Relationships in YA

I recently finished reading Bitterblue, the final instalment in the Graceling Realm trilogy – a series I have unabashedly loved since I first picked up Fire for review a good many years ago now.

I really enjoyed Bitterblue too, though it was a strange book. Compared to the others where there are epic journeys, evil enemies and far reaching wars, Bitterblue was a very insular book, focusing on the after effects of the terrible King Leck’s reign. It was more an interesting psychological study than a fantasy adventure – not quite what I was expecting, but retaining all the enormous charm of the previous two books, along with the rich world building and excellent characters.

I have to confess, though, there was something about it that annoyed me a little. And it’s something that I know is daft to find annoying.

In the story (mild spoilers, though I will try to avoid naming names) Bitterblue meets a young man who she finds confusing and fascinating, and they start up a relationship. Only the man doesn’t know that Bitterblue is actually Queen. When the truth eventually does out, the relationship changes completely, and understandably. There’s lots of interesting discussion about power dynamics and balance in relationships. Which is all very good and modern, and throwing barriers to a relationship that isn’t just the ‘I saw another boy and he was hot too, what ever shall I do?’ that was almost endemic in YA fiction.

My problem was, as the book progressed, there was plenty of suggestion that, despite reconciliation, the relationship wouldn’t last. There was a lot of foreshadowing that Bitterblue was likely to end up with another character.

A part of me applauds this demonstration that one can have a healthy, happy sexual relationship, have it end, and move on to another one. There is far too much in YA literature that suggests that anyone who doesn’t have one and only one lover is a slut. But at the same time I’m a hopeless romantic, and when I’m invested in a relationship, I don’t want to see it fizzle out with a suggestion that someone is going to end up with someone else.

I guess this is partly because I’m still with the same guy I was with aged 16. I am that girl who met one person and fell madly in love with them and stayed with them (thus far!!) forever. I think readers like to see themselves in literature as much as they like to experience completely different characters – it’s certainly true of me anyway, and one thing I really like is to invest in two characters getting together, and staying together.

So while I respect and understand, and even (grudgingly) applaud Kristin Cashore’s decision to present the central relationship in Bitterblue the way she did (it’s her creative choice, after all, and I’m a huge believer in the right of the creator to take their work in whatever direction they wish) a part of me will always mourn the happily ever after that wasn’t.

We all have our eccentricities!


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