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