(Just a quick spoil warning, as I do mention spoilers for Eleanor & Park, Turtle’s All The Way Down and Anna & The French Kiss)
I read a lot of contemporary books. Ever since I have kept track of my reading, contemporary has been the genre that I have read the most of. But as get older and hopefully a little wiser, I am beginning to notice a few things within the genre that I didn’t a few years back. Mostly notably, romance.
I used to always want a book to include some kind of romance – it was one of my favourite aspects of the plot, particularly in contemporary novels. So, because of this, I wasn’t too bothered about how well the romance was actually presented or how well it reflected real life. Honestly, I was more just excited to see any sort of romance at all! But I am slowly beginning to realise how few books actually presented teenage relationships realistically and in a positive way.
First things first, I want realistic teenage romances.
Now when I read a YA contemporary, I know what it is a realistic representation of a healthy teenage relationship. But when I was younger, I didn’t, and so these fictional romances I was reading hugely impacted my view of what was a healthy relationship. And if teenage relationships are presented well, and are realistic and honest, then that is great. However, my problem comes from when romances aren’t realistic.
The most popular book that actually contributed to me making this post in the first place is Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, that recently has slowly been receiving more and more critcism for its presentation of cheating. Despite the main love interest cheating on his girlfriend with our main character, they still end up together at the end of the book, without facing any real consequences for their actions. And whilst that was nice ending and gave readers, including myself, what they wanted, it also presented this idea that cheating was okay, because of course they were meant to be together, and that’s all that matters.
Another one of my biggest gripes of all in the YA romance tropes is best friends falling in love, not because that in itself it is unrealistic, but because it is featured in so many YA books it is not even funny. To go slightly off topic for this post, this trope is not even exclusively overused in contemporaries, but is actually more often than not found in fantasy, sci-fi and dystopian as well. Again, I do not have a problem with this trope if it makes sense in the story, but the amount of times it is used, especially in order to create a love triangle, is overwhelming.
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell was likely the first book I read that featured a realistic romance between two diverse characters. Neither are your stereo-typically perfect YA protagonists, and their relationship is one that is presented in a such a realistic way, as they both slowly get to know each other without falling instantly in love at first sight.
Another trope both this, and John Green’s Turtles All The Way Down also contradict is the idea that your first teenage relationship is going to be the one that lasts forever. I understand that this provides a happy ending and that often we as readers don’t know what happens after the final page, but I still found it insanely refreshing to see two characters decide that whilst they do care about each other, their relationship at that time is not going to work.
Another book I would really like to mention is When My Heart Joins The Thousands by A. J. Steiger; a very recent read of mine, but one that I just had to talk about because of its accurate representation of a relationship between two diverse characters whose relationship is awkward and sometimes really frustrating.
And finally, I want more YA contemporaries that don’t include romance, or at least not as a key focus of the plot.
Whilst romance and falling in love are large parts of life, there are so many other things that play an equally large role, and yet are drastically underrated in books. Instead of another story about a boy and girl falling in love after she accidentally spills her coffee on him, I want to read about that girl maybe struggling with depression or some other mental illness, and having a strong familial unit behind her who support her through it, and for romance to not solve all of her problems. I am not saying get rid of all of the cutesy, fluffy contemporaries, because then I would be a hypocrite as I am definitely not against picking one up every now and then. Instead, I am just voicing my opinion that we need more YA contemporaries to represent all aspects of everyday life, and to reflect realistic relationships that are healthy.
What do you think? Do you agree with my thoughts? What tropes do you believe are overused in YA contemporaries? What are some of your favourite books that feature realistic romances and relationships?