Young Adult Education In Defense of YA Romance (And Why I Love It So Much) Kerry Winfrey

As you may have noticed if you’re a regular reader of this column, I tend to focus on one specific type of YA. YA is a pretty broad classification that includes all kinds of books featuring teenage characters–some of those books are mysteries, some of those books involve murders, some of those books are sci-fi or apocalyptic or paranormal. And then some of them are romances, which is what I gravitate towards. Sure, I try to make this column somewhat well-rounded by checking out a variety of books, but the truth is that I’m pulled towards romance the same way I’m pulled towards chocolate chip cookies or a marathon of Property Brothers on HGTV.

I’m a romantic comedy kind of lady, and I appreciate the genre, even when it’s ridiculous or unbelievable. I legitimately don’t care if a romance would never happen in real life. I agree with Mindy Kaling’s take on romcoms: “I regard romantic comedies as a subgenre of sci-fi, in which the world operates according to different rules than my regular human world. For me, there is no difference between Ripley from Alien and any Katherine Heigl character. They are equally implausible. They’re all participating in a similar level of fakey razzle-dazzle.” Frankly, if a movie is packed full of romcom clichés, I’m more likely to love it.

As I’ve mentioned before, sometimes people kind of look down on you if you read YA. Not that I care, because as noted philosopher Miley Cyrus once said while wiggling her tongue around, only God can judge you. But if people question the intelligence of an adult woman who reads YA, they really question the intelligence of an adult woman who reads YA romance. Like, sure, read something about alien invasions or kids killing each other for sport, but get invested in a little Peeta-Gale love triangle action? Forget it, are you brain damaged?

Some critics of YA romance say that it’s silly and unrealistic, because who actually finds the love of their life in high school? And anyway, why should YA female characters even be concerned about love at all? Shouldn’t they be saving the world or going on self-discovery road trips or vanquishing any variety of mythical creatures? Who has time for making out with swoonworthy dudes? There are zombies/vampires/werewolves/various personal demons to kill!

It’s not that I don’t agree with that reasoning. I don’t think that girls should feel like finding a boyfriend is their sole purpose in life. I want teenage girls to know that they don’t need another person to complete them and that they can have adventures on their own. I want them to value their friends even more than they value a romantic relationship.

But the thing is, I don’t think that the pursuit of romance is all that vapid or unnecessary—not at 16, and not at any age. Falling in love for the first time is not only a great feeling, but it’s also an exciting one. After all, you’ve never done it before, so you have no idea what it’s going to be like. And then when it happens, it sort of rules! Conventional wisdom compares it to fireworks, but I think we could really compare it to something better. Cheeseburgers! Pizza! Ice cream cones with sprinkles on a really hot day! Other delicious food items!

Personally, I know why I love YA romance so much. I can still remember, viscerally, what it felt like when I first fell head over heels for my first boyfriend when I was a teenager. I’m a happily married woman now, and I’m not saying I’d ever want to even see that dude again (he was sort of stupid, and after we broke up he pierced his own nipples, which really tells you everything you need to know), but our relationship was never really about him. Sometimes first love isn’t about the other person so much as it’s about love itself; it’s about feeling something for the first time ever, and about giving yourself over to it so completely because you don’t even realize there are consequences.

It’s hard to fall in love like that again—when you’ve been there before and had your heart broken, it’s difficult to hand out your emotions so freely. You realize that things could end and that there’s a distinct possibility you’ll be very sad when they do. It’s easy to become jaded and cynical about love. But I’m convinced that many of us wish we could recapture that first love feeling all the time, that reckless excitement, that over-the-top exhilaration.

Maybe some people sky dive or bungee jump to feel that stomach-leaping excitement, but not me. I read YA romances because they remind me of the thrill of falling in love for the first time. Being in love is great, too, don’t get me wrong, but it’s nice to read about the fear and risk and adventure of falling from the comfort of my couch.

I like romances (whether they’re YA books, adult books or films) because they’re unabashed in their emotion. They don’t pretend like there’s anything more important than falling in love, and I don’t think they should. Making a human connection isn’t silly or trite; it’s important and special, and I appreciate a book or film that’s honest about that.

