I have this distinct memory of me in middle school, feeling completely broken that I didn’t have a boyfriend. All the girls in the books I read had one. I forgot about reality, and how young I was and went straight for the self-deprecation. It’s supposed to be, so, easy.
Love is one of those things we grow up expecting and desiring. It’s in all of the movies, all of the songs, and all of the books.
So maybe when we’re finally given any kind of love, we roll with it.
Thinking, “At least it’s love.”
As I have been re-exposed to the world of YA fiction through working with Pine Reads Review, I’ve seen all the familiar patterns a second time around. I enjoy the books I’ve read whole heartedly, but a perfect type of love has been a really common theme. Stories of teenagers that meet the most loving and supportive other half. Their relationships seem innately perfect. Love serves as the answer instead of an addition to the story.
I feel the need to specify: I don’t think it’s bad to read these types of books. I think it’s good to be exposed to good characters; even if they are fictional. Supportive and loving characters are inspiring and comforting to read about, especially when reading is used as an escape and indulging in a happy ending can be all someone needs.
But I have to be honest. I know love more for its ugliness than its sweetness. A version of love that I never saw in all the fictional boyfriends I read about; and I think there is a complexity of love that is missing from young adult fiction. Life does not offer innately perfect relationships, and I think that is something important to acknowledge.
I think about the first time I was broken up with at seventeen, and then again at eighteen. My friends and family were the ones that pulled me up, and I felt baffled at all the love and support they gave me. It was a kind of love that felt just as full.
It got me thinking, what about the importance of platonic love? Why not encourage that a little bit more within the YA literature world? I had spent so long believing romance was the solution, only to realize real stability and comfort existed within my friends and family.
I wish I saw more of that in YA novels. I think focusing on how to build healthy relationships, romantic or not, could be really beneficial, and would serve as a tool to help young people better understand their reality. A healthy kind of love that explores the up and downs of a real relationship.
I think it is a wonderful thing to dream and yearn for the future; and to find what you want within the content you read. I just don’t think it would hurt to tell stories about how to deal with conflict, how to identify abuse within relationships, and how to move on.