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Love in YA: Make Me Believe

Book Discussion

What I Need to Enjoy Romance in YA

First I just need to take a step back and laugh at the fact that I’m even writing a post about romance at all. I was pretty firmly against romance of any kind in books the last time I checked (by which I mean that I just didn’t care, and really didn’t want it to be the main focus). However, somehow YA has softened this stone heart of mine and I actually used the verb “to ship” in a review this past week (if you’re not gasping, you should be!). I’m now finding myself in a strange spot though, because I’ve started liking romances that other reviewers specifically DON’T like and I just don’t know what to do with myself! Specifically, I’ve found myself attached to two types of YA romance “faux pas” that I used to dislike as a general principle: love triangles and insta-love. Don’t freak out though! It’s not just any love triangle or instalove that I’ve fallen for, but very specific ones with pretty specific elements. Let’s break this down by romance trope shall we?

Also just a note of warning, I’m discussing the romance elements of The Jewel, Hunger Games, The Infernal Devices, and Snow Like Ashes below. I aimed to not spoil anything major, but this will give you an idea of what romance develops, in case you want to avoid knowing anything about these books.


The book that made me start thinking about this was The Jewel. I read it back in July and was completely addicted to the fast-pace, cool magic, and hot and heavy romance. Then as the publication date started approaching this fall, I saw reviews complaining about the instalove and how it ruined the book. I was honestly a bit confused, since I thought of myself as fairly anti-romance, so how could I possibly fall for the dreaded instalove?? I honestly thought about this long and hard because I generally try to be fairly self aware of what I do and don’t like, and the possibly of having missed instalove confused me a whole lot. I came to realize that there were factors that made me completely fine with how quickly the romance developed in The Jewel:

  • The Jewel by Amy EwingBelievable circumstances – In The Jewel, Violet is basically a reproductive slave. It seemed believable to me that a girl who has been thrust into a terrifying and dehumanizing situation would instantly cling to any sort of life ring thrown her way and become emotionally attached. The guy she falls for is in a similar situation since he has been forced to work as an escort, so again, it seemed quite believable that a teen who is being abused would fall hard for the first human who looks at him like he is worth anything.
  • Teens misinterpreting emotions – The other side of this is that yes, it takes lots of time for people to really know each other enough to “really” love each other, whatever that even means. However, teenagers who have never fallen hard for any before are likely to be naive when it comes to the rush of hormones they are feeling and misinterpret it as unending love for each other. I had no trouble believing that this is what was going on with Violet and even when she makes some questionable decisions, I believed it because I know very well how she was feeling from my own days as a teenage girl full of conflict and FEELINGS.
  • Likable characters – I get the impression that some readers just didn’t much like Violet, and I get that, but I have a tendency to get quite attached to characters that aren’t perfect and are rather rough around the edges. Why you ask? Honestly I think it’s because I often find myself being that person who is a bit cold or a bit broken or a bit impulsive at times, so I see myself in Violet and connect with her like the many broken MCs I’ve loved before ;-).

So basically, while I agree that things went fast in The Jewel, I honestly had no trouble believing that that is how it would really play out with real people. Violet acts pretty similar to how I did at her age at times, and I can only imagine how much more extreme my emotions would be if I was forced into such a horrible situation.

Love Triangles

Dun dun dun…. The horror! I was that person that couldn’t help rolling my eyes at how conflicted Katniss was made to seem in the movies because in the books it felt obvious to me that she wanted to be with Gale and was just pretending with Peeta. However, in The Infernal Devices, I could not believe that neither Jem nor Will just got sick of Tessa not being able to decide, gah! Generally I’ve considered myself to hugely against love triangles because I had never seen a situation where I could actually believe all three people involved would actually put up with each other’s actions. So imagine my surprise when I read Snow Like Ashes and found myself nodding my head at the love triangle that develops because it actually made sense to me! Why you ask? The reasons might look a little similar to above ;).