We’re all entitled to our opinions, and some people are always going to hate romances, YA or otherwise. But whenever people question their value, I’m always reminded of a scene at the end of the Princess Diaries series (sidenote: I have an English degree, I spent the better part of four years reading Nabokov and Virginia Woolf, and now I’m writing about the Princess Diaries books online…IF YOU COULD SEE ME NOW, former Lit professors!) where Mia feels stupid because Michael’s a super genius who’s making, like, a robotic arm that will save people’s lives or something and all she’s doing is writing romance novels. He tells her that while his invention is saving someone’s life in the operating room, that person’s scared family member can read one of her romance novels in the waiting room and feel a little better. And, really, how can you hate something like that?

Of course, I can’t end this column without sharing a few of my favorite YA romances. The entire Princess Diaries series is fantastic. Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins are basically perfect. Meant to Be by Lauren Morrill will make you swoon. You’ll fall head over heels for Eleanor & Park. I loved The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith. Megan McCafferty’s Jessica Darling books introduce us to the wonder that is Marcus Flutie. The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson broke my heart in about a million different ways (JOE FONTAINE!). Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist has music and romance. And that’s just the tip of the super-romantic iceberg.

What about you guys? What are your favorite YA romances? Let me know in the comments…I’m always on the lookout for new books to read! And, as always, I love to hear your suggestions for books to feature in Young Adult Education. Leave a comment, send me an email at youngadulteducation@gmail.com or find me on Twitter @KerryAnn.

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  1. I don’t know if you would consider these next books YA romance but 2 of my faves are boy to boy and keeping you a secret

  2. I completely agree with Anna & the French Kiss – Stephenie Perkins, Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell, Meant to be – Lauren Morrill and Statistical Probability of Love at first sight – Jennifer E. Smith. I also loved Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments, Maggie Stiefvater’s Scorpio Races, and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and Flat Out Love by Jessica Park.

  3. I’ve been reading a lot of YA genre lately and I love it. Especially all of John Green’s book. I like all the books that you mentioned. I’ll list down my favorite YA Romances:
    Anna & the French Kiss – Stephenie Perkins
    Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell
    Meant to be – Lauren Morrill
    Statistical Probability of Love at first sight – Jennifer E. Smith
    Catastrophic History of You & Me – Jess Rothenberg
    Going Vintage – Lindsey Leavitt
    Gimme a Call – Sarah Mlynowski
    and a lot more.

    • Oooh, I actually just got Going Vintage from the library! Now I’m extra-excited to dig into it! :)

      Kerry Winfrey | 9/04/2013 10:09 am
  4. I love YA fiction, especially romance. There’s so many amazing books being written these days for the YA set (moving into the new “New Adult” genre) – there aren’t enough hours to read ALL THE BOOKS! :)

  5. I always thought I was the only one! Even at 29 I can’t seem to shake my love of YA novels and they always end up being romance ones even if they don’t seem like they will be. I just finished Pivot Point (think Sliding Doors) which was AMAZING. The Selection (think The Bachelor for a Prince) is another one, Immortal City (Angels), Paranormalcy (who doesn’t love pink?).. I could go on!

    • Okay, the Sliding Doors comparison won me over…I’ll definitely check out Pivot Point.

      Kerry Winfrey | 9/04/2013 10:09 am
  6. All of Melina Marchetta’s books, but especially Jellicoe Road. Jonah Griggs can bring the swoon almost as well as Marcus Flutie. And I say almost only because Marcus got five books and so far Jonah only has one.

    • I’ve heard so many good things about Jellicoe Road!

      Kerry Winfrey | 9/04/2013 10:09 am
  7. Kerry, I agree with every word. That Mindy Kaling article is one of my favorites! I just watched the entirety of The Mindy Project this weekend, so I’m feeling particularly fond/protective of the romantic comedy genre, and this article articulates my thoughts perfectly. Also, I’ve read every single book you mentioned in that last paragraph so… #winning.

