I’ve been thinking a lot about love lately, particularly its portrayals in Young Adult literature.
There’s a lot of criticism out there for insta-love in which two characters lock eyes, exchange a few words before exchanging saliva, and the L word is dropped within a very short period of time.
These days, as someone in her mid twenties, I can’t imagine doing that. But as a teen? Probably. I don’t know that insta-love would have bothered me as a teen because I was desperate for insta-love to be true. I wished it was that easy. I wanted to believe that My Crush for most of high school would love me back because I thought what I feeling was love. So of course I don’t mind it in my books. It was a fantasy, an escape, a place where these things happened and I wanted to live there desperately.
Veronica Roth put it best when she said, way back in 2011, “I propose this: the symptoms of insta!love are disbelief and eye-rolling. But the illness is not the timeline, it’s the fact that we remain unpersuaded by the author.”
I agree. It’s not insta-love we have a problem with. It’s any romance that isn’t supported contextually.
Occasionally, and this has happened to me twice this year so far, I read a book where contextually, the characters work SO much better as best friends and I think the story would have been stronger for me, and more powerful in the category (YA lacks *amazing* Best Friend lit, in my opinon), if they had been “just friends”.
Here’s the kicker: “just friends” isn’t lacking in love. It lacks in physical love (‘sex’) but there’s a certain love to friendship. I love my friends. I love my friends. There are a handful of friends for whom I’d lay down my life for and there always were in high school too.
You don’t have to LOSE the love in your story by having characters be friends. It’s a different type of love. And occasionally, it’s harder to write (or at least, I find it harder to write. It’s much more subtle and lip-locking can’t be put into place of it).
(Alternatively, you can rewrite to make characters have more chemistry but my instinct tells me your instinct was right: you can’t make chemistry where there ain’t any to start.)
I just scrolled through my 2013 Reading List to see if I had any examples of books with friendships with clear love in them. The Newsflesh Trilogy by Mira Grant definitely has love and deep rooted feelings between friends. Between Tiger Lily and Tinkerbell in Jodi Lynn Anderson’s TIGER LILY, I’d argue that’s love. Between the two boys in DR BIRD’S ADVICE FOR SAD POETS by Evan Roskos. The best example I can find is CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein in which two girls had such a deep seated affection for each other that HAD it produced a romance in the story? I would have ABSOLUTELY BOUGHT IT. But it was friendship, to the very end, and I loved that.
I want more books with love between friends.
I want more books with insta-love that’s justified (as this author blogged about here and here, insta-love is another way of saying “love at first sight” which is a lot less gag-inducing) I’m not against looking at someone and being like “YES, WE’RE IN LOVE” because I don’t know that that is counter to some teens’ experiences. Everything is SO intense as a teenager. I was a freshman when 9/11 happened and I was genuinely convinced that I’d be present for the next terrorist attack and wouldn’t live to fall in love. I was in a rush through my teenage years. This is one time where I’m sure I’m not the only one.
And then there’s love triangles (or, and yes, these exist: insta-love-triangle-love! There should be a Latin name for that condition). I was going to write a really long post about it, but then I found a lovely post on it by Erin Bowman so I’m just going to link you there.
I think maybe what I’m getting at (one day, I’ll write blog posts, and organize and edit them INSTEAD of just pantsing this) is there’s a difference between love and romance and those are really important distinctions to make as a reader, as a reviewer, as a writer.
I like subtly to my romance. (See also: Seraphina, a great example of a beautiful, subtle romantic subplot written into high fantasy. I really have grown to appreciate two characters who do not make out at inappropriate times, like at the high of conflict. That drives me batty when I’m reading). You can also see this post at YA Highway by Veronica Roth about the subtle use of small gestures to build romance.
There’s the art of flirtation too. I want to see that attraction build up. Even if it builds up fast because sometimes, even in real life, it does. I want banter and eyelashes beating (this is one thing I thought THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE did really well) and feeling your heart beat in your finger tips. I want giddiness. I want this:
“I didn’t know what to call it, what was happening between us, but I liked it. It felt silly and fragile and good.” — Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs