Saturday, 28 May 2011

Discussion: Romance in YA

PSA: Slight spoiler for City of Bones be here. BUT the spoiler is written in white text, so you won't see it unless you highlight it.

So, for lack of anything else to post today, we thought we’d do a discussion and we’ve decided to discuss romance in books. Specifically, in YA books, seeing as we both read them and love them and all that.

(While we're on the subject of *romance*, here, have some gif's of Rachel McAdam's and Ryan Gosling accepting their award for Best Kiss for The Notebook)

...Yes. Done swooning now. Enough of that. Moving on. Discussion:

Romance in YA Books

Is it necessary?

Lanna: I don’t think it’s necessary to be a focus in the stories, it can be a subplot…but I do think it’s rare to find a YA book that is good enough to work without it entirely (even Harry Potter had romance in it when the characters were old enough).  Even books that don't actually have romance do have hints of it, they have those characters who flirt and you just know that even if they don't get together in the book, they will eventually.

Love, lust,  crushes, heartbreak -- it’s all a part of life and growing up and I think it is necessary for that to be reflected in books. It’s something that people can relate to and if they can’t, then it’s still enjoyable to read about -- getting to live and love vicariously through the characters is fun.

Julie: I agree with Lanna. It's not necessary, but I appreciate it. It's all a part of growing up and it's a part that I'm missing out in my own life. So why not just try and experience it through the characters? I also love how the romance is portrayed in teen books. In adult books, it's all about commitment and/or sex. In young adult books, it's usually a light, fun experience for the characters. The flirting, the butterflies, the way the characters can act totally different. It's pretty damn adorable. But far from necessary.

Thoughts on love triangles?

Julie: Depends on the love triangle. Not many love triangles are really done well. The whole point is that there's a legitimate debate over which guy would be better for the character. There should be inner turmoil over this decision. Not like The Mortal Instruments or anything where we're all rooting for incest because we KNOW who Clary should be with.

Right now, I can think of two love triangles done right. Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready did it SO FREAKING WELL. I read that book a year ago and I still cannot tell you who I'd want Aura to be with. The Personal Demons series by Lisa DesRochers is another good one. We know who Frannie prefers most of the time...but there's still an element of uncertainty and the other guy IS a good guy, but you're still kind of against him but you're kind of against the other guy and it's just very confusing.

The thing about the love triangle for me is that I need to like both guys, preferably equally but there might be a bit of a preference for one guy, but both guys also need flaws. And the main character should be genuinely conflicted, even if one guy is picked. There should always be that opening for the other guy until the very end.

Lanna: They’re fun to read about. But I’ve found that in the majority of books I read with love triangles, they barely even count as love triangles because it’s always blatantly obvious from the start who the protagonist is going to end up with. It’s always obvious which one they love more…and they tend to follow the same formula of having the main character settle for the one they love less for a portion of the story just to create conflict. It’s rare to see a love triangle where the main character genuinely loves two people almost equally and choosing between them is a real struggle.

Basically, I think love triangles are fun to read, but most of the ones in YA shouldn’t even be counted as “love” triangles because to me, a true love triangle is one person being in love with two people…not being in love with one person and being in lust/like with another. Most of the love triangles in books tend not to be "I'm in love with these two guys" -- it's usually spun in a different way, more "this is the guy I love, but this one is probably the healthier option." but we all know the one that wins.

Something else I just want to add: anyone else noticed how in love triangles, the one who doesn’t get chosen is always the nice guy? It’s the one who could be your best friend, the one who would treat you right and always show up on time and take you out on dates and all that…the genuinely good guy. And the one who wins is often a bad boy, the one who maybe isn’t the best choice -- but there’s a spark there, there’s passion and so the main character always chooses that in the end. I get why, but I wish the underdog, the good guy, would be given a bit more credit in stories instead of so obviously being the second choice.

Romance pet peeves:

Lanna: Love at first sight is probably one of my biggest pet peeves in books. It can work if it’s executed well or explained in some way (example: the characters were in love in their past lives or the world is one where magic exists and soul mates happen, so they’re not actually in love at first sight and they’re just feeling that connection and knowing they’re meant for each other and that it will be love).

But in general, it bugs me. You can’t love someone until you really know them, if you claim that you do then you’re talking out of your ass -- it’s lust and maybe you’re in love with the idea of that person. Sometimes when you get to know a person, they will meet or exceed your expectations, they will live up to the fantasy you had of them and the love will become real…but that doesn’t mean it was real from the start and I hate it when it’s written as if it was in fiction.

Good example of a badly executed romance: Twilight. Bella had a girl boner for Edward because he was attractive and seemed to hate her, he wasn’t nice to her like everyone else was and so she wanted him because people have a tendency to crave the unattainable. But she was saying she loved him and would die without him when she barely knew him -- when they had only had a handful of conversations.

Romeo and Juliet is another example, except that one only counts if you consider it a love story. To me, it’s a tragedy.  The story is about the tragedy, it’s not about love…they were in lust and in love with the idea of being in love with each other and it consumed them.

