The Downhill Imitation in Young Adult Romance

There’s a pattern to the writing. Girl meets guy. We, the reader, already know he’s ‘the one’ because—come on—you know. Something prevents said guy and girl from being together, but eventually they face the conflict head on and BOOM, live happily ever after. We know how the story goes and yet we read anyway. And re-read sometimes, if we’re really trash, like me.

Isn’t it interesting that so many Young Adult (YA) books take place in high school, that our main characters always end up together forever, when only 2% of marriages today are from a high school relationship? In YA romance, there are only matter-of-fact kinds of love. No breakups. No divorces. Just fairytales.

So—if we’re reading the same thing over and over, does the YA Romance section have anything to offer after just one read?

We find short term fulfillment in the unrealistic, repetitive structure most authors use with this genre. We forget the difference between straight imitation and innovation. For example, More Than This by Jay McLean, a book with a number of issues, including that (spoiler alert) the girl’s whole family dies on the night go her prom, the same night, dun dun dun, she finds out her best friend and boyfriend have been sleeping together for two years behind her back, does offer more than the usual YA structure. This is the first book in a long time where the boy Mikayla meets at first, who spills beer on her, isn’t the guy she ends up with. It’s actually beer-guy’s best friend, Jake. And no, this isn’t really a spoiler alert, since the book is split between Jake and Mikayla’s perspective—the most telling sign for who’s endgame ever.

Still, for a book that was no The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han, it drew 4.5 stars on Amazon and got me to at least skim to the end and download the next book in the series! So I have to ask myself, why? Why do I continue to read books that don’t challenge me, but instead, offer the safety blanket of an ending more satisfactory than any children’s fantasy?

Put it down to taste or some longing for the boys in these books that seem an endangered species in our real world lives, but the problem is, now the genre is about giving the readers what they want, over and over again, rather than what they need.

La La Land, this year’s universally acclaim movie and winner of the most Golden Globes in history, is successful, in large part, for its original ending. We are satisfied, yes, but not in the way we might be if our two leads had ended up together. You don’t always get what you want with stories, the way you don’t always get what you want in real life. The YA romance genre lacks practicality.

Am I proposing authors end all romances by tearing the characters apart at the end? Not a chance. My point is the genre itself, as it stands right now, does not offer enough variety in its endings. The writers must understand these are young adults and like most young adult relationships, they don’t tend to last. And that’s okay! It’s real life. And maybe we should try to help young adults come to terms with the inevitability of breakups rather than pretending they’ll find a soulmate and BOOM, be together forever.

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