One of the biggest elements in YA fiction is romance. I would guess that 98% of all YA fiction has a strong romantic element either as the main story or woven into the subplot. This is what the target audience (aka teenagers, mostly girls) craves. These are the years where teens first experience romance/love. It becomes a daily theme in their lives as they fall into their first crush, learn to deal with mood swings and tingly feelings as their hormones lay siege to their bodies, and battle the many questions in their heads as they come to terms with their sexuality. It makes sense that the market is flooded with YA romances.
However, a big portion of the YA audience has become tired of the romance plots and clichés that have cropped up over the past few years since the Twilight fever. Most of us understand that we are reading about fake romances and that love is not as simple as the right person appearing and living happily ever after. The problem is the romances being written now are even more fictitious than fiction, too unbelievable.
Now, I read and write YA, and there is nothing that I love more than a good romance story. So, I’m not saying the romance in YA needs to be toned down and all the fun sucked out of it. But I do think authors need to think closely of what they are doing, how they are crafting those fictional relationships, and aim to give readers a more realistic and complex view of what romance/love is.
Enough with the insta-love.
Enough with the falling in love because he or she is just so beautiful and kind.
Enough with love triangles in which the girl always picks the first guy anyways.
Let’s aim for diversity in romance, for couples that have to fight against prejudice, for couples that will fight until their last breath to make the other happy but know when it’s time to let go. Let’s aim for opening minds to new ideas, for couples that screw up yet have the sense to work through their problems, for couples that don’t fall in love at first sight. Some might say, these concepts are too much to present to teens, but when if not now will they learn about their options in love?
Below are some of my favorite couples of YA fiction.
Adrian Ivashkov and Sydney Sage
Bloodlines by Richelle Mead
As an alchemist, Sydney has been taught to fear and hate vampires, but as she befriends a group of them, she starts to put prejudices aside even if it means defying her family. She opens up herself to new possibilities, but this change doesn’t happen over the course of one book. It begins in the series Vampire Academy and then continues onto Bloodlines. It’s not until book three that Sydney allows herself to love Adrian.
Adrian’s change is even more impressive. He starts off as a smoker, drinker, womanizer vampire with no desire to do anything in life. Everyone who meets him lets his lifestyle slide because ‘he is Adrian.’ It’s not until he meets Sydney that he begins to care about his life, because she actually cares about what he does and doesn’t take any crap excuses from him. And she cares about him not because she’s in love, but because she’s a genuinely nice girl who would like to see him succeed.
Their relationship actually starts off horribly, with Sydney not trusting him and Adrian doing anything he wanted without care of the consequences. Yet, as outside problems push them into constant interactions, they learn to work together and count on each other. It takes about three books for all of this to happen and even then, their problems are just starting.
But when I’m around you, I want to be better because…well, because it feels right. Because I want to. You make me want to become something greater than myself. I want to excel. You inspire me in every act, every word, every glance. I look at you and you’re like…like light made into flesh. ~Adrian (The Golden Lily)
You and I just have to overcome hundreds of years’ worth of deeply ingrained prejudice and taboo between our two races. Easy. ~Adrian (The Indigo Spell)
Tessa Gray, Will Herondale, and Jem Carstairs
I see these three as one of the most controversial couples in YA. The dynamic between them is something I want to go back again and again to study, because it is complex and feels very much real. This is probably one of only love triangles I have no problems with: Tessa and Will, Tessa and Jem, Will and Jem.
One of the things that makes the triangle so unique is that even when Tessa makes her choice and picks Will, she never stops loving Jem. And Will is quite alright with that. It’s a self-less love they share, where regardless of the choices they make, they still want each other to be happy no matter what. There is no petty fighting over each other, no two boys competing…well, there is, but it’s all in good nature. I’m totally failing here at explaining how these three work, but it’s definitely worth a closer look.
Whatever you are physically...male or female, strong or weak, ill or healthy--all those things matter less than what your heart contains. If you have the soul of a warrior, you are a warrior. All those other things, they are the glass that contains the lamp, but you are the light inside. (Clockwork Angel)
“Our souls are knit. We are one person, James.” ~Jem to Will (Clockwork Prince)
All of these couples are teens and they behave as teens; they have urges, desires, and a hard time controlling them, but they’re smart about the choices they make. Or not. And if they aren’t smart, then they find a way to fixing said problems. My point is romances in YA don’t need to be super fairy-tale-like unbelievable happily ever afters. They can be gritty, troublesome, sad, heart wrenching, and unfair, because that is reality. Love is messy, don’t sugar coat it, not even in YA.