Is There Too Much Romance in YA?

As much as I love books with adorable, swoon-worthy romances in them, I’ve really come to appreciate reading YA that has little or no love included in the narrative. I feel like during my teen years, I was told that my experiences weren’t as valid unless I had a significant other. Like I needed to be in a relationship to feel validated, or like I deserved to be loved. And that’s a really dangerous mindset. I’m only 19, but I feel as though my opinions about romance in YA has dramatically shifted over the past couple of years—so much so that I actively look for books without romance in them.

Some of the books that got me into YA included Hush, Hush, City of Bones, The Hunger Games, and Shatter Me. To say those relationships were a little unrealistic and even toxic at times would be an understatement. And then I became obsessed with The Fault in Our Stars, which I’m sure will live on to be the “sick-lit” book of our generation. That book 100% gave me false expectations about weekends in Amsterdam and confessions of love over risotto. And Ansel Elgort… someone hold me.

But over the past year or so, I really felt as though I’ve come to better understand my identity and my need (or lack thereof) for a relationship. I used to feel as though I needed a significant other to feel “whole”. But as cheesy as it might seem, that feeling only came from understanding who I am and what I want in life—and that’s not necessarily being in a relationship. I’m a proud member of the queer community and as much as I love the idea of coming home to a loved one and putting on a movie for us and our fourteen cats, right now that isn’t my focus.

As a 19 year-old woman, my main focusses in life at the moment are my book club, my career, and my friends. While I know that’s not the same for everyone and being in a relationship does play a major part in some peoples’ lives, that’s not on my mind at the moment. So why should I have to feel bombarded by every YA novel I pick up being about romance? I can’t even begin to explain how sick I am of seeing allocishet romances in particular. Life is too heteronormative as it is.

Of course it’s necessary for there to still be romance in YA because a lot of teens are experiencing their first loves and first heartbreaks, and they deserve to feel seen and recognise their experiences in what they’re reading. But teens who aren’t in relationships or are aromantic or asexual should seem themselves represented in YA as well. Perhaps if I read more books that focussed on friendship instead of romance, I would have felt less of a pressure to push myself into relationships in my high school years. While we’re undoubtably starting to see a shift in regards to romance in YA now, it’s definitely something that can be improved and expanded upon.

Putting relationships and love you feel for a partner or significant other on a pedestal in YA can also cement the dangerous ideology that romantic love is more important or more legitimate than the love you feel for friends. Love isn’t just reserved for romantic interests—it’s something we feel for those close to us. Friendship and the love we have for our friends shouldn’t be underestimated or considered less. And friendship breakups can be just as painful as splitting with your significant other—sometimes even more so.

So here I’ve got five of my favourite YA novels that focus more on friendship than romance. I hope you can add these to your TBR if you’re feeling like what you’re reading is too romance-heavy!

lets-talk

I hope you enjoyed my little discussion! Now it’s over to you. Do you think there’s too much romance in YA? What are some of your favourite YA novels that focus more on friendship, rather on romantic love? Have you read any of my recommendations? I’d love to know!

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26 thoughts on “Is There Too Much Romance in YA?

  1. I agree with pretty much everything you say. I am 24, and it took me a long time to unlearn the romance narratives I learnt from reading YA. It was a genuine struggle to come to terms with the fact that I’m probably going to be single for a long time and that that’s completely ok. I definitely think that YA’s focus on romance is damaging, particularly when you look at it in some of its early forms (e.g. Twilight) where the dynamics are very asymmetrical and there’s a big emphasis on your lover being the only person in your life and the only thing that gives it meaning – someone like Bella has no friends to be like “you know, maybe don’t die for one guy in your teens”.

    I particularly agree with your point about friendships. A thing that is happening a lot for me as an ace person atm is that the few ace characters I’ve read all seem to end up in romantic relationships. Which, yay! I want to know that ace characters can find love, and it’s heartening to see that. But it seems to be becoming the default ‘you’ll be ok’ happy ending. What if I’m that ace person who never finds romance and has to rely on their platonic relationships? I think being told that those kind of bonds are just as fulfilling and valid as a ‘happy ever after’ is something that I desperately want to see.

    However I’m definitely a little wary of saying no to YA romance, particularly when POC and LGBTQ+ authors/readers haven’t really got their chance to get tired or exhausted of it yet. Something like the success of Love, Simon shows that underrepresented groups are also desperate for a trashy, idealist romcom, and I also want my YA fantasy novel with-way-too-much kissing, but sapphic.

    (sorry for the essay of a comment, but this is a super interesting post about something I think about a lot)

    • I soooo get you! I’m 25 and am in the same boat. I resent the romance narratives engrained in my from all my earliest experiences reading YA. I was so addictive when I was younger, and therefore so reinforced, that I feel like I am ruined for life.

      When I write, I try to focus on really positive friendships instead of sickly sweet romances that give readers unrealistic expectations about love. Hopefully with so much awareness YA in the future will have a much healthier influence on youngsters.

  2. I do like love stories, of course, because romantic love is a wonderful thing But it’s really not a big part of my life right now, which is totally okay. I wouldn’t mind a boyfriend, but I’m really happy with the friends I have and what I’m doing regardless, you know? I don’t think YA requires romance, at all; often romance feels samey or periphery or irrelevant. I love Sabriel and Lirael for being about individual achievement (they do have friendship subplots though).

