When I was in high school, two things were important to me: friendships and relationships. (Okay, yes, family was important to me as well, but I didn’t daydream about what I was going to eat with my parents when I got home; I daydreamed about what plans my best friend and I had for the weekend, or if Crush saw me in the hallway). Since this is what I know, it’s what I write about. I write about the girl who pines for the guy from afar. I write about the friendship that unexpectedly (but always expectantly to outside observers) blossoms into something more. I write about how a relationship can change a person. I write how relationships (both romantic and not) are essential. I was the girl who got red faced when a guy talked to me, the one who cried when he broke up with me. I was the one who dreamed about what would happen if he’d talk to me.
That was me, and because it’s what I know, what feels real, that’s what I write.
There’s been a lot of hatred towards YA romance lately, and it makes me kind of sad. There are sighs when a love interest is introduced, cringes when a female character cries over a boy. It seems weak and trite to some readers, but to me it feels real.
Because let’s be honest, breakups suck. Unrequited love sucks. Battles with best friends suck and I don’t think it makes a character seem weak or whiny to feel that. I don’t think it’s realistic to have a main character not change after a breakup, or be unfeeling. I don’t think it’s weird for a teenager to be sad. And I would never call any of these problems trivial.
This complaint has kind of had a negative affect on my writing lately, making me feel a bit self-conscious of what I thought was normal. It’s believed that YA books shouldn’t revolve around a relationship. That when hurt a female should be strong and not weep, not be affected by love. And that to portray a character fighting for another is wrong because that’s not a good example to set.
The thing is, when writing, I think of my audience all the time. I think of the teens that volunteer at the library, the ones that come to my programs. I think about what I want them to read, and how I want my characters to be just like them. Because they’re human. And you know what? They have relationship problems, too.
I don’t think a character should CHANGE EVERYTHING AND LOSE EVERYTHING for the person s/he likes, I don’t think they should become someone they’re not, and I don’t think they should DEVOTE themselves to another. And I DON’T think every book should have a relationship. That’s not important to some stories, and I like those books quite a bit, too. But I do think characters should be able to love. And should be affected by love. And get giddy when that guy/girl looks at them in the hallway, and cry when that person decides to date someone else. I think they should be able to have a million flaws because that’s a real teen. They’re full of complexities that are so deep they don’t even know they’re there.
Because I know that when I was a teen, when I started dating Crush, it was the best moment of the year. And when we broke up months later, it was the worst. And I know I felt everything in between, and I want my characters to feel that, too. And not be ashamed to be sad or in love. It doesn’t mean they’re not strong. It means they’re fighting a battle that may not bring down governments or change a dystopian society around, but is still important.
I would never tell a teen they’re wrong or weak for loving.