I’ve said many a time in reviews that I love a bit of romance in a story. I love shipping the characters and waiting to see if the two I’ve pegged as potential lovers ever get together. I love watching the hate relationship turn to love, love the bad boys turning good for their girls, love the daring moment where someone steals the first kiss before they are sure the other feels the same way. I’ve also said that it is my preference that romance comes second to the main plot.
Now, I don’t mind a book where romance comes first. Let’s face it, Shiver was mostly about Grace and Sam’s love story, with the werewolf stuff thrown in as an interesting twist. It definitely wasn’t werewolf first, romance second, but it definitely was one of my favourite books I read last year. But, it’s the exception that proves the rule. For me to truly love a book, 99 times out of a hundred the romance has to be secondary to, and even better, because of a really killer plot.
Now, there are many great books out there that get this absolutely spot on. And there are many great books that don’t fulfil my specific requirements that do romance well. There are also a lot that read like the next progressive step from Fanfiction. It seems to be particularly prevalent among YA.
Now, maybe that’s because I read a lot of YA, and am more inclined to try reading a book I’ve heard nothing about if it’s YA, tending only to pick up adult books that I’ve been told from various trusted sources are amazing. Maybe it’s because romance is such a big selling point in the hugely valuable YA market, and publishing is a business. Businesses do what they can to please their customers, and maybe they think their customers can be easily satisfied with tales of instant infatuation and plastic love. Maybe there are people out there who don’t think teenagers can have rich and complicated relationships, that it is all just instant ‘I fancy your mate’ attraction for them. Who knows? All I can say is, I’ve read a fair share of YA books over the last couple of years that I would definitely say have bad romance. And that makes me think of Lady Gaga. And that isn’t good.
*cue Psycho music*
If two characters in a story only seem attracted to each other because they are both incredibly hot, that, to me, is bad romance. Yes, you can be attracted to a person and want to kiss them, hang them off your arm like an accessory etc, because they are Brad Pitt good looking, but that is not love. So don’t call it love. Love can develop and grow out of such a relationship, but if all you’re going on is them being super hot, how do you know they aren’t secretly a complete idiot who sacrifices goats to a dark god. Or something.
A lot of books I’ve read recently use this ‘instant attraction/fascination’ angle. Now, I’m not hating on these books at all – they’re okay for the most part – but they aren’t fantastic. Beach reads.
The Drake Chronicles by Alyxandra Harvey is one series the pops to mind instantly. The first book isn’t too bad as one of the couples has at least known each other for a long time. But in the second and third book it does seem to be ‘Hi, you’re hot, I love you.’ I mean, in one the male love interest has an identical twin, but it’s never established how they are different to each other and why the girl loves him and not his twin. The relationships are totally shallow, and move from having a quick make-out session to full blown ‘I love you’ within about three chapters, with no sense of how they arrived at that depth of emotion. And that’s okay if you just want to drool over the image of a hot boy in your mind. Maybe I’m just getting a little too old for this sort of book – at 22 it feels a little cradle snatchy to drool over a 16-year-old-ish boy – but it just doesn’t do it for me. Books like this always leave me craving a romance with substance.
Romance lacks substance
Maybe I don’t get along with shallow romance stories because I never really did the quick fling thing when I was younger. Every boyfriend I’ve ever had I’ve kept for at least six months, each one developing from friend to boyfriend over a few weeks. I wasn’t particularly gregarious as a child, a trait I’ve carried into adult life, and I never really wanted the instant attraction/I’ll get bored of you in a couple of weeks love life that some of the girls in my year had.
What I wanted was a relationship with substance, that would last longer than five minutes, where I’d be loved for more than just how attractive that person thought I was. I wanted something that would grow and change as I did, that would progress and develop. And that’s what I want to read about.
A Real Love Story
I can imagine there are some people out there who don’t think that teenagers are capable of going beyond the ‘lust’ stage of a relationship, that genuine love is something that comes with experience and maturity. After all, how can you know you love someone if they’re the only person you’ve ever been in a serious relationship with? Allow me to digress and tell you all a real love story…
I met my current boyfriend in school. He was a late arrival, moving to my area when he was 14. I thought he was an idiot. He thought I was a geek. Apparently we sat together in English for six weeks while we were sitting alphabetically, though I don’t really remember this. I do remember being in the same Geography class, but we didn’t get much exposure to each other until college. (College in England is when you are 16-18, which comes before University. I’m not sure how that compares to the American or other school systems.)
In college, I still thought my future boyfriend was an idiot, and he still thought I was a geek. But prolonged exposure to each other taught us a few things. He could make me laugh – a trait I value far higher than appearance or money (or competency at fixing electronic things and chasing spiders out of the bathroom fortunately for my boyfriend…) – and I could talk to him for hours. Me being inherently antisocial, that was quite a big deal too.
It was not the smooth ride of instant attraction. At the time there was another girl vying for his affections, a little more aggressive and confident than I was. I wouldn’t say I put up much of a fight, which is why I think I won in the end. When we first started getting to know each other better I had a different boyfriend. We’d been nearly finished for a long time, but it took knowing what I wasn’t getting out of the relationship – that heart feels a little bit fuller just for being in the same room feeling – that gave me the impetus to end it for good.
Then we had to suffer through the whole ‘friends trying to get us together’ thing, which just made everything a hundred times more difficult, but we got there in the end. After about nine months.
After we didn’t instantly fall into each other’s arms, declaring our passionate love for each other, it didn’t get any easier either. For reasons that could make a whole series of blog posts, I didn’t have the best time when I was seventeen. I was a mess, and it would have been easy for the boyfriend to ditch me and go and have lighthearted fun with people who weren’t verging on the edge of total breakdown. I wouldn’t have blamed him. But he didn’t. He stay and he helped me through it. And it was that, not the fact that he was attractive, that made me fall in love with him. I’m still with him today and plan to be for the rest of my life.
So YA boys can be deep, dependable and forever. I know because I’ve been lucky enough to find that myself. I’m not naive enough to think that’s everyone’s experience – a lot of 16-year-old-ish boys are… well… 16-year-old-ish boys. But if books were totally about the common real life experiences then they would be very, very dull. Books give us a piece of the dream, the romance we wish we had, the experiences we’d love to explore.
I guess the winding moral of this very long post is this: 16-year-old-ish boys can be amazingly romantic and go above and beyond the call of duty in a relationship. Teenage love can last the test of time and grow and develop into something wonderful to share in adult life. So show me a bit more of that in YA literature, Paranormal, Contemporary or otherwise. Give me a lasting love affair in the pages, that takes place next to an incredible story, and I’ll have a lasting love affair with your book!