  3. I am so honoured right now. 😍And you can most definitely know I agree. 😂 I love a good romance in YA and I love how they can be sweet and uplifting and give people what they need! But it also concerns me sometimes about how many narratives say “you HAVE to find a partner to be happy” and like??? Actually no! So I do enjoy a lovely squishy romance, but we can agree it’s waaaay unbalanced and we need more books that focus on friendship…or family! (And I’d add Radio Silence to your list! I think Alice Oseman’s books are a gift to this world omg.)

    • Haha of course I had to include ATPN! 😍 Ahh I know right?! Like, people shouldn’t have to feel pressured to get into a relationship to “make themselves whole”. Ugh. And I hate it when characters get into relationships and then neglect their friends? Not cool. 😳 And yes, RADIO SILENCE is such a great one! Alice is just incredible 😍💖

  4. Oooooo, I really like this topic! On the one hand, it’s a no-brainer to me that most books in ANY genre would contain romance, because most people are looking for love, and as humans in general we love a good love story. But on the other hand, I feel like the YA genre should almost be re-named Young Romance, because a lot of the times it feels like the books are just revolving around the romance. As though whatever cool idea the author came up with is just a new backdrop for the same old love story, or love triangle, or insta-love, or enemies-to-lovers, or friends-to-lovers story we’ve heard over and over again. While some of my favorite books of all time ARE romances, others I love just have the romance on the side, if even there at all. I would love to see more of that in YA.

    • Yeah I agree so many cool plots end falling to the wayside in favor of the romance and while I am all for a well-written romance I would also like to see plot development that doesn’t make adjustments to cater to the romance.

  5. I don’t know that there’s necessarily too much or just that the relationships presented aren’t realistic of teen romance. I’m not a fan of The Fault in Stars but I’ll admit during the movie I swooned a bit for Ansel’s character. I just think some of the relationships presented put a lot of pressure on teens to find “the one” during high school and that’s just not good for teens nor is it realistic for many. I think the lack of parental figures in a lot of story make it seem more plausible for these sweep me off my feet romances to occur in high school and again not realistic. I for one would like to see the focus spread to include other types of relationships such as, that for siblings, friends and even parents. Great discussion!

  6. I can’t agree more. Most of YA books nowadays seem very similar and centered around romance too much. I recently read American Panda and even though it does contain romance bits but it centers around the parents-children relationship which I adore so so much and I loved it!

  7. I think this isn’t just a problem in YA books, but in every media that’s aimed at teens. When I was younger I felt awful about myself, because I had never been in a relationship and in my books and tv EVERYONE was pairing off. That’s probably the biggest problem – pretty much all the main characters end up in a relationship at some point which really didn’t help me. Though I don’t mind romance in YA, but I don’t want it to be the only thing, I prefer a focus on friendship. I prefer friendship over romance anyway, even though I do have my romantic ships 😛 Great post!

  8. I completely agree. I can’t even begin to count the times I’ve read a ya book where compelling plot points and relationships with friends were sacrificed for the romance. And often times the romance isn’t remotely realistic or healthy.

  9. I completely agree with all of this, in fact I wrote quite a similar discussion post last year, where I talked about how YA books should show more single characters. I felt so weird when I was a teenager reading YA, with all these sixteen year olds finding “true love” and I hadn’t even been out on a date yet. I think YA authors have a responsibility to show a whole range of teen experiences and teens that have no interest in/or just simply aren’t in a relationship is one of them! I also hate it when friendships are pushed to the side in favour of romantic relationships because my friends have always been so important to me!

  10. Such an important discussion post! I think all of us, even those most critical of romance in YA, have once been fans, or at least understood the appeal. It’s like junk food, addictive and damaging in excess amounts.

    I think you’re right, that YA romances featuring diversity can have a really positive influence right now. I think it’ll be important moving forward for writers/publishers to be responsible about how they portray romantic relationships for young adults.

  11. This was a very interesting article because it was the first one I read about the lack of non-romance in literature in general and it was a topic of discussion I’ve been missing recently. Particularly interesting was that you mentioned how romance should continue to be included in books and stories since it is a major part of a lot of teenagers lives and experiences (which I agree with wholeheartedly!). I could not help but think about another thing which is also an important experience in most teenagers lives which I have yet to see represented in a YA novel (granted, I don’t read a lot of them) and that is the topic of a break up. And considering that there are probably more ways to fall out of love than to fall in love, I am quite surprised that breakups aren’t give bigger platforms in literature, especially for young readers.

  12. Completely agree with you on this. In my POV, the YA category seems to switch between one extreme to the other, either it’s “pearl-clutching” no romance or sexual content at all (“we must protect the children!”) or extreme focus on romance with a lot of toxicity in those romantic relationships. Very rarely does a YA book focus on pointing out toxic relationships (romantic or otherwise) and how to avoid them. Healthy relationships aren’t hard or boring to write when they are done well (I don’t know why other authors find this such a difficult thing to grasp).

  13. I 100% agree with this! YA books should have so much less romance, do you have any other suggestions, I’m finding it tough finding YA books without romance!

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