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But is it love? Romance in YA Lit (guest post by Jennifer R. Hubbard)

When writing romantic story lines, I like to differentiate between the various shades of infatuation, obsession, lust, and love. It’s easy to mistake one for another, and it can be especially confusing for people who are dealing with these emotions for the first time. Also, human emotions are not always purely one thing or another, but can be mixtures.

I think of obsession and infatuation as intense, often fleeting, fascinations with an idealized version of another person. This fills a need in the infatuated person, and if the infatuation is mutual, the attraction can burn white-hot. But as illusions crumble and the real people involved fail to live up to their idealized images, the infatuation gives way to something more genuine—whether it’s dislike, indifference, friendship, or a longer-lasting love. 
Lust, which is physical attraction, often confuses people. Many have grappled with attractions to people they don’t even like, or have begun a physical relationship to discover, at some point, that the relationship has nothing else to sustain it. 
Love, on the other hand, is the whole ball of wax. It’s attraction, affection, and connection. It tends to be more reality-based than infatuation: flaws in the other person are acknowledged and accepted. The partners support one another and value each other’s strengths. Another aspect of love is that it enriches each partner: while love can involve some sacrifice, neither partner has to tolerate abuse nor a diminishment of self in order to sustain the relationship.

He loves me, he loves me not?
Any of these kinds of relationships can be the basis for a good story. I think of Wuthering Heightsas a classic obsession/infatuation story: Heathcliff and Cathy are miserable, selfish, and jealous, tormenting one another into the grave (and, arguably, beyond). Pride and Prejudice is more of a love story, with Darcy and Elizabeth finding that their attraction to each other’s finer qualities can overcome negative first impressions.
Some interesting explorations of the whole romantic spectrum appear in recent YA literature. Here’s just a sampling: The Stalker Chronicles, by Carley Moore (a girl confronts her own tendency for her crushes to go way overboard); Flash Burnout, by L.K. Madigan (a boy’s loyalties are divided between his girlfriend and a girl who’s a friend); But I Love Him, by Amanda Grace (girl struggles with an abusive relationship); David Inside Out, by Lee Bantle (dishonesty destroys relationships); I Heart You, You Haunt Me, by Lisa Schroeder (girl grieves her boyfriend’s death); Good Girls, by Laura Ruby (overwhelming physical attraction proves difficult to handle); Nothing Like You, by Lauren Strasnick (girl seeks physical relationship for comfort); and Struts & Frets, by Jon Skovron (friends become more). The love interests in Willow, by Julia Hoban; Shrinking Violet, by Danielle Joseph; and Some Girls Are, by Courtney Summers, are especially appealing.
In the reader guide to my own first novel, The Secret Year, I include this question: “Is this a love story?” It has led to some great discussion at the book clubs I’ve visited. It’s a question that can be applied to many texts—and even to our own lives.
 Jennifer R. Hubbard is the author of YA novels The Secret Year (After his secret girlfriend’s death, 17-year-old Colt finds the notebook she left behind, but he is unprepared for the truths he discovers about their intense relationship) and Try Not to Breathe (After his suicide attempt, 16-year-old Ryan struggles with guilty secrets and befriends a girl who’s visiting psychics to try to reach her dead father). The Secret Year was on YALSA’s 2011 Quick Picks list; Try Not to Breathe has been nominated for the 2013 YALSA BFYA list.
Twitter: @JennRHubbard
blog: http://jenniferrhubbard.blogspot.com/

What are your favorite ya love stories? Tell us in the comments.


  1. Some interesting love stories I've read lately–that cover your spectrum from obsession to realistic love–include: Stay by Deb Caletti (Yikes!), The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith (lovely!) and Every Day by David Levithan (great ending about making a selfless sacrifice for the one you love)

  2. Lovely recommendations. I look forward to getting to know them more. I really do find it interesting to return to our own experiences when we were younger.

  3. Personally if a YA novel isn't a romantic novel I find love interests and love triangles get in the way of a great story. I've read far too many YA novels with female heroes who become lovestruck and far to much in need of the male to save the day. In my Shamra Chronicles the main character is a female and while she may have male friends her desire to free her people from enslavement is far more important to her than any romantic entanglement. Dara doesn't get involved with males who have a crush on her because such relatinships would hinder her ability to free her country from its enslavers. Sadly, too many mass market publishers want these romantic stories as part of novels they publish (as well as the love triangle) and if you want to get published by the big boys you have to give them what they want. That romance has no place in many dystopian and other YA novels is of no interest to them. And, far too many authors give in and destroy a wonderful story with romance or a love triangle. Whether there should be romance in a YA novel should depend on the goal of each novelists, not those interested only in the bottom line.

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