Happy Valentine’s Day! Or single awareness day if you don’t have a special someone.
I was planning to do an update today about unhealthy relationships in YA fiction, but I think that topic has been pretty well covered by other blogs out there. Yes, there are some rather stalker-ish and verbally/emotionally abusive relationships out there in YA fiction that are being treated as normal and this a problem. However, it doesn’t have to be the norm. In fact, it really shouldn’t be, so since today is Valentine’s Day, I’m going talk about YA fiction that does relationships right.
Being a reader and writer of primarily fantasy, I’m going to start this off with Alanna and Prince Jonathan from the Lioness Rampant series by Tamora Pierce. I picked them not only because I love books by Tamora Pierce, but because over the course of the 4 books we see these two form a friendship, which blossoms into love, and then the relationship runs its course. Most first loves do not stay your first love forever. Very few teen romances last at all. In that respect, their relationship resembles a real relationship. What I also like about it is that it is equal and respectful. Alanna is not stalking Jonathan or mean to him and vice versa. They care for each other without having to get mean or creepy, and when their relationship ends, they still manage to be friends.
The relationship between Gingerbread and Keisha from Life is Funny by E.R. Frank is my second choice for a healthy relationship in YA fiction. In this modern fiction, Gingerbread and Keisha are dating high schoolers who do something that I haven’t seen in other YA Fiction: they talk about whether or not they are ready to have sex. What a novel concept, right? These aren’t long conversations, but I think they are important because they show that the characters want to be responsible. They talk about being ready, about using protection, and about not wanting Keisha to get pregnant. Teens need to have these discussions, but sadly do not have them often enough. This couple does so, which is why they end up on my list of good relationships.
Now, my last pick is not an example of healthy relationship, but I picked it because it shows the consequences of making someone the only thing you care about. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare is one of those stories that continues to stand the test of time. There are tons of movies made from the original play as well as many iterations using the same story. Everyone knows it. However, many may not think about how it shows what obsession can do someone. In this case, the pressure of not being able to be with the person they love results in these two teens committing suicide. While stories like Twilight portray this obsession as normal and perfectly healthy, Romeo and Juliet does not. It leads to the death of other characters and makes the blood feud between the Capulets and Montagues worse. The teens then plot to run away, but because of a lack of communication, they both end up dead. Like most unhealthy relationships in real life, this one has a bad ending. No one wins and everyone loses. In real life, abusive relationships will also end badly. Sadly, sometimes people are killed by these terrible relationships. We, as writers, should not be showing abusive relationships as somehow having happy endings. They are abusive. No one should be encouraged to stay in them.
I think this covers the topic. YA fiction, like any other fiction, can be used to show good relationships as well as bad. It is good to remember that not all teen romances have to last forever or be irresponsible. They can be respectful without one person dominating and controlling the other. And if they are obsessive and/or abusive, they shouldn’t be glorified. It’s time to hold up the good examples of relationships instead of spending all our time calling out the bad. It’s the only way to start helping things change.
So, do you know of any other YA books that show healthy relationships between characters? If so, share them in the comments. I’d love to keep a list of books showing good relationships.