  • Snow Like Ashes by Sara RaaschBelievable circumstances – Without going into spoilers, I could completely understand why Meira would feel conflicted and attached to both guys because she wasn’t able to make the decision she actually wanted to make. The circumstances kind of reflect Katniss’s actual situation at the beginning now that I think about it. But what it comes down to is that I really need there to be outside reasons for the girl not to be able to make up her mind and stick with her decision.
  • Convincing dialogue – I think one of my favorite things about the love triangle in Snow Like Ashes is that Meira actually discusses how ridiculous her situation has become and calls out the love triangle for what it is. Instead of angsting over which she loves more or something, she just tries to do the right thing even though she knows she’ll get hurt either way. It would also be nice if the girl found someway to be honest with both the guys, but that’s probably asking too much of romances, ha.
  • Likable characters – Nothing annoys me more than when I think one guy is awesome and the other is an ass, and yet the heroine can’t seem to see that her choice is really freaking obvious. (Hint hint: stalkers are not the right choice.) In Snow Like Ashes, I honestly really like and see the strengths of both the guys and love Meira’s internal decision-making, so I didn’t find myself eye-rolling at all since I didn’t really know what I would decide to do if I was in her position D:.

As you can see, a lot of my opinion about a romance storyline comes down to how realistic I find it to be. I absolutely detest abusive love interests and find it really hard to believe in love of any kind when a character falls for someone that treats them like garbage. However, I have found that I can apparently be convinced of a romance if I can understand why the characters are making the decisions that they are. I can apparently even fall for fast-developing romances and love triangles as long as the characters go down a realistic path. I’m not saying that these are necessarily advisable or good paths for the characters to take, but what teen always makes the rational and most advisable choices, right? ;-)

What do you think of these two “bad” romance tropes? Have you ever found yourself liking a romance that others think is objectively bad? What does a romance have to have to convince you? Are you someone who doesn’t like any sort of romantic storyline? ;-)

Anya from On Starships and Dragonwings-Anya

© 2014, Anya. All rights reserved.


  1. I love romance, and I really do not mind the prevalence of it in YA. Romantic storylines make me happy. I love shipping people to no end, and if a book can give me a good ship – hells yeah.

    As for these two tropes, I am not wholeheartedly adverse to either of them. It really depends on the book, storyline, and characters in question.

    Sometimes instalove gets to me, and I will fall down the dark hole of hating it. Other times, I won’t care either way. And then sometimes I’ll ship it like nothing else.

    Love triangles are a little different, though because 99% of the time I never get what I want and that annoys me. And the indecisiveness of the MC also annoys me. Like you said: why can’t she just be honest? I also hate cheating, so when girl is off kissing two guys, I can’t help but have little but of the eye twitching going on, because cheating is something that really gets to me.

    I suppose, to convince me, I would have to like the characters, and there would have to be at least SOME development of a general relationship before declarations of love. That’s what annoys me most about instalove. I can handle instalust – that’s normal. But knowing each other/being together for a few days and then proclaiming everlasting love … I just can’t handle the unrealistic-ness of it all.
    Chiara @ Books for a Delicate Eternity recently posted…Review: The Selection by Kiera CassMy Profile

    • Hehe, maybe my indifference to shipping makes love triangles easier for me since I don’t get invested in one of the relationships more than the other usually ;-)

      Oh yeah, cheating pisses me off to no end and will instantly destroy my love of a character, completely agreed!

      You never felt that silly puppy love as a teen where you were convinced you knew the person but really you didn’t? ;-)

  2. You are so right. I wrote a discussion post awhile back about insta-love and how there are certain circumstances where the author can actually make it work. Same goes for a love triangle. There are certainly circumstances where these tropes completely ruin a book outright, but it doesn’t ALWAYS work that way – when the author develops the characters and the story appropriately, love triangles and even insta-love can work. Great post!
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    • Thanks! Yup, if an author shoves a trope in just because they can’t think of what else to do, we as readers are going to notice and get frustrated, but if it makes sense for the characters and story, yey!

  3. I actually kinda like love triangles, too, as long as there’s a remote chance of the two extra elements winning. Like in The Hunger Games, Gale and Peeta each had a decent chance of winning. It’s irritating in stuff like Twilight where there was never any question. Oh, and the waffling needs to be kept to a minimum.

    I do like your take on insta-love. I said the same thing others did about The Jewel, but I hadn’t thought of it the way you did. About all the hormones and FEELINGS. You’re totally right.
    Leila @ LeiIlaReads recently posted…That’s What HE Said Thursday #7My Profile

    • Agreed on the minimum waffling. I kind of loved how Katniss just told both of them that she couldn’t think about kissing when there was so much craziness going on ;-)

      Thanks :D

  4. I find insta-love rather believable in YA for the same reasons you’ve said. Teens tend to feel emotions very strongly, so any attraction tends to be head over heels right away. I only really have an issue with it in adult stories, where it’s entirely less believable.

