Does YA Need Romance?

This article was originally published in YARN: the Young Adult Review Network.

On Thursday, April 25, Elizabeth Vail published an article in The Huffington Post called “Lovesick and Tired: Unnecessary Romance in YA.” In this article, Vail claims that there is nothing wrong with a good young adult romance, but not all young adult novels, particularly ones with main plots that have nothing to do with love, need to include romance. Vail concludes, “If a romance doesn’t directly contribute to your central narrative, don’t add one. In literature, as in life, you shouldn’t embark on a romance unless you mean it.”

E. Lockhart, author of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, the Ruby Oliver Series, and other books for children and young adults, tweeted about the article, which garnered so much feedback that Lockhart eventually created a hashtag for the conversation: #yaromance. I contributed to the Twitter conversation with, “Some authors seem to think that teens won’t buy their books if there isn’t a romance plot. This is not the case!” E. Lockhart retweeted this comment, inviting her followers to discuss what I had said. I wanted to further explain my comment, but I couldn’t fit my thoughts in 140 characters, so I figured a blog for YARN would be the perfect place to share my thoughts on the article.

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

I like romance. Some of my favorite YA novels focus almost entirely on romance. My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick is, first and foremost, a romance novel. Samantha Reed has spent years of her life watching the Garretts from her roof, but she has never spoken to any of them. That is, not until Jase Garrett climbs right up and sits down next to her. Once that happens, it doesn’t take long for a relationship to start between Samantha and Jase. All of the other events in the novel are driven by Samantha’s relationship with Jase. Samantha’s friendship with Nan. Samantha’s mother’s candidacy for mayor. Jase’s father’s life. If Samantha and Jase were not together—if I was not waiting for their first date, their first kiss, their first time—I would not have liked My Life Next Door anywhere near as much as I did. But My Life Next Door is possibly my favorite contemporary young adult novel because Samantha and Jase’s relationship does exist. I kept reading for Samantha and Jase.

I like a good romance plot, but that doesn’t mean every novel I read has to have romance in it. I am also a HUGE fan of dystopian and sci-fi YA. These books keep me glued to the page like no others. I recently devoured MILA 2.0 by Debra Driz. MILA 2.0 is not a romance novel; it’s a science fiction novel about a girl—a robot—who was built in a computer science lab and programmed to do things real people would never do. I could not tear myself away from MILA 2.0 because of my desire for Mila to survive. When Mila was on the run with her mother, I could not wait to read of their escape from the man who created Mila and the men who wanted to steal her. When Mila learns of MILA 1.0 and MILA 3.0, I could not believe the torture the three girls were put through. I kept reading for Mila.

MILA 2.0 by Debra Driza

I would have read MILA 2.0 with just as much urgency if it did not have a love plot, but it does have a love plot. Before Mila learns of her true identity, she attends high school in Minnesota, where she quickly falls for Hunter. Despite Hunter’s absence for most of the novel, Mila thinks of him frequently, believing that her feelings for Hunter prove that she is human. Driza develops the relationship between Mila and Hunter to the point where it adds to her main plot, proving that it is possible—but not at all necessary—to write romantic subplots into main plots.

But what was it that I tweeted again? Oh yeah, I would buy a young adult novel with no romantic plot. But I just counted my young adult novels, and there are 262 of them. All those books, and I CANNOT think of one that doesn’t have any romance in it. Authors, please stop being afraid that teens won’t buy your books if there isn’t romance in them! We don’t need romance. We need characters that we can’t get out of our heads. We need fast-paced plots that keep us turning those pages. We need settings that make us feel like we are in the world of the book. But romance—with all its drama and insecurity, its insta-love or heartbreak? We can live without that sometimes.

Huntley Fitzpatrick would not have a novel without Samantha and Jase’s love. But Debra Driza would still have a story without Hunter. And it is possible, if not entirely uncommon, to write a young adult novel without any romantic aspects to it at all. So to all of the writers out there, next time you’re sitting down to write a romantic scene, ask yourself, “Do I have a story without this romance?”  If the answer is yes, take the romance out! You may be surprised by just how powerful a story you will have written.

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