I am a romantic. I love the happily ever after of fairy tales. I want the girl to get the guy or vice versa, and I love reading about a good love story, but there’s way too much of it. I don’t mean that there are too many romance novels. I have no beef with that. I don’t even mind that so many of the YA novels being published are romances. What bothers me is that someone seems to have gotten the idea that all YA has to have at minimum a romance, and often a love triangle.
I confess that I am a long time past my teen years, but I refuse to believe that all teen novels must have a romance. When it’s well-written, regardless of the genre it works. The romance fits seamlessly into the story and it works. On the other hand, when the romance is inserted into the book for no reason other than that someone believes it should be there, it feels forced and out of place, and then it pretty much ruins the book for me. In a Huffington Post article called Lovesick and Tired: Unnecessary Romance in YA, Elizabeth Vail suggests that while there is nothing wrong with a good romance, if it’s unnecessary to the plot, don’t include it. If the romance doesn’t fit, readers will be able to tell, and it takes away from the book.
While fiction is to some extent a heightened and exaggerated version of reality, many of these romances go beyond exaggerated to ridiculous. In the Sci-Fi novel I’m reading right now, the heroine is smart, capable, a little bit arrogant, and pretty kick-butt. She makes money by retrieving teens from a virtual reality world if they’ve exceeded their permitted time in the game. In the virtual world, she can outfit herself with whatever kinds of weapons she needs, and she knows how to use them. At the start of the novel, she is contracted by the game’s creator to retrieve his son who is seemingly attempting to remain permanently in the game. They’ve never met. They don’t know anything about one another, and within 24 hours, she’s “seriously making out with him” as she puts it. The book is pretty exciting on its own. The virtual reality world is rich and complex. There is action and danger and tons of suspense to keep me turning the pages, which makes me wonder- why did they hook up? They are in a life-or-death situation. They are trapped in the virtual reality world where somebody or something might be trying to kill their real world selves, and yet they have time to take walks on the virtual beach and fall in love? Despite what we think, teens don’t automatically buy into the “insta-love” trope that has become all too common. Love at first sight is a wonderful and romantic idea, and it’s a device that can make a good romance novel seem even more romantic. But when the world is being taken over by aliens, or you’re in a life-or-death battle against rogue robots for example, how does that insta-love fit?
Perhaps even more overdone than insta-love are love triangles. I know that it’s fun to imagine two different guys fighting over you, and that it’s possible to legitimately have feelings for more than one guy at the same time. In Kiera Kass’ Selection series, the triangle made sense. America already had a guy that she felt something for before she entered the Selection. As she got to know the prince, she developed feelings for him too, but that didn’t mean she automatically stopped feeling something for her childhood love Aspen. Both characters were well-developed and interesting, and it wasn’t a given who she would choose.
On the other hand, in Zodiac by Romina Russell, the love triangle drove me nuts. The world she created was interesting, the story was solid and exciting, and I liked the main character Rhoma. As with the previous Sci-Fi I mentioned, the triangle just didn’t make sense. Rhoma’s world has been destroyed. The rest of the world is under threat, and Rhoma seems to be the only one who can save the entire universe from destruction. It would seem like she has more pressing problems than trying to figure out how to juggle two different guys.
in her article, Elizabeth Vail says that authors shouldn’t write multi-genre novels if they only respect one of the genres, and I highly agree. To quote Gloria Steinem, “If the shoe doesn’t fit, must we change the foot?” In other words, you shouldn’t try to force a romance into a story where it doesn’t fit. Accept that it doesn’t fit into that particular story and work with what does. There will always be another foot for that shoe.