Thursday, May 10, 2007

What do you look for in YA romance?

It is no secret that one of my favorite genres is YA romance. From my own growing up days where I couldn't get enough of Anne and those wonderful little Sunfire Romance "name" books published in the eighties and early nineties. And then there was Miss Scarlett. You would have been hard-pressed to find a more devoted teen fan to Gone With The Wind. (The book, not the movie.) And that was just when I was a teen. I have since gone on to discover the glory and wonder of authors such as Louise Rennison, Sonya Sones, Sarah Dessen, and Stephenie Meyer. So what is it that keeps me hooked?

Good romances have either heroines you want to be...or heroes you want to be with. Great ones have both. What does this mean? Well, for the want to be able to understand her, love her, relate to her. You want to be able to get inside her head. You want to be able to say you know her. You can see the world through her eyes. You are living through her experiences. It is also important for the reader to fall for the hero. This doesn't happen every time for me--I would assume this is personal--different readers would fall for different heroes--but for a reader to become so involved with the book that she develops a "crush" on the hero is always a good thing. That's not to say you're unaware that this is all make believe. You know it's a fictional character. You're not deluded into thinking your fictional knight in shining armor actually exists and is coming for you...but really how is it any different than having a crush on a character from a movie or tv show???

Great dialogue is crucial to making believable characters. How can a girl fall for a guy who doesn't say anything? A girl she has to *imagine* seeing in the first place. Sure, the reader is often told that he is cute. He could be described as tall, dark, and handsome. He could be described as athletic and well built. He could be blond. He could be whatever. But a paragraph of description isn't enough to flesh him out for your imagination if there is nothing there. If he is boring. If he doesn't talk much. Doesn't have a way with words. He has to stand out from the crowd. He has to be unique. Different. Have his own voice. His own personality. There is nothing more *boring* for me than a hero that could be so easily exchanged between books. If you could pick up your hero and drop him into another story and have him replaced with another hero from another book...and no one notices the difference...then there is a big problem. Cardboard one-dimensional, stereotypical heroes are so boring.

Both characters and dialogue are leading up to two crucial elements: chemistry AND potentially embarrassing declarations of love. I can't explain how some authors are able to write such great romances with undeniable chemistry between the main characters. It isn't commonplace. It doesn't happen often. Chemistry doesn't necessarily mean graphic sex either. It is about how the characters feel about one another. About how they feel when they're in the same room with one another. That undeniable awareness that the person they love is so near. Stephenie Meyer may be the best example of this. I don't know of any couple that sizzles more than Bella and Edward. The fact that they only kiss--and that a few times--does not negate the fact that this is one of the hottest YA romance novels out there. Twilight is a huge success because of this chemistry. This magic. Girl meets vampire. And suddenly, magic. The second element shows the characters' vulnerable side. Potentially embarrassing declarations of love. That crucial moment of a book (or movie) where a character admits what they've been feeling all along. When they open themselves up to possible rejection...or the chance that maybe just maybe that other person loves them too.

Perhaps this can best be illustrated through the classic novel THE PRINCESS BRIDE:

She was outside his hovel before dawn. Inside, she could hear him already awake. She knocked. He appeared, stood in the doorway. Behind him she could see a tiny candle, open books. He waited. She looked at him. Then she looked away.
He was too beautiful.
“I love you,” Buttercup said. “I know this must come as something of a surprise, since all I’ve ever done is scorn you and degrade you and taunt you, but I have loved you for several hours now, and every second, more. I thought an hour ago that I loved you more than any woman has ever loved a man, but a half hour after that I knew that what I felt before was nothing compared to what I felt then. But ten minutes after that, I understood that my previous love was a puddle compared to the high seas before a storm. Your eyes are like that, did you know? Well they are. How many minutes ago was I? Twenty? Had I brought my feelings up to then? It doesn’t matter.” Buttercup still could not look at him. the sun was rising behind her now; she could feel the heat on her back, and it gave her courage. “I love you so much more now than twenty minutes ago that there cannot be comparison. I love you so much more now than when you opened your hovel door, there cannot