    I like your idea of when love triangles are okay too. I don’t mind the occasional triangle. It just needs to have the right set up with believable characters. Both situations really come down to the reader’s ability to believe in it, and that’s true for basically everything to do with writing.
    Sarah recently posted…Discussion: Blogging Leading to AuthoringMy Profile

    • Oh yeah, completely understandable with adult literature. I’d hope that the characters would have enough life experience at that point to be believable adults ;-)

      I think it does all come down to believable and as little angst as possible, ha!

  5. Wow this post describes me! Well except for the different types of romance, because I honestly don’t know what type of romance I really like. I guess one that is well done? Anyways, I used to be the person that only read fantasy because the chance of it having romance in it was 1 out of 50. But then the older I became, the more I wanted a good romance storyline. I mean, not ALL romance, but maybe a little less than half. I remember reading this book that had no romance, and instead of loving it like I was supposed to (because it was good in every other aspect), I kept wondering where the romance was. From this, I guess I can say that my favorite type of romance is ones that aren’t forced, but instead provide little hints here and there that subconsciously make the reader want the two characters to be together. And then have the characters come together (because why would you torture a reader hahahaha)
    Valerie recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday #29My Profile

    • Well done is definitely a good quality for a romance ;-). I guess for me it isn’t even that I specifically want there to be a romance storyline as well as the main one, but that I don’t mind when there is. I do perhaps prefer fantasy that might have a romance because that makes it likely there is at least one female character haha!

  6. I’m very much with you on the believability of the romance. Some tropes work very well if they are written well, and others flop. Great post!

    • I almost feel like starting to regularly think about tropes and give good examples of them done well, haha, since it’s so true that as long as the writing is good and well thought out, it’s a win!

  7. Spectacular post. I think tropes are only annoying when they’re evidence of lazy writing. If they’re legitimate for the world building and written as authentic progressions of the character, they work. I like how Tolkien commented on the love between Faramir and Eowyn which also happened very quickly. He said that in times of extreme stress, those sorts of things happen quickly. I have paraphrased that horribly, for the record, but that was the essence of his much more eloquent comment.

    Plus, like you pointed out, I think it’s totally believable that teenagers would mistake a rush of hormones for true love. They do it all the time in real life, why not in fiction (again, if the characters are believably portrayed).
    Annie recently posted…Tattered Heart pronunciation guideMy Profile

    • YES! That is such a perfect example :D If you think you might die any day, it’s understandable that you’ll cling to any happy thing in life!

  8. You used the verb “to ship”? … We can no longer be friends. And you’re attached to love triangles AND insta-love. … Well, the death sentence sounds a little harsh, so maybe just eternal banishment and torture? ;)

    Just to clarify (before we banish you forever), it looks like you’re okay with love triangles and insta-love that have realistic, believable characters and make sense in the context presented, preferably where the surrounding circumstances are a large contributing factor as opposed to an idiot girl just not being able to make up her mind? Yeah, I suppose I can understand that.

    I’m one of those people who tends to approach romance logically…as in, heavy on the thinking/analyzing, less on the feeling. Which means that just feeling “in love” without some sort of explanation (like a slowly building friendship that you see develop into more) doesn’t usually fly for me. (“He’s hot” doesn’t count.) And, unless I’m in the mood for a Hallmark movie or a sappy chick read (which happens every now and then), romance almost always needs to be a subplot, not the main plot. Even when I get invested in where a relationship is going, there has to be more going on with the story. Great post!
    Kel @ Booked til Tuesday recently posted…Discussion: YA ImprintsMy Profile

    • D: but but but, only once!

      Hahah exactly! This might be exactly where things have shifted with me more lately, since I used to be heavy on the logical thinking and planning side and I think as I’ve gotten more comfortable with the boy, I’ve realized I don’t have to analyze since I was really just worrying about how to do things right and now I know my first instincts are fine because we know each other so well now :)

      And oh yes, I think we’ll always agree that I need my speculative fiction main plot no matter what cutesy stuff is going on ;-)

  9. Love this! So I do like romance, but if you were to ask me if I like love -triangles or insta-love I’d say no, but sometimes it works. I think you’re factors are right on – particularly the believability with instalove. I also like when instalove doesn’t turn into insta-easy relationship. As for love triangles, I need it to make sense and I need it to be resolved satisfactorily. I hate when a decent person gets strung along forever – which tends to be a sign I just don’t like the character everyone’s in love with. I think that was my problem with Hunger Games, I stopped liking Katniss!

