I suppose I love true romance too dearly to have much patience for the obsessive, lustful infatuations that frequently pass for romance in YA these days. And so I thought I'd share a few my pet peeves when it comes to YA romance. Of course, this is entirely based on my personal reading preferences, so your mileage may vary. It's not a particularly unique or ground-breaking list, but maybe you'll find yourself nodding along with a few of these points. Or shaking your head vehemently. (Feel free to speak out in the comments!)
Here are the things I'd want to avoid in my own reading and writing:
Love at First Sight
I know some people believe in love at first sight, but I'm not one of them. I don't think love is something that springs up out of nowhere the second you lay eyes on someone. Attraction? Intrigue? Fascination? OMG-I-think-this-person-might-be-The-One? Sure. But until the characters get to know each other on a deeper level and have a relationship built on something other than physical attraction and chemistry, I'm skeptical about their "love." True love, in my opinion, needs a foundation of trust and commitment, and that takes time to nurture.
This is part of the reason I'm not sold on love at first sight. Physical attraction is a wonderful thing in a relationship, but it shouldn't be the only aspect. After all, appearances can be deceiving, and people are so much more than their looks. Sure, I've harbored crushes on guys who had more looks than substance, but I never kidded myself that it was love. I prefer reading about protagonists who are more self-aware and realistic. If a heroine declares herself in love with a guy because he is just soooo incredibly hot, fails to mention any other reason, and never realizes how shallow she's being, she will lose major points in my book for being superficial.
Another reason I hate reading about purely lust-based relationships is that I don't want to read the protagonist talk about "his dark, brooding eyes" or "his ripped muscles" or "this inexplicable connection between us" or anything else along those lines FIVE MILLION TIMES in the same book. And if she must think about him, why can't she think about something else besides his looks or how she's so mysteriously drawn to him? Why can't she be blown away by his kindness? His integrity? His courage? His intelligence? Why can't she admire those traits and be inspired to cultivate them?
Lack of Personality
Because some protagonists can really use a bit of self-improvement. I know some authors write with an everygirl in mind so the reader can slip herself into the place of the heroine, but personally I prefer reading about heroines I can admire and learn from. Sometimes I wonder why every guy in certain novels is infatuated with the protagonist when she doesn't seem to do much of anything. I want to know that the guy loves the protagonist for her strengths and personality and admirable traits. I want to see these traits in her thought process and actions, not by authorial decree.
One major tip-off that the protagonist has no personality would be if she spends all her time angsting about her relationship(s). As much as I love reading about romance, I'd prefer if the heroine has other things going on so she's not spending every. waking. moment. thinking about her love life. I'm not particularly interested in spending time in the head of a character who lets thoughts of a guy take over her entire life (particularly if she just met him). Even worse if it's a constant reminder that her relationship is made of nothing but lust and insta-connection.
Protagonists in this category are the most likely to be guilty of the previous point, because two guys = double the angst. I know lots of people like to indulge in the fantasy of being fought over by two hot guys or cheer for a favorite team, but I'm not a fan of love triangles. It can be done well, I'm sure, but it's been overdone to the point that I'm relieved when a novel doesn't boast one. There are so many things that can go wrong with love triangles (and by "go wrong" I mean "annoy me to death"). I think it's awful when the female protagonist leads on two guys. I hate finding myself on Team Other Guy because I want to see him happy but I know he's doomed by the author not to be. And when compounded with other things on my list, the entire situation is likely to make me want to destroy something in frustration.
To me, this is the worst part of love triangles. I cannot stand reading about betrayals of a friend or a significant other and, worse, being expected to root for the guilty party. I know people make mistakes, but I wish there were more characters who did the right but difficult thing by telling the truth and facing the consequences, rather than giving in to their passions and then trying to hide it by lying to loved ones. I am a big believer in the importance of commitment, honesty, loyalty, and communication in relationships, and I find it hard to apply the label of "love" to anything that lacks those elements. That goes for friendships, too.
Selfish, All-Consuming Passion for No Reason
Basically, this sums up my gripe with many YA romances. Characters meet, fall in lust, become entirely obsessed, and throw everything else to the wind. They can't see anything else but each other, and make decisions without considering the bigger picture of other things going on in their lives, or caring if they will hurt the people closest to them, or taking into account the consequences of what they're doing. Or maybe they do think about it, but selfishly decide that their "love" trumps all. I get so annoyed with these characters I want to shake them and tell them to open their eyes and think about what they're doing. But I'm sure they wouldn't listen anyway. Sigh.
Examples of Classic Romances I Can't Bring Myself to Love
Since I don't want to bash any recent YA novels by name, I decided to list classics as examples (ok, I may have cheated on the last one). I know these are all widely-beloved stories and have heavily impacted our culture, but I cannot stand the romances in these works. Of course, you may feel differently about them, and if you do, I'd love it if you share why in the comments!
- Romeo and Juliet: I have no idea what they saw in each other besides physical attraction, and their double suicide was tragic in its wastefulness and not my idea of romantic at all.
- Tristan + Isolde: OMG I hated the movie version. I yelled at the characters for being so selfish and superficial and for betraying their king, who adored both of them. (I think I kind of alarmed my friends with the intensity of my frustration.)
- Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot: Similar to the above. Another love triangle and betrayal of someone loved and admired by the lovers (well, depending on the version, I guess). Anyway, just not the kind of story I enjoy.
- Twilight: I think this is enough of a cultural phenomenon to count as a classic. Plus it's the one that spawned all the paranormal angsty love triangles so popular in YA right now. I neither liked nor hated the first book, but I couldn't get myself through New Moon without wanting to strangle Bella multiple times. So I never read the sequels.
- Enjoy reading long rants? Here's one I wrote on my personal blog called In Defense of the Good Guy, in which I complain about how the romance plays out in the DreamWorks animated film, Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (contains spoilers).
- Here's a great post from Beth Revis about obsessive love versus true love. She makes thoughtful points about both, and I definitely recommend reading it for an interesting perspective on romance in YA.
- Rachel Stark at Trac Changes talks about how YA romances affect teen girls and the kind of romances she'd want to acquire as an editor.
- Sarah Furlong Burr at Starving Novelist writes about her pet peeves in Harlequin romances. Not about YA, but some of her points still apply.
- Lisa Shroeder gave tips for writing great YA romance with the acronym CUPCAKE in this vlog for WriteOnCon 2010. Spot-on points for how to write amazing romance.
- Want to know what guys think of YA romance? Here's a fun post by Bryan at Boys Don't Read on love triangles. (Thanks for the great link, Adam!)
- I can't seem to stop myself from adding more links! Fun post by Nicole at WORD for Teens on Disney princesses and love. It's DISNEY! How can you not go check it out?
Anyway, those are my thoughts on the subject. Now I'm really curious about what you think! Do you also get annoyed by the issues and examples I've listed, or are there some you actually quite enjoy, and why?