so unbelievable.  I know teenagers are particularly hormonal and romantic, but declarations of love after a week or so are just plain ridiculous.  In some books, the main character hardly knows her male love interest before she’s saying she loves him.  And when she realizes she loves him, suddenly she can’t live without him and has no interests outside her relationship with him.  Is that realistic?  Not really.  Is that healthy?  Definitely not.

Okay, I better stop now or I’ll be ranting all day.  Yes, there are some great, healthy relationships in YA (Katniss and Po from Graceling), but the trend of borderline abusive relationships is frankly disturbing to me.  But now I want to hear your thoughts on the topic: What do you think of romance in YA novels in general?  Are the portrayals of relationships healthy?  What is your favourite YA couple?  Why?

11 comments

  1. Kayla Sanchez

    I can second the abusive part right away. I just finished a book, Finding Home by Lauren McKellar, and the main character fell in love with this guy after seeing him once, and she was so invested in trying to get him to love her back that she ended up in a date rape situation. Really scary, and while Finding Home emphasized the destructive aspect of this kind of relationship, not many other books do. It’s definitely a problem!

    • Carrie Slager

      Yeah, but I do like it when books portray those types of relationships as a bad example. I mean, if they emphasize that the relationship is abusive, it’s more of an eye-opener than anything. However, a lot of YA books don’t do that and portray love as clingy, possessive and a crazy emotional roller coaster. I can understand the first and third to a certain extent, but there is absolutely no need for possessiveness.

  2. Carla J. Hanna

    The problem is that abuse is selling. Twilight’s unhealthy relationship was huge. The TwiMom fan fic, Fifty Shades – totally abusive and disrespectful – was huge. Yes, impressionable teens are reading. Miley is twerking. I’m seriously worried about what teens read. But going the Christian market route is also unrealistic. I personally like Gayle Forman’s ya romances but they’re not selling. Why?

    • Carrie Slager

      The romance in Christian novels appeals to me, it’s just that I’m not Christian and don’t like how some of those novels really emphasize the faith aspects. But each to their own I suppose.

      As for what teens read, I think it’s partly parents’ faults. (Yes I’m blaming parents yet again!) If you teach your child what is and is not acceptable in a relationship and maintain an open dialogue with them about what they read, it shouldn’t be that big of an issue. Yet here we are constantly bombarded by the media into thinking we’re all fat, worthless slobs unless we do X, Y and Z.

  3. Diantha Jones (@DianthaJones)

    True, there are a lot of abusive romances in YA novels. But I also come across plenty that aren’t. Jennifer L. Armentrout writes fantastic YA/NA novels with amazing romances that aren’t abusive at all. I’m a HUGE fan of hers. I think it has more to do with the DRAMA than the actual “abuse”. Authors have become lazy and don’t know how to incorporate drama into romances without making it violent. I know for a fact that it can be done. It just takes creativity and patience. Some of these authors need to get some.

    • Carrie Slager

      Yes, Jennifer Armentrout’s romance was generally pretty good in Obsidian; I don’t mind her portrayal at all. And I think you hit it right on the head with the drama. You, for example, insert more natural drama between Chloe and Strafford without their relationship turning into abuse. A lot of writers can’t seem to do this so the male love interests end up as possessive creeps and the female main characters end up as passive wallflowers.

  4. una231

    Great post. Romance in YA books is exaggerated, and in some cases much too adult (probably because adult authors have trouble really putting themselves in the minds of a teenager). But I find that this is only the case in YA books that have romance as the main component. There are many cute, believable and healthy love stories in YA adventures or fantasies – I think that this is because less attention is paid to writing a romance and character development is focused on more, allowing two compatible characters to form naturally.

    • Carrie Slager

      Yeah, that’s interesting that you pointed that out. It tends to be where the romance is emphasized that you spot the more abusive relationships. You’re absolutely right about character development allowing characters to fall in love organically as well. Love doesn’t always happen overnight; sometimes you grow into it.

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  6. La Coccinelle

    I came across a really glaring example of insta-love in YA recently. (For whatever reason, I haven’t really encountered much of it.) The protagonist just looked at the guy, and she was in love with him. And he was magically in love with her. If I recall correctly, this all happened within a day. Weird.

    What bothers me the most about YA romance happens mostly in the paranormal genre. Then we get a male immortal or a vampire or a ghost (or some variation on the theme) who is much, much older than the teenage heroine. I hate how mental age is disregarded in these books, and all that matters is how old the man appears to be. I’m sorry, but in the real world, a fully mature adult male who has a relationship with a 15-year-old girl is going to jail… whether he looks like a teenager or not.

    • Carrie Slager

      Yes! Mental age is a HUGE thing, especially in teenage relationships. There can be enormous gaps in mental ages between, say, 15-year-olds and 17-year-olds. Yet somehow an immortal, hundred year old vampire who is interested in a high school girl is okay? Ugh. There’s a huge creep factor there for sure.

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