Julie: To all of the above

Insta-love kills me. I just...I can't even explain it. It can ruin a book for me. I can only think of one book where it didn't annoy me greatly.

I'm not saying it's impossible, but it's not exactly LIKELY. There is lust at first sight and all, but love? That's a little more complex for a first meeting. At most, a strong attraction.

Then I need at least SOME kind of reasoning for the love. There has to be a connection, some actual interaction. It can't just be "He's pretty and mysterious. I WILL LURVE HIM FOREVA." Give me a reason for them to be in love.

Also, Romeo and Juliet pisses me off like no other. So let's just not talk about that any more.

Romance guilty pleasures/clichés we love:

Lanna: I have a lot of these and I’m kind of a sucker for taboo romances. Brother/sister, or step siblings, for example. The incest one, it’s because it’s the ultimate forbidden romance -- there is literally no way to overcome what is forbidden about those relationships because it’s not an outside factor that is making it forbidden, it’s not something that can change, it’s in their very blood. (If the subject matter makes you go, "Ewwww!" - read Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma, it may change your perspective.)

I love the bad boy/good girl cliché. The teacher/student one (but only really male teacher/female student -- for some reason it bothers me when the woman is older, it’s just…gross to me that way, but that’s probably just a projection of the fact I wouldn’t be likely to date someone much younger). I like the popular girl/nerdy guy and the goth/preppy cliché. I love, love, love the Romeo and Juliet cliché - the forbidden aspect of it. And hate turning to love.

Basically, forbidden romances are probably my favourites. Something about how the love is such a struggle and yet it’s shown to be worth it…and how love can conquer all, even if it’s only in fiction.

Julie: I am a fan of the forbidden, but not the taboo kind of forbidden. The kind of forbidden where it's social classes, which you can really only find in historical romance and occasionally high fantasy. Or the kind where, you know, one of them has to die...especially when it involves killing the other person. And, I'll admit, I've read a book about a teacher/student relationship...alright there's SOME taboo, but really that book was the only one I'd read and my friend read others and those just seemed awkward.

But at the same time, I like the easy romances, they just fall into. Ones where it's an accidental love or a love that evolved unexpectedly. The ones where they LOATHE each other, learn a bit about the other, and slowly fall in love. Be in Pride and Prejudice or Lizzie McGuire, the accidental romances sing to my soul. I'm always on the prowl for more Pride and Prejudice ones.

What about you guys? What are your answers to those questions? Agree with us? Disagree? Let us know in the comments. To recap, discussion questions:

1. Is romance necessary in YA books?
2. Your thoughts on love triangles in books?
3. Romance pet peeves?
4. Favourite cliches/guilty pleasures in romance?
Also, credit for the topic goes to And Anything Bookish, who said she wanted us to discuss love triangles, which we do - we've just gone a bit further and did romance in general).



  1. 1. It's definitely not necessary, though romance books are generally my favourites. However, I'm always impressed when a book is so good despite the lack of romance. A couple examples are "Mostly Good Girls" and "Rival" which are both about friendship. They do have little bits about crushes and guys, but the main focus is on friendship, and there isn't actual romance in the books. And you know what? I didn't miss it at all.

    2. Ugh, love triangles suck. They're so overused, and you're right, they're generally not real love triangles. It's obvious who the girl who end up with, and the other guy is just an obstacle to them being together. You're right that 'Shade' and 'Shift' are amazing examples of a true love triangle. I mean, in a way it's a cop out because of Logan being a ghost, but yet the feelings are absolutely real. You understand why Aura is conflicted, and you see the good parts to both guys (although I am fully on Team Zachary). And I want the nice guy to have a happy ending in a book for once, too. Because in real life that's totally the guy I would want to be with.

    3. Inta-love is my pet peeve, DEFINITELY. I just finished a book where this occurred, so I am especially worked up about it. It just doesn't work, it doesn't make sense. You can have a connection or attraction to someone right away, yes, but to instantly say you're in love and you would die for them and you couldn't live without them? Um, not so much.

    4. I do really love forbidden love. There's something so steamy about it. I hope I don't sound weird admitting this, but I really want to read a book about step-siblings falling in love. Like not where they've grown up together, but where their parents get married and they've always had crushes on each other or something and it develops into more as they get closer. I just think it would be so angsty but in a really good way.

  2. I concur. And the step sibling thing doesn't sound weird -- but then, I did say that it's one of my guilty pleasures too. There's a story I read online ages ago that has step siblings falling for each other and it was awesome (it's not published, it's was just on fictionpress then got removed because people were plagiarising stories).

  3. First, love the images. I had to go find a YouTube video to get the full affect.

    I'm a sucker for romance. Being an adult that reads YA, I'm more about the "ahh, sweet" kind of romance and not full blown LOVE because most of the time it's unrealistic. As are love triangles. How many times do real girls have to fight off two guys at once? Never happened to me!

    Totally agree on the insta-love pet peeve. Because that's not how it happens. I'm all about the realistic story.

