Young Adult Contemporary Guidepost #2: Love Stories

Posted by August 23rd, 2013

YA Contemporary Guidepost #2 Love Stories

As the second in a series of Guideposts for Writing Young Adult Contemporary fiction, we’re thinking about that old YA standby: the teen romance. Should your book have one or not?

Put a Little Love in Your Book

It’s extremely hard to think of a YA book in any literary category that doesn’t have some element of romance. Romance might not be the central theme, but it’s a good anchor in almost any story. For example, THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS by Ann Brashares is about the friendship (and those magical pants). But of the four main characters in the book, three of them have a love interest. One of the most effective ways Ann Brashares illustrates the depth of the sisterhood is by showing us how the characters soothe each other’s romantic anxieties and heartbreaks, as well as celebrate when the others find love. Even books that are relatively “Gender”-less usually explore the theme of love: Stephen Chbosky’s THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (which is, by the way, our inaugural #BCReadalong), EVERY DAY by David Levithan, and PARANOID PARK by Blake Nelson are all welcome books that shows us the complexities of teen life—and love—from a guy’s perspective.

Romance genre conventions dictate that a true romance novel must end happily. And in a true YA Romance, this is also the case. However, in YA Contemporary books, the resolution does not have to be so clear: the story can simply explore the complexities of love, sex, and relationships as a lens with which to develop character and plot. This works in YA because the young adult years (ages 12-18) are when hormones are raging, emotions are high, and figuring out how to love someone is thrilling, awkward, scary, and, in some teen’s families, even forbidden (a la Romeo and Juliet). Most YA novels center around the journey of a young person or people as they are first learning to think independently and asserting themselves. Being intimate with someone for the first time, with all the emotional risk that involves, requires a terrific leap of faith: perfect fodder for a YA novel.

When Love is NOT the Answer

Nevena and I sat together for a minute yesterday trying to think of at least one YA book we’d read recently that had no love story. We laughed when we realized the only one we could come up with was ZOE LETTING GO by Nora Price, the book and author we featured in a Q&A on the blog yesterday.

I thought for a while about how a love story would have fit into ZOE LETTING GO. The whole idea just made me uncomfortable. ZOE’s characters are deep into destructive eating disorders, and there is an element of psychological thriller in the way Price told the story. There is also a claustrophobic quality to this book–the plot and sense of foreboding were so tightly wrought that a love story would have confused things rather miserably, possibly misdirecting the tension that kept the pages turning. The isolated best friendship at this novel’s core is so important to understanding why things unfold the way they do. Nora Price made the right choice here to do the atypical and not include a teen love story. But it is a rare book that does that.

So what do you think works best in YA Contemporary? Are you building your book around a teen romance, or are you going against the grain and excluding that from your book’s themes? Head over to the Young Adult Discussion Boards and share your thoughts with the community!

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