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?
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.