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:
- Believable 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.
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 ;).
- Believable 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? ;-)
© 2014, Anya. All rights reserved.