Can real love be taught from a young adult novel?

Young adult fiction and romance books portray false realities

“Ugly love becomes you. Consumes you. Makes you hate it all. Makes you realize that all the beautiful parts aren’t even worth it. Without the beautiful, you’ll never risk feeling this. You’ll never risk feeling the ugly. So you give it up. You give it all up. You never want to love again, no matter what kind it is, because no type will ever be worth living through the ugly love again,” Colleen Hoover wrote in her book Ugly Love. After I read this book, I became infatuated with the idea that love should be a push-and-pull relationship. It made me think I should always chase love without having the chance to stop and revel in it.

As much as I love the young adult fiction and romance genre, I can’t help but think that this genre doesn’t portray love well. It highlights the chase, the idea that you might never have the one person you want, and you’d do anything to have them rather than being content with what you have now.

Many contemporary young adult novels are based on the fantastical aspects of love, especially focussing on its more intimate sides. They delve into a physical passion rather than the triumph of experiencing the everyday challenges that come with being in love. For example, Punk 57 by Penelope Douglas dives into a steamy romance of two childhood pen-pals that meet each other later in life. It holds harsh love on a pedestal, illustrating that love can be violent verbally.

Depictions like this can have a tangible impact on the way large swathes of our society perceive love. When girls start reading from a young age, they can often be drawn into the romance genre. I understand this because I went through something similar as I read a variety as a kid. Young girls tend to long for a happy ending, watching the main characters fall in love. Every detail along the lines of the novel can lead to that happily ever after, but it’s what is between the lines that can induce young girls’ thoughts. 

This passion to read about love might come from the things we grew up watching. In my generation, any Disney Channel original movie had some sort of love interest that would have a slow-burn relationship. Seeing this at a young age fuels the idea that it should be a reality, so it makes sense to want that in a book.

These romance books are trying to play out the love story the author had in mind to please their readers, but they don’t realize they’re providing false hope. Many young girls may want the perfect guy they read about; the one that always brings her flowers or knows witty comebacks to keep the conversation flowing. Or maybe the guy who always knows what he’s doing and will never have a doubt in his mind. But in reality, people are complex, and such perfect love stories are merely fictional.

The infatuation with book love can be a blessing and a curse depending on what you want out of your reading. Sometimes you need a quick hit of sappy love to mimic that warm, feel-good passion. But other times, you might get drawn into the suppressing side of storytelling compassion, making you wonder if you might ever live up to book expectations.

Steamy romance novels put expectations in your head concerning what interactions are normal in a relationship, when in reality, that might not be what the other person wants. Absorbing knowledge from these types of books can be dangerous because it throws off your mindset. Every book has a different way to exemplify love, and each one takes a different approach. But the issue is that fake and unrealistic stories are often designed specifically to resonate with their young, impressionable audiences. That head-over-heels love story you read about might not ever be your reality.

So when some books make me feel like I should be expecting more in a relationship, I think about my favorite quote from We’ll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han; “He didn’t give me flowers or candy. He gave me the moon and the stars. Infinity.” 

Even though many of us young readers turn to romance to fill a void, there might be something we can learn from some of the better books. Novels that portray love realistically may help readers foster loving relationships in the real world. We may gravitate towards the cheap, artificial portraits of young love found in many young adult novels, but having someone of your own might be better than the book version created for you.