  4. 1. Is romance necessary in YA books?
    I don’t think its necessary as the main focus of the plot but it would be unrealistic to not have any romance in YA, even shonen (manga targeted towards boys and focused on action) have a little touch of romance in them and really that’s enough for me. I always find it refreshing when a story isn’t mainly about the romance which is probably why I love middle grade fantasy books so much.

    2. Your thoughts on love triangles in books?
    I’ve grown tired of love triangles, as both of you said its rare to find a love triangle done right because its so obvious who the MC is going to choose in the end so the inner “turmoil” of who she is going to choose is just a waste of time. I thought the love triangle in the Hunger Games was done pretty well because I knew who I wanted Katniss to choose but I wasn’t sure if she was going to choose him.

    3. Romance pet peeves?
    I love the bad boy/good girl cliché but it becomes a peeve when the bad boy isn’t a bad boy at all.

    4. Favourite cliches/guilty pleasures in romance?
    I love forbidden romance, but only the non-taboo kind ^_^. And as I said bad boy/good girl work for me too :)

    Scribing Shadows

  5. Lovely thoughts from both of you! :)

    Romance pet peeves?
    I absolutely hate the stories in which the main character lusts after someone for the entire novel only to come to the realization that her true love has always been by her side.

    Favourite cliches/guilty pleasures in romance?
    I adore the enemies turned lovers thing. The witty banters, the point where both characters reach an understanding with each other and become friends--*happy sigh*

    And I still cannot fathom the story of Romeo and Juliet. I just cannot.

  6. Fantastic discussion post as always girls!

    1) Well I think it's slightly necessary unless the book is good enough without it which is hardly the case. Nowadays so much YA focuses on romance and books overall that not many of them would work without it. But if a book can have no romance and still be great, then hey! I'm all for it.

    2) Oh they have become quite tiresome no? They can be thrilling and give you such a great feeling if done well. The Jenny Han Summer series had a triangle that was predictable but it being a hint of a triangle that made you actually have second thoughts and that was such a moment for me. It made me realise how badly done triangles are nowadays. Yeah I was never fond of the whole term "triangle" when it came to the TMI series because we all knew who she was going to choose. I think the term is used way to lightly nowadays. A triangle should consist of *like you mentioned* where the girl is in love and actually torn apart by "two boys" not just the one. That is not a triangle. Think about it. If in YA there were ACTUAL triangles how much more interesting would things be. A female MC who was in love with TWO boys. Unfortunately this is hardly ever if never the case.

    3) I'm getting tired of the underdog being the good guy, like you mentioned this is always the case now. The person who is center of the girls affections is ALWAYS the bad boy. There is nothing wrong with this if things were more balanced. If she liked them both equally or if they switched things around sometimes. I mean its hardly a good example to other girls out there. To choose the jerk over the good buy. To go for lust against your better judgment? And I don't believe in love at first sight and if you are going to portray that then provide solid reasons to back it up. Its so frustrating when you have the F MC head over heels in love and she has yet to know his name. I mean how ridiculous. I can go with lust at first sight, this attraction I'll agree with you there but this love at first sight is just silly. It's something that naive young teens of today eat up I guess which is why they still go with it.

    Wait I just realised. I may have just found a case where the good guy has more of an advantage over the bad boy. Vampire Academy? Okay so it's obvious who she will choose and who she prefers BUT Dimitri is the loving good man, smexy but good whilst Adrian is all bad boy! And it works!

    3) Urgh cliches just annoy me at the thought of them. Girl lusting after boy but calling it "true love" -- girl risking and throwing away friends and family for the boy. Girl being okay with taking shit from the jerk because only she knows how he loves her and acts when it's just the two of them *rolls eyes* The guy being a jerk to the girl and her taking it. Girls swooning over the boy as soon as she lays eyes on him, and falls for him hard although she yet has to know who the hell he is!

    Guilty pleasure are forbidden romances and I don't mind taboo romances if done well. I read forbidden too and it completely changed my thoughts on things and definitely opened me up to reading more books based on this. So I'm totally with you on that one Alanna :)

  7. I love forbidden romances too. Forbidden was an amazing book. I read it a couple of months ago. :)

  8. WHat a great and thoughtful post.

  9. I pretty much agree with everything you said in this post, although I must admit I can easily fall for love triangles. Bad instalove is a major pet peeve of mine as well, but if it's done right, it can be explosive. So overused, though.

  10. I love this psot - the way you guys have done it as a conversation is brilliant.
    I love romance in YA more than adult romance. Love triangels are starting to bother me as I think sometimes they are just there and dont help the storyline. Love at first sight I do like - it is my love of soulmates so if that exists wouldnt they fall instatntly in love :D I can dream :D

  11. When I was the target reader of YA novels I always wanted them to have a romantic storyline sown in. I didn't read romance books per say but I always wanted one of the characters to be in love or to find love. When your a young adult is when you need to figure out what love is all about and reading is a good way to do that as long as it is not too explicit or the sole plot of the book.

  12. Great post and nice discussion. I love romance and romance books. My favorite romance books are from Emma Rose.



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