Last night on the #yalitchat (yes, there is a #yalitchat on Twitter and you should join them) we discussed love, romance and sex in teen fiction. So here are some of the highlights and my thoughts on the topics discussed.
The Love Triangle
Without a doubt, love triangles are popular in teen fiction. It is hard to think of a ya novel that doesn't have a love triangle. I feel like I am completely done with them as a reader, to be honest. It's like they have become a crutch. Instead of coming up with a good plot we'll just throw another love interest in there. To be fair, teen emotions run high and we are often attracted to more than one
person, especially in the teen years. And it is probably every person's fantasy to have more than one person fighting over them. The consensus last night seemed to be that the love triangle was overused and coming close to played out as a storytelling device.
My verdict: If it is true to the story and is done well, then go for it. Remember, there is nothing wrong with a slow simmering love story that just focuses on two people falling richly and authentically in love. That in itself can be messy enough.
Two characters meet and - voila - they are instantly in love with a hot passionate love that means they just can't live without each other. To me, this rings the most false in all lit. The truth is, you can be attracted to someone but we tend to call that lust. To be fair, you can also be attracted to a characteristic in someone that you perceive at first meeting, but the true character of a person is revealed over time and in real life situations. True love is organic and tried in the course of daily living. Lust, even initial attraction, can be a strong and powerful thing but it is not sustainable unless two people share things in common and build a relationship over time.
My verdict: I think (I remember) that teens can in fact feel like they are falling in love from across the room. I think that can be a fair initial response. What I would like to see are more stories that play out the way real life would where the teens then try to have a relationship and realize they just aren't right for each other.
Teens love deeply and every break up feels like the end of the world. At that first glance your heart flutters and you want to spend every. single. moment together. You can't kiss each other enough, touch each other enough. These are normal emotions for teens. What I don't like are those relationships that are very obviously unhealthy and it goes without mention in the text. I am looking at you Twilight. Countless essays have been written about how Edward portrays many characteristics of an abuser; he isolates Bella from her family, damages her truck so she can't go visit Jacob, etc. In the end she chooses to become something other than human in order to be with him.
In Embrace by Jessica Shirvington (SPOILERS DON'T READ IF YOU HAVEN"T READ EMBRACE), one of the main characters (in a love triangle) has the power to put his emotions on the main character - he is an empath. This ability makes for a very unhealthy relationship. Violet can never know when she is with Phoenix if what she is thinking and feeling is coming from herself. BUT, what makes Embrace rise above the Bella trap is that Violet recognizes this and chooses self. I applaud that decision.
My verdict: Unhealthy relationships are, unfortunately, a part of life. What I want to see happen, and think young still developing teen girls need to see happen, is for someone in the main character's life to say this is not healthy, walk away. My fear is that these unhealthy relationships are presented without any discussion and teen girls will walk away thinking this is normal and right when, in fact, it is not. Teens are new to relationships and I feel that part of our responsibility (as adults) is to help teens develop healthy and realistic ideals about relationships
There is perhaps no topic that adults fear more than teens having sex, and yet we know that some teens do. In fact, I know one 14 year old girl with a 5 week old baby and another that had an abortion. Whatever our personal feelings about teenage sex, we can't pretend that it doesn't happen if we want to write realistic love stories for teens. Certainly how it is presented makes all the difference in the world. Many people in the yalitchat said they didn't feel it was appropriate to depict teens younger than 16 having sex. The general consensus was that, like all character traits, it needed to be more well roundly represented - yes, some teens have sex, but not all of them do. There needs to be more balance in the stories we tell so that all teens are represented.
My verdict: If it is authentic to the story and the character, then yes sex should be included in teen fiction. It doesn't have to be graphic or an instructional manual (although who doesn't remember passing around Forever by Judy Blume in middle school with all the good parts dog eared so your friends knew what they were supposed to be reading). At the end of the day it is up to the writer to write an authentic, well written tale and it is up to the reader to decide what is right for them.
In the discussion someone mentioned that what really made a quality romance was the yearning. This is brilliant. The discussion focused on how it is the slow steady build up to the wedding that enthralls, not the daily life of marriage. Speaking of marriage, many people piped up and said they were kind of sick of teens getting married in teen lit. Someone else mentioned they wanted to read more stories about childhood friends slowly coming to the realization that they loved one another, to which I say yes! I would love to see more stories that show the slow boil of a budding romance, the other side is certainly being adequately represented.
For me, one of the best romances out there right now is The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I think he captures the spirit of love well; it develops organically between Hazel and Augustus, he captures that slow burn, and the messy complications that come from being in love with someone who knows that they are going to die:
“I wanted to know that he would be okay if I died. I wanted to not be a grenade, to not be a malevolent force in the lives of people I loved.”
― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
Now it is your turn: What do you think about the various topics in last night's chat? What are your favorite teen romances and why?
For more good love stories I recommend reading If I Stay by Gayle Forman, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson and the lovely Miss Sarah Dessen.