So you must be thinking that you are seeing an inordinate amount of me this week. My apologies for that, my fellow bloggers are either busy or have less to say about romance than I do. Did you enjoy Wednesday’s post? My foray into positive romance-ey stuff – which is legit by the way. I like romance, I do. I just like good romance (according to me). However, as much as I like romance, I don’t think a relationship defines who or what I am. To apply this to a more pertinent topic, has anyone else noticed how many female protagonists of contemporary YA novels are defined by the boys who love them or the boys they love? Has anyone else picked up a novel with an interesting premise only to leave it unfinished and disgusted because somehow the romance subsumed the so called “story” and the narrative is more concerned with whether Conner loves Paige or Elizabeth or if Paige is going to choose Conner or Clementine (names are totally random and not associated with any book)? Because I have, so many times, and it makes me wonder many things and I will talk about them if you have time and want to hang around for a while.
The first question is: why are YA novels primarily concerned with romance?
The answer here is obvious: romance sells. People, teenagers included, love romantic stories. I am not at all sure on this so don’t quote me but there are very few YA novels that don’t contain at least a hint of romance. The only one I can name off the top of my head is Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci and I’m not sure how that novel did sales-wise. I certainly do not have a problem with the fact that all YA novels contain romance, not at all. What I do quibble with is the importance romance is granted in YA novels. Instead of being something that makes life enjoyable, romance becomes something that makes life worth living. Soulmates scatter the pages of YA novels like they’re going out of season and people are willing to die, kill or be sacrificed in the name of love.
Here are some cat memes while I think up my next point:
While the histrionics and melodramatics associated with heartbreak and unrequited love would be expected in romance novels targeted at adults, I find them quite bizarre on the pages of young adult novels because they are at a stage in their life where forever is probably a month and permanence is granted the same horror as suspenders were given before hipsters made them cool. When I was a teenager I was in love with someone new every other week (most of the times they were fictional or people I passed by on the street and would never see again) and though I’m older now, I’m not sure that has changed. Relationships during adolescence still retain that exploratory edge to them that almost everything during adolescence has – and this is not a bad thing.
Why then do YA novels insist on glorifying long term relationships while condemning people who have shorter relationships with different people? Girls, especially, are given derogatory labels when they choose to explore their sexuality (though this doesn’t always apply to boys doing the same thing) and protagonist A always falls in love with Love Interest A no matter that he or she is not even two decades old and has a lot more to learn about life before he/she can understand what love is.
I don’t think this perpetuation of societal norms is intentional; the whole one-relationship forever-happy deal is so ingrained in modern minds that those who move away from it are called out as perverts (incidentally, this thought belongs to Kathryn James whose book I’m reading at the moment but she discusses it in the context of death while I’m not). Is this manner of thinking harmful to those who do not subscribe to traditional concepts of love, monogamy, etc? Of course, it is. Leaving aside the whole LGBTA debate, teenagers who want to explore and express their sexuality in a manner different from what is accepted as normal by society face a lot of difficulty and discrimination.
The importance given to romance in YA novels is echoed by how much a protagonist’s sense of self-worth is tied to the kind of boy she dates. And since these books are mainly targeted at females, it would not be a stretch of the imagination (though very bad academically of me since I have done no research that supports this opinion), that this kind of thinking entrenches patriarchy by elevating boys. At the same time though, this also objectifies boys as they are viewed as worthy possessions rather than people to have a relationship, partnership with. That quarterback/jock/shiny vampire may have a personality beneath all the glitter and brawn but no one’s waiting to find out. Most of the times anyway.
Things may be changing as attitudes about masculinity and femininity undergo another change. We can just wait and read to find out how and what changes. Or perhaps we could also find a pen and start writing our own stories. Have you had enough of me? Shall I leave? Well okay.