  8. I have found my favorite books with your column, so maybe you aren’t going to win a Pullitzer, or you’re not writing let’s say, the 21st-century Pride and Prejudice. But you are helping others, like me, find peace and courage in books as awesome as those written by Stephanie Perkins and Sarah Dessen.

  9. beautifully written!

    and the Mediator series by Meg Cabot is also pretty amazing!

  10. I believe that YA books and especially YA romances often get criticized very harshly. And I feel that this harsh criticism is detrimental to the young girls (or guys, or older people) reading them. These books are often about stuff they can directly relate to, new feelings, new decisions to make, learning how to find yourself and how to balance your life and the new relationships you form etc (albeit usually in extraordinary circumstances). By so easily dismissing these books you (you in the generic sense ;-) ) also dismiss these girls (/people) and the way they feel. I also think the stories in these books get trivialized too easily.

    For example the Hunger Games actually tackles some rather complex themes, like government control, poverty, war – revolutions (and how muddy these situations get), colonialism, there’s an ethnic discrimination to it too (in the way the capitol people and district people view each other) and yes love and finding the right person/partner for you. The choice between Peeta and Gale was very much relevant to the story and in a way helped Katniss figure out who she wanted to be. It’s love that kept both Katniss and Peeta alive, as well on many different levels. And Twilight, which is often criticized for its romantic notions. While I concur it could’ve been written a lot better (A LOT better), I feel rather protective of the character of Bella Swan. Often she gets dismissed as someone who just blindly walks after Edward and how weak she is in doing so. When in reality this is the girl who was willing to give up her own life to save her mother, who kept following her own path and went after what she wanted no matter how many people told her it was wrong. The girl who was willing to accept any being on the merit of their character instead of their race/state of being. The girl who told her husband in no uncertain terms that it was her body to decide over, not his (both in the choice to become a vampire and with the baby). The girl that refused to make any excuses for who she was and how she felt and followed her gut right until the end and I could go on, haha. The point is that as she loved and went after her love, she found who she was meant to be (without giving up herself or control of herself in the process). Surely she has many faults (and the book has many faults), just as Katniss or any other protagonist have many faults, but isn’t that the point of growing up? To make mistakes and to learn from your mistakes, to grow as a person, become a little wiser and stronger and so on. I actually think these books are pretty vital for young people, they offer a safe place to explore these topics, new relationships and so on. The fantastical elements often offer a new perspective, making the topics discussed not as confrontational and easier to think about. As for trivializing the merit of romance and relationships, as Jenny Lewis sings You Are What You Love. I think that we find new and different aspects of ourselves in the relationships we form. As such I think romance is also very much about self discovery, bravery and finding new aspects of yourself.

    I think with these books (and basically any form of art) it’s a matter of perspective, I think people can find things to hate about anything just as easily as they can find things to love about it. It’s all about perspective and interpretation, imho. And in the end I personally feel that it’s not ok to just dismiss anyone regardless of their age or how trivial you (generic you) think their feelings or interests, or concerns or problems are. Which is to say I don’t think it’s a good thing to disregard an entire genre so easily.

    P.s I’ve already ‘outed’ myself as a Hunger Games and Twilight reader, other than that I don’t know if John Green’s books count as YA romance but I definitely enjoy his books (Kleenex no doubt thanked its lucky stars when people started reading The Faults In Our Stars) , I also loved The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky and Every Day by David Levithan. I think the YA section (romance or not) has many wonderful books to offer.

    P.p.s Sorry for the essay length ;-)

  11. Oh man, I feel EXACTLY the same way. When talking about YA romance you can’t forget Sarah Dessen. She is the queen.

    • Oh, DUH, I can’t believe I didn’t mention Sarah Dessen’s books! That’s like saying you like books about British kid wizards and forgetting to mention Harry Potter. The Truth About Forever is one of my faves.

      Kerry Winfrey | 8/31/2013 10:08 am
  12. John Green’s The Fault in our Stars and Looking for Alaska. Actually, anything by John Green.

  13. Angus thongs and perfect snogging