YA Love and Breakups

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.

14 thoughts on “YA Love and Breakups

  1. hannahkarena says:

    I’ve seen a lot of hate towards love triangles in YA recently–though not romance in general. And though I love an adorable YA love story as much as you–I reread Together Apart by Dianne E. Grey EVERY YEAR because I love Hannah and Isaac and how much they love each other–but personally I hate reading love triangles. It drives me absolutely bat crazy when a female character is so flighty that she can’t decide between two male characters and then leads them both on, trying to figure out which is the best catch. These are not the actions of crushing wallflowers, but the flaky actions of ditzy, unclassy female characters. The girls I wouldn’t have liked in high school and the characters I don’t respect right now. I don’t know, but personally I was never torn about who I liked. Sure, I could be casually interested in more than one person at a time. Hey, there were a lot of cute boys in high school! But when I was head over heels for one boy, it was a one-at-a-time deal, until some sort of heart break–actually breaking up, them becoming unobtainable because they began dating someone else, them doing some action that completely changed how I saw them/felt for them, or they point blank rejected me–had me move on and develop fond feelings for another.

    But I don’t think you should let my opinions or anyone else’s deter what you write. It doesn’t mean that’s how the audience feels. It’s just how the loudest adults who actually read YA fiction (or, maybe, even worse, who DON’T read YA, and just dictate what’s “best” for such readers) feel about things. And write their opinions over and over again all over the internet.

    Keep writing!

    • Lauren says:

      I think the whole love triangle thing has gotten crazy since Twilight’s Bella/Edward/Jacob. I think it can happen in real life (I had a teen at the library confess said situation to me one day – it was such a weird, absolutely adorable moment) and I think there are some books that do it really well. But I think it’s become a standby thing, too, since it DID work and DID become so huge in Twilight. That said, I wouldn’t tell a writer NOT to do it because, hey, go for it! Like I said, sometimes it’s done wonderfully. And also, I love the end of your comment because I think it’s absolutely true. (Not about you, though. I love reading your blog, and hearing your thoughts. 🙂 )

  2. sashabella says:

    I’m in that awkward, not a teen anymore stage but still not feeling like an adult and this post is just what I needed tonight. I’ve noticed the hate against YA romance too, and I may have spread it a little. In a recent review I said I was tired of the girl meets boy, girl falls in love with boy, scenario only because the relationship didn’t seem genuine. It happened too quick, and for me that’s not how it happened in high school.I love your perspective on this issue and that you mentioned your library volunteers. I volunteered in my local library when I was in high school and it brings back a lot of memories, good and bad. Just like you said. =]

    • Lauren says:

      Oh thank you! Your comment made my day! Yeah, the whole instalove thing is interesting to me. I think it CAN happen in life (though it hasn’t for me, that’s for sure). And in books, I think it CAN be done well, when done gently and not rushed. So, it’s a toss up. And that awkward middle stage? Those were some of my favorite years of my life (and i’m in my late 20s, so i’m not far removed from them). They’re so WEIRD and wonderful. I think teen years are when you decide who you are, and those middle years are when you actually become that person.

      • sashabella says:

        Yes that’s exactly how I feel. It’s weird, but I like it and wouldn’t change it. As for the instalove, I personally don’t think I’ve ever seen it done well. Until then, I just have mixed feelings about it.

  3. Jaime Morrow says:

    Thank you for writing this post, because I’ve been feeling a lot like this lately. I think that a lot of YA readers (of the adult variety) tend to impose their years of wisdom and experience on the books they read. We sometimes forget that the primary audience for these books is teens. All of the emotions you mention are true and real and should definitely be written. The extreme highs and just as extreme lows were a really big part of my teen years. Thank you for reminding us all that we should never be ashamed for writing real characters with real emotions. 🙂

    • Lauren says:

      Thank you so much for your comment! I agree – I think teen years are defined at times by extreme highs and extreme lows. My mom didn’t let me go see a band play one night when I was 16 and I think part of me, now 13 years later, still resents her for it. 😉 (Okay, not really, but I was pretty bummed for quite some time. And it sounds somewhat silly now, but I remember HOW MUCH I wanted to see it the band, and how sad I was when I couldn’t. It was real emotion! So I think it’s easy to see it as silly now, but at the time? OH MAN. And I get that.)

  4. erica and christy says:

    I love this post – well done! I’m far (farfarfar) removed from my teenage years, but I still remember the night I BLACKED OUT at work because my boyfriend and I had broken up that afternoon. YA love is important, dang it! 🙂

    • Lauren says:

      Thank you so much! Also, YIKES blacking out?! You poor thing! But it was hard, wasn’t it? I’ve had a few breakups since high school, but I’ll always remember That High School One as the hardest, and, in a way, most important.

  5. Sunny says:

    Great post, loved it! I’ve thought about this a lot and wondered how authors can actually write about reality without making it too boring. Stories need to remind us of ourselves, but then there should also be others that we daydream about because it hasn’t or cannot happen to us.

    In all, I like this post a lot 🙂

    • Lauren says:

      Thank you! Oh, totally agree. I LOVE Hunger Games, but am pretty happy it’s not happening to me. 🙂 But even with fantasy or sci fi, I like finding parts that are relatable and feel true.

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