Romance in YA: Do we need it? – Discussion Post

The ‘perfect’ YA formula

What are the components of a typical young adult novel? Of course, not all novels are built the same, but there are certain trends we notice the more and more we read from a certain genre. You might think of popular titles from the genre and form a list from there. In your head in a series of traits you associate with that genre, and they’re probably the same thing that keeps you coming back for more. When you think of the pieces that make up a YA novel maybe you’ll come up with a strong female lead, a corrupt government, a hidden secret, and so on and so forth. And on a lot of those lists you’ll probably find romance, couples, love triangles, and generally lurvveeeee.

The time I refused to read books without romance

Since I started reading YA books I have held firm to a single term. It is this: if there’s no romance, I don’t want to read it. Every time I read a synopsis or a summary I’m scouring for the usual buzzwoods that indicate a love interest of some kind. “She had never met a boy like so-and-so,” “the mysterious new kid,” “with the help of [insert love interest name].” If there’s even a tiny speck of something romance, then I’ll read it. If not, I move on. Yes, this is terrible, I am aware. But now, while in the process of editing my NaNoWriMo novel I’ve realized that I don’t have a couple. I’ve gone an entire book without any real attempt to have two characters make goo-goo eyes at each other and declare their everlasting love. So of course I’m scrambling to find two characters to smash together into a couple. I recently, very uncomfortably, wrote a kissing scene and nearly died of embarrassment. And so I started to wonder, does it even need to be there?

embarassed

But everyone else is doing it!

The first road block here is that most of the YA novels that are popular today have a couple. Some of them even have multiple couples. Or love triangles. Or love quadrangles. I could make a list that lasts forever, but I’ll pick out four off the top of my head: Divergent, The Hunger Games, Red Queen, The Mortal Instruments Series. Because I actively avoid YA books without romance I couldn’t think of even one popular series without a couple. And yet, I don’t hold adult fiction to the same standards. In fact, romance in an adult fiction novels annoys me. I find that it distracts from the plot and often feels inauthentic. Which is some of the same complaints that I hear people make about romance in YA, and yet it’s still so prevalent.

What binds YA and romance?

What is it about YA and romance that binds the two together so tightly? Are there a bunch of people out there with the ‘no romance, no reading’ rule I have? Is it just a symptom of marketing, that whether you like it or not, a YA novel with romance will sell better than one without? And what does romance add to the novel? I’ve been wondering about this lately. In some ways, it can be lovely and sweet, and adorable, and all that. But more often than not I can’t stand the couple in the book. I distinctly remember giving up on The Mortal Instruments series because Jace and Clary just couldn’t seem to figure out if they were going to be a couple or not. But would the book be just as good without any romance, or would it be lacking somehow?

What do you think? Why are romantic elements so prevalent in YA? And does is it even necessary?

Have any recommendations for YA books without romance? I’m ready to broaden my horizons.

10 Comments

    • ltlibrarian

      August 24, 2016 at 1:36 pm

      Blood and Chocolate was one of my favourites when I was younger for that exact reason! I remember sitting there and having my mind blown by that. Then the movie came along and ruined everything in every possible way, but I try not to think about that…

      But like you said, being surprised by the way a romance goes or putting a new spin on it certainly brings a freshness to the genre.

      Reply
  • Gwen @ The Book Lounge

    February 20, 2016 at 6:23 am

    I completely agree with books not needing that romance element. While I do love romance in books Cait said it so well, it would be refreshing to not have romance and yes sometimes the world needs other elements that would make it stronger. Prove that sometimes a guy and a girl can in fact just be friends (without benefits). Be different, be bold!
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    • ltlibrarian

      February 20, 2016 at 1:01 pm

      It would be refreshing but I think I would get so paranoid because I’ve just come to expect the romance! Like I would keep thinking ‘are these guys a couple or no? What’s happening here?’ But it’s true sometimes guys and girls can just have a great friendship, it would be refreshing to see. Romance is cute and fun, but it isn’t necessary to write a great book

      Reply
  • Cait @ Paper Fury

    February 20, 2016 at 5:14 am

    I think books are perfectly fine with…or without! romance. ;D I mean, there shouldn’t be just ONE answer, because we need both, right?!? I do think publishers like lots of romance in YA because they figure that’s what their audience is interested in? And I guess…maybe that’s true? IDEK. I was a very unromantic teenager and now I’m an unromantic adult. xDXD So it doesn’t really bother me one way or the other. But sometimes I think it’d be refreshing not to have romance? Because seriously, sometimes the WORLD NEEDS TO BE SAVED and there is no time for kissing. XD

    Thanks for stopping by @ Paper Fury!
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    • ltlibrarian

      February 20, 2016 at 12:57 pm

      It’s so true, if it’s a good book then it’ll be good whether or not it has romance in it. I agree, I don’t know if publishers just have access to stats that we don’t that say YA with romance sells better or what? Haha I was a very romantic teenager that became a very unromantic adult, there’s nothing wrong with being unromantic :p And I honestly have no idea how characters make time for both romance and world saving. I can’t even make time to clean my whole apartment in a day

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  • Zoe @ Stories on Stage

    February 19, 2016 at 5:23 pm

    THIS x 1000. It almost seems like publishers / authors are under the illusion that if they add a romance to their YA book, it will automatically become more “marketable” for teens, you know? And it’s a shame, because that is so, so untrue. A book doesn’t have to have romance to be enjoyable.

    I feel like romances should only be added to books if they actually are necessary to helping develop the plot. Otherwise, what’s the point? Thanks for sharing Liselle and, as always, fabulous discussion! ♥
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    • ltlibrarian

      February 19, 2016 at 5:56 pm

      I think so too, especially when the protagonist is female (sadly) I feel like writers would feel pressure to add in a romance. Which is likely based on the feeling that, that’s how to sell the series to female readers. What I wonder is if they did a poll, how many teens would feel the romance was necessary.

      YES THIS! They absolutely only be added if it’s necessary to the plot. Or at least if it feels natural? Like how many people have you been attractive to that you never become a couple with? Like little romantic feeling spattered throughout vs. this insta-love couple

      Thanks your visiting! And commenting! 🙂

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  • Bell & Gem

    February 18, 2016 at 9:45 pm

    During my pre-teen years the books I obsessed over were Young Adult espionage series that were clearly written for the teenaged male. They generally centered around a boy in his early teens, a villain, and an ‘agency’ of people (the CIA, MI6…). VERY rarely would there be any romance. If there was, it was usually just implied in a brief paragraph or sentence even, and the love interest wasn’t usually introduced until the series neared the end.

    I recommend you read Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz (Alex Rider #1) if you’re looking for a YA book without romance. It is the first book in one of my most favorite book series’!
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    • ltlibrarian

      February 19, 2016 at 8:49 am

      Interesting, so maybe it’s part of the marketing to girls that inserts the romance elements? But I couldn’t stand crime/action books when I was younger so I’m not surprised that I never came across these.

      I’ve heard of the Alex Rider series but have never looked into any of books. Could be a good way to break the cycle. Thanks for the rec!

      Reply

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