    Anyway – great post!
    Berls @ Fantasy is More Fun recently posted…Dewey’s 24 Hour #ReadAThon 2014 Wrap Up!My Profile

  10. I think believeable circumstances is a very important one in creating a believeable romance. I always thought I was against love triangles as well, but they can be done right. One of the books with a love triangle I enjoyed is Camp Boyfriend by JK Rock. The main character likes two boys, but the way it was written I understood why and there were different things in the boys to like.
    I am still not a big fan of insta-love, but it can be done in a way I don’t mind as much. It also really depends on the character and situation. I have read some books were there was insta-lust and then later it develops in love when they get to know each other. And if the romance is still believeable enough in a sense that I understand why the characters like each other even thought they fell in love fast, it can still be believeable.
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  11. P.E. @ The Sirenic Codex says:

    I’m a lot like you in that I usually don’t like romances either, but there are a few I inexplicably like. A recent one has to be Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. I was so into the charm and the romance although it wasn’t all that new and had many characteristics of romances I don’t like, but somehow I loved River. I haven’t read the two books you mentioned here but I definitely want to, and maybe I’ll see something in the romance again!
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  12. I’ve seen a lot of reviews touch on the insta-love and love triangle in the books you mentioned so it’s nice to get another perspective-I always wanted to read these even with all the negative reviews. Now I’m definitely going to check them out. I’m totally not against a GOOD love triangle, so this should be interesting!
    Alise recently posted…ARC Review: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie StiefvaterMy Profile

  13. I’ve been thinking about the same issue, but you put it into words a lot better than I attempted to.

    I agree that under the right circumstances both insta-love and love triangles are alright.
    Cassidie Jhones recently posted…DNF ARC Review: The Elementalists by C. SharpMy Profile

  14. This is an interesting analysis on why we tend to fall for certain tropes. I have to agree, that whatever happens it has to be believable! Otherwise, I won’t connect with the story. I’ve discovered that I’ve never had trouble with insta-love situations or love triangles when they are believable, but when they leave me with a feeling of impossibility, then it’s a big no no!! I also felt like Katniss was leaning more towards Gale up until the end, but I could understand why she was pretending for Peeta’s sake, so I believed in the love triangle.
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  15. For me the book does not have to contain romance to be good but you won’t hear me complaining if it is there if the romance works for me. I think diferent things work for diferent people.
    I like couples with passion and/or good banter. Think: Pride and prejudice, Gone with the wind, Mistborn, Graceling, Kate Daniels, The Burning Sky …
    I won’t complain about insta love or love triangles if I buy it. But usually they do bother me. The Jewel and Snow Like Ashes both did not have likable love stories for me.
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  16. This! I’m very much in the same boat. My sister never got how I didn’t like romances, but I just preferred to read about the characters and other aspects of the plot. So much more interesting to me! But I’ve recently started to realize I actually like some romances in books, something I never thought I’d say. And finding that when I do like them, other people often don’t! They tend to be the ones that are believable to me though, taken into account the characters and their circumstances. And if I don’t like a romance, but understand it given the character’s circumstances (like with Passion Blue), then it’s not a dealbreaker.

    I like seeing abusive relationships portrayed in books, as long as they’re done well and not romanticized. I think it’s so important – I did a lot of volunteer work at a domestic violence shelter and now work with sexually reactive boys. People do fall for the wrong person all the time in life, even those that treat them horribly, and once in that abusive relationship, there are a million reasons that make it difficult to leave. That said, I haven’t really seen that portrayed well in any books I’ve read yet

  17. It sounds like we’ve got the same outlook on romance here, which is awesome since it means I’m not the only one who’s had her eyes opened recently! :D Also, I agree with a lot of the criteria you mention here. I’m coming to think of romance as just another acceptable aspect of stories, but it has GOT to be believable and I need to like the characters, or at least feel invested. Bonus: this post has got me curious about The Jewel! ;-)
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  18. I think romance is a fine side plot, but it shouldn’t get in the way of the action. Who are you and what have you done to Anya? Just kidding. ;)

    Love triangles can sometimes be okay, as long as the heroine isn’t leading the two guys on. Why is it that so often in love triangles I find myself disliking one of the guys? (Usually the one she chooses) I agree it’s always better when I understand the reasoning behind the romance, (Not just physical attraction) and if it’s believable given the situation.

    I’m never a fan of instant love, but I also think there’s a difference between love at first sight (instant) and quick romances. If they actually talk and get to know one another it can happen fast, because sometimes in real life it does. You meet someone and you just click. I have to feel the connection between the characters for it to work.

    Nice post. :)
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  19. I wish there were a wider pool of romance-free novels. I have nothing against romance, as long as it’s more or less believable and it doesn’t take over the story. My biggest issue with YA romance plots is that I sometimes feel that some authors are checking a box on a checklist that says “romance”, as if a book couldn’t be YA without romance or boys and girls couldn’t be just friends.
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  20. Great post! I think my icy heart is thawing because I’m enjoying the romantic elements of books more and more. They still need to subplots though, I can’t handle a book just about romance yet. I need other things happening to keep from rolling my eyes. It’s funny you mention HG, because that love triangle didn’t bother me, although I thought Peeta was clearly the choice. To me, Katniss had legitimate reasons to like them both, one who understands who she was and all her pre-arena struggles, and the one who understands who she is becoming. She showed how conflicted she was about moving forward and understandably wanted things to go back the way they were, despite it not being ideal either. So obviously, I don’t mind these tropes as long as they aren’t done without reason. I need some logic in my stories!
    Anne @ Lovely Literature recently posted…Branching out with Horror OctoberMy Profile

    • Oh yeah, I will not be reading straight romance stories for a long time if ever I think. I still gotta have my crazy magic and tech and new world to discover ;-).

      That is honestly the best Peeta argument I have ever heard and I’m suddenly conflicted again, crap! But that just again points out how well that romance plot was done because they were metaphors for Katniss’ coming of age story as well as what different paths war sends people down *must see Mockingjay RIGHT NOW*

  21. And this is why you are my current favorite book blogger. I get sick of reading posts slamming perfectly good books (frequently books that I really liked) because there is any hint of romance at all. Because it is the cool thing to hate at the moment.
    Sometimes book romances have to go fast because most publishers or readers don’t want a 1000 page YA novel. And even if you got the page count down, but spread things out over a “realistic” time period for falling in love, by that point the characters would be aged out of the target audience and would be graduating from college and getting jobs as accountants and popping out 2.5 kids. Who wants to read that?
    Ok, I am digressing, but thank you for thinking about what you read and mot dismissing something well written and with likeable characters because the romantic element doesn’t conform to a sensible reality.

    • Awwww <3 But completely agreed, I can't help but feeling like we go through these phases in book blogging where there is something you have to look down on in order to be in the cool kids club, good thing I don't care about being cool ;-). But really, I wrote this to try to figure out my thoughts too since it is conflicting at times to sort out what is peer pressure and what is your actual reaction to the book.

      That is such a good point! I'm a fan of the slow burn romance, but that tends to happen over the course of a series or maybe one book if it is an adult book and therefore could be longer. Also a great point that all the boring little moments that lead to real relationships would get boring in a book and when crazy situations are going down, its understandable that things are different than what most of us have experienced!

  22. I think YA has done the same for me in regards to accepting romance.

    And you’re right, believable circumstances really do make or break a trope like Instalove or triangles. I am actually a fan of both… If done well. You can usually tell if it’s there to be drama or if it’s there because it is a legitimate struggle or thing.
    Great discussion!
    Megan recently posted…Review–Stolen (Women of the Otherworld #2) by Kelley ArmstrongMy Profile

    • Yey, I’m not alone in my converting ;-)

      Agreed, I hate drama for drama’s sake, but if you look at the situation and really can’t see any other the characters would realistically react, I’m all for it :D


  1. […] On Starships and Dragonwings talks about Love in YA, a few specific tropes. […]

  2. […] Anya says she needs the romance to be believable. […]

  3. […] Anya explains what she needs to enjoy romance in YA. […]

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