[Disclaimer: I’m 17, folks. While I’ve watched long-standing married couples around me, including my close-knit parents, read plenty of books, and drawn a few conclusions of my own, I’m the first to admit I know next to nothing about romantic love.)
If you’ve read any number of my reviews, (you haven’t? Um… don’t worry, that’s easily remedied. Shoo. Go read.) you’ll have noticed a recurring theme in my outlook on romance. Ranging from mildly annoyed to severely aggravated to outright furious, if there’s a love interest in the story odds aren’t good for my thoughts on it. But it’s an inconsistent hatred, because there are the romances I fall in love with, the love interests I praise, even love triangles I can put up with. (I think. Not sure I could name one, actually.)
So what’s going on?
A number of things. I’ll start with the least important and work up.
Number one: it’s generally trope-ridden. I’m not dismissing love and/or romance in a story as a cliche in itself; they’re some of the oldest building blocks. Love, death, (and taxes), right? But the romance I tend to encounter, perhaps most especially in YA, is filled with side-cliches. The sarcastic, distant loner with a troubled past and a deep-set need for love. The love-at-first-sight new-met acquaintances who stare into each other’s eyes and see every speck and color variation there. The dangerous rebel-type versus steady-going trustworthy old friend love triangle. And while cliches like these may not in and of themselves be bad plot devices, they’re not such hot stuff I want to read them over and over. And over. And over.
Number two: please tell me it’s unrealistic. Look, I’ve never been in one of these situations myself – but surely it doesn’t always derail one’s life? This is not so much realistic-fic as fantasy and dystopia, where there’s usually a save-the-world plot going on, as well as survival struggles and complicated rebellion plans. If you’re going to date and save the world, at least keep your priorities straight. But in too many stories, such as Paranormalcy or FirstLife, the romantic sub-plot takes over, and it seems a near-miracle when the world gets saved despite the distracted hero.
Number three: romance of some sort is considered such a staple of YA that it often seems careless and rather sloppy. I’m not a romance writer, but I’ve read good romance, great romance, okay romance, bad romance. It’s not that hard to tell them apart when you compare good versus bad. And I could give any aspiring writers a quick hint: the difference doesn’t lie in the hero’s description. Not only do steamy make-out sessions and flawless appearances have little to nothing to do with a really good romance, most of the time they herald a sloppy one, because the writer was using them as crutches instead of putting the time into the more difficult subtleties of real romance.
Number four, last and greatest. I’ve been using ‘romance’ fairly assiduously instead of love here for a reason. I don’t have a problem with love. When I see two characters really truly in love with each other? Not only do I basically never complain about that, that’s one of those contradictory times when I will praise the romance sub-plot. Because I don’t just read essays and stories about true love, I see it in the people around me in day-to-day life. I see it in my parents, in my grandparents, in the families and circles around me. And what I see confirms what I have read. Love is not about heated kissing and touching, not about the way your skin throbs when you brush against him, not about what the curve of her body does to your thoughts. That’s passion. And that sort of passion brushes close to lust.
There is often passion in love. But it’s hardly the be-all end-all. I think love is so much more complicated than that, and sometimes much simpler. I could go on and on about how the role of trust and acceptance and kindness and perseverance. About how love means valuing the way she sees the world, and means wanting the best for him even if the best is not something you would have chosen, and means making sacrifices and learning from mistakes. But in the end, it all comes down to a choice. Love is a choice you make. And that is not something any of the tortured, passion-driven, hither-and-thither romantic heroes will ever understand, because to them this love was destiny and they had no choice, and if ever that passion cools (as someday it must) they will be lost.
All that to say, enough with the YA romance already.
Unless you know what you’re doing and understand what you’re saying.