Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Letters to Life: On the Topic of Romance

Dear readers, writers, publishers, agents, editors, etc --
(or, To Whom it May Concern)

I walked into my local Barnes&Noble the other day, and I walked out without buying any books.

Do you know what that means to me? It means that I can't find anything that would interest me. It means that the YA section I normally browse is chock full of nothing-that-would-interest-me. It means that that open-mindedness that I've had since kindergarten finally starts to crumble.

To be fair, it's not a one-time thing. My world didn't rock off its hinges just from one unfruitful trip to the  bookstore. Rather, it's a culmination of years of trips to several different libraries and two different B&Ns that ended with a general sense of disappointment.

And what am I disappointed about? I apologize for not stating it first, but here it is: there feels to be too much romance in YA, and I feel shunted out of my favorite (and technical) age group.

Romance is good for people. The world's better with love and love stories, I truly believe it is. But it's slowly eating away at my beliefs. I am not a romance person; I don't like reading other people's hormones, and as I've never wanted a boyfriend or girlfriend, I don't really want to read about other people's desire to have one. I mean, I already knew I was different from other people; I read books to escape it. And when I can't turn to new books for new escapes, then I'm sad and frustrated and I leave bookstores with nothing in hand.

"Owl" be watching for more fantasy without romance!
( A pic of the owl outside our home) 
Aren't there people out there who want something different? The YA paranormal romance section of my local B&N takes up a decent amount more space than the YA fantasy/adventure section, and the fantasy also comes with romance. And that's the B&N that stands as its own store, and not my other "local" B&N, which is in a mall half an hour's drive from my home.

Is it too much to ask to come up with books where the female protagonist is not there to fall in love? That instead of finding a guy, the girl can save the world, and then live happy ever after on her own? Or even just more guys saving the world. Because, you know, love kinda has to come second to something like that.

YA and Adult, I know, "have" to have sex or love. Teenagers are exploring their first times and all that, and adults are basically teenagers who're allowed to get drunk and party, except they also have to pay for it at an eight-hour-a-day jobs, and adults' love lives don't just stop after their first attempt.

But... love isn't everything. It isn't life. We don't need to only write about the first time we kissed, or fell in love, or had sex. Can't we write about the first time we found out our parents lied about Santa Claus? Or the first time we truly felt like our own person, and not the person our parents wanted us to be? Or the first time we told our parents that we aren't the person they wanted us to be? Kinda like Middle Grade, except with themes of being ourselves and not of finding out what we like and our place in society.

It's come to my attention, also, that a lot of people associate romance with "women's" writing, and that that's driving male readers off. All those frilly romantic "girly" covers, something boys wouldn't want to be caught dead with... well, not just boys. Me, too. I think the only time someone catches me reading anything related to romance is if the romance isn't mentioned in the back-cover summary, or if it's a LGBTQ novel. Not that I'm making a comment on boys and reading and the interplay of feminism; that's a whole 'nother post. But it's kind of interesting to note that some other people have this opinion of romanticizing and driving-off-readers, too.  

Now, I'm a writer, you guys. I understand the need to let your characters tell the story, to write what you want and not what some crazy teenager on the Internet tells you to. And as a reader, I know the tendency to not judge a book by its cover romance. And, yes, perhaps I may just sit in a corner and write the fantastical, romance-free books I want to read, and they'll reach those people that agree with me.

But... you guys, not everyone wants to read romance, all the time. A lot of writers like to write romance, and a lot of romance gets published. But it should be at that point where romance is a section of the bookstore, and not all, "Romance" and "YA Paranormal Romance" and "YA Fiction" (which, often enough, ends up being teenage romance set in regular world mode). It should be a romance section, maybe one YA romance section, and then fantasy/adventure, and then mystery or paranormal or whatever else we want. Not several subgenres of romance, and one section of YA fantasy/adventure. And don't get me started on the combined sci-fi/fantasy adult section.

I want to walk in B&N without being overwhelmed by the desire to cry, because my means of escape has now been taken over by the reason I feel different. I want more diverse books published, with more diverse themes than "love conquers all". More than love triangles, or teenagers struggling to save the world and their true love at the same time.

I'm not saying to quit publishing romance, or quit displaying them. I don't want to stop you from writing romance if you really want to write it. I can't tell you not to read the stuff. And truly, it's my opinion that it's being "taken over" by romance -- I'm not a scientist, and I admit, I avoid the adult section oftentimes, so I'm not always varied in my opinions. Maybe I'm wrong. But, guys? Can we at least talk about it? Think about it? Mention it, discuss it, try to make at least this one reader here feel a little less intimidated?

I wrote this post because this blog is for sharing my opinions, and there it is. Is it so much to ask to just read these words, and think about it? When a fellow reader feels alienated, isn't that enough to talk about it? Let me know your kind, thoughtful answers.

Sincerely written by,
JDM -- an avid reader, an aspiring writer, and a shy asexual 


  1. I'm trying to think of the last book I read that didn't have SOME semblance of romance in it, even if it was just a unrequited desire or a smoldering glance...and I can't come up with one. This makes me wrinkle my nose.

    I do like romances: they are usually quick little escapes into lala land. And I like the paranormal romances as well, but even a lot of the fantasy genre is trudging into bodice ripping, you're right. I need to hunt down books that do not fall victim to it.

    1. I know! I've been searching my shelves looking for something. The EMILY THE STRANGE novels (by Bob Reger) features an asexual MC, but I can't tell if it's YA or MG. (Probably a crossover; the first two MG, the second two YA). And she's that way because it's, like, a genetic thing that pops up every couple generations -- Emily call them her "Dark Aunts".

      Romance is an escape for some people, and like I said, I do believe it's good for the whole world. But I still think too much of a good thing is still too much. I'm glad to know there's more than just me of this opinion.