Why YA ‘cure-all romance’ sucks!
A lot of Young Adult fiction these days implies that love is a cure-all, but is that really the case?
I adore contemporary books that describe reality without sugar-coating it, and I love authors who let their characters feel lonely and depressed sometimes. That’s what real life is like. There’s not always a happy ending to every story.
“My life was horrible, and I felt terrible about myself. But then I met the most handsome and wonderful guy in the whole universe with eyes that shined like stars, and we fell in love and all my problems suddenly disappeared!”
I love YA, and I read a lot of it – but lately I’ve started to feel annoyed by one specific area in Young Adult fiction: ROMANCE!
When you’re a teenager, you spend a lot of your time thinking about love, and naturally Young Adult fiction reflects this. But it’s not the romance in itself that is the problem; in fact, I don’t think YA would be the same if it didn’t contain a little romance.
My issue concerning romance in YA is that it’s always there, no matter if it does something good for the story or not. Sometimes it seems like many authors think that teenagers only want to read about love, and that a story can’t be great if there isn’t a romance with a happy ending involved.
Often, I find that romance becomes such a huge part of the book that there isn’t room for the really important stuff; the personal development. It makes me feel like the book is trying to tell me that love cures everything, and, in my opinion, that is not a message any book should send out.
When reality gets sugar-coated
I read a book a few weeks ago with a very interesting and promising plot, which left me feeling disappointed and frustrated. (I won’t tell you which book it was since it would be a huge spoiler. It isn’t ‘Suicide Notes’).
At first the main character wants to kill herself for several reasons. Everything seems hopeless and she doesn’t see any reason to stay alive. Then she meets some guy with whom she falls in love. Suddenly, she changes her mind about committing suicide and seems to forget all her problems after she has known the guy for a total of three weeks, and then they both end up living happily ever after.
It left me feeling betrayed as a reader. It didn’t feel real to me, and sadly the same type of vague endings apply to many other YA books I’ve read.
Sometimes things just suck
In reality, things are usually a little more complex. Unless you’re really lucky, the right person won’t just find you by accident when your life hits the bottom and everything feels hopeless. Sometimes things just suck, and no one but yourself is there to save you.
Personally, I think every book we read should have a lesson to teach us, and “love cures depression and suicidal thoughts” is not a good one. It’s not fair to severely depressed people to describe depression as something that has such a simple solution.
I want books about real people with real problems, and I want to see these people actually getting better, and not just because they are in love.
Where did the unrequited love go?
We can all relate to how it feels to be in love with someone who doesn’t love us back – it happens to teenagers all the time. We fall in love with musicians, actors or simply the popular guy/girl from school whom it seems impossible for us to talk to. In reality love is often unrequited so why not include this in more stories?
It just seems too easy to always give the characters a happy ending with infinite amounts of happiness and love when the reality is that practically all of us, at some point, will experience unrequited love.
I think it’s relieving to read a story where the main character is hopelessly in love with someone who doesn’t feel the same way about them. It feels so much more real, and usually the character ends up going through much more personal development than it’s the case in books with a happy romantic ending.
At some point, he or she starts to see that their crush isn’t really as perfect as they thought at first, and eventually they’ll move on and start being happy with themselves instead.
Love won’t save you
The books I’ve read that has really blown me away with their awesomeness is actually the ones wherein the main character’s depressive thoughts didn’t get cured by love. I adore books that dare to reflect reality as it is, but still leaves you with a feeling of hope when you finish it.
An example of such a book is ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ by John Green. Most of you has probably either read it or heard a lot about it. To me, that book is special. First of all because it was the first English book I ever bought, and the one that made me get into YA in the first place. Secondly, because it has so much to say. It’s so much more than just a love story. Not that the romance isn’t great; it really is, but it doesn’t cure any of the main characters’ problems.
Hazel still has cancer after she meets Augustus, and they fall in love. She has some really bad days and her life is definitely not perfect. All the time, I felt like I was right there with them because the whole story feels so real. It deals with the ugly side of life in a way I had never experienced before when I first read the book.
It dares to describe life as it sometimes is: totally unfair!
That’s what I want to read about!
I suggest reading …
YA Contemporaries where the main character isn’t hopelessly in love with someone he can’t have:
‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’ by Jesse Andrews.
Rachel, a girl from Greg’s high school, has just been diagnosed with leukemia, and she’s feeling everything but cheerful. Greg, being the funny guy he is, should be able to cheer her up – at least that’s what his mother thinks when she forces him to befriend her. While Rachel is getting sicker and sicker and Greg’s attempts to make her happy don’t work at all, he turns to Earl, the closest thing to a friend he has. In an attempt to let her know that she’s special, they decide to make a movie for her. But things don’t go as smooth as planned. Rachel isn’t really the fighter everyone expects her to be, and Greg and Earl find themselves in a difficult situation – how do you make a difference for someone who has already given up?
‘Anything Could Happen’ by Will Walton.
Fifteen year-old Tretch is totally in love with his best friend, Matt. The only problem is that Matt isn’t gay.. Months pass by while Tretch is trying to forget about his feelings, but it’s not that easy. When Matt begins dating the beautiful girl he’s been having a crush on for a year, Tretch realizes that Matt has absolutely no idea about his feelings for him. While trying to handle the already difficult situation he’s in, Tretch learns that other things are threatening him and the people he cares about the most. Things are changing. Will Tretch ever find the strength to stand up for the person he really is?
‘Suicide Notes’ by Michael Ford.
When Jeff wakes up in a psychiatric hospital after a suicide attempt on New Years Eve, he learns that he has to stay there for a forty-five-day program, and he is convinced that he has been misplaced. He’s not even half as crazy as the other kids in the psychiatric ward, and he doesn’t understand why his doctors and parents won’t let him come home already. However, as the days pass by, he gets to know the others, and he starts to see that he needs to face his problems if he ever wants to be happy for real again.
What do you think about romance in Young Adult novels?
Does YA imply that love is a cure-all in your opinion?