LOVE AND ROMANCE IN YOUNG ADULT FICTION
Happy Valentine’s Day, bibliophiles!
I’ve been considering writing a post about YA power couples, the best-written romances in YA or something along those lines in honour of the month of love, but I figured it would be more honest and real of me to talk about how I really feel about how love and romance are portrayed in YA fiction.
Let me start off by saying that I’m not anti-love (if that’s even a thing) or so feminist that I scorn the idea of any strong female character being in a relationship or having a love interest. Love is great, being in love is great and writing about love or any emotion really, is freaking awesome. However, I honestly can’t stand that there is so much emphasis on boys, romance and love in general in pretty much all young adult fiction. Although, like I said, love is wonderful if you find it, it’s not something that should be portrayed as the be-all and end-all of a woman’s existence, especially to young adults who are “newer” at experiencing relationships and more likely to fall into that trap of believing they need a romantic partner to be worth their salt.
So many novels I’ve read have incredible plots and characterisation that are completely overshadowed by the romance element which is often, in my opinion, forced into the storyline just for the sake of the main character having a love interest (because honestly, what’s a badass warrior woman without her badass warrior boyfriend?). And that’s just not cool.
One of my favourite YA fantasy series, for example, is the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J Maas. Aelin Galathynius is a strong character who has fought through and survived so much. She’s an incredibly skilled assassin and definitely not afraid to get her hands dirty, whilst still holding onto her femininity and her love for beautiful things. Aelin has some traits that I truly aspire to have myself and I’d almost call her an ideal strong, independent female character, but Maas just couldn’t let this girl be single for longer than five minutes. She bounces (with a hefty dose of insta-love) through three romantic interests the first 4 books (correct me if I am wrong here), none of which, in my opinion contributed very much to the storyline at all.
Female protagonists who get absolutely obsessed with their partners (Clary Fray, I’m looking at you) are another example of a bad example of a strong female character. The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare was one where to me, the romance was fitting and definitely added to the plot, and even character growth. However, it was just too much. As much as I adored these books, at certain points they felt like they were just about Clary’s constant drama with Jace Lightwood and not so much about the Dark War, the magic or even the ridiculously amazing villain, Sebastian Morgenstern. The romance element tends to take over everything and leaves little room for the other important themes and the subtle but interesting way the novels touch on racism.
The romance written into Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo was in my opinion, perfect. It was subtle and realistic, and it didn’t fall out of the sky just because Bardugo felt it needed a romance. There was no overwhelming focus on the relationships, and the plot of both of these novels stayed true to the darkness, the danger and the masterminding that they were intended to be about. I cannot give enough praise to the way love was handled in these books and I wish with all my heart that more YA authors could show restraint like this.
Despite all my negative ranting, I hope you’re all having a day that is absolutely bursting with love, be it from a partner, friends or from yourself.
How do you feel about relationships in YA? What books did you feel simply didn’t need their love-triangles, insta-love or obsessive protagonists? Let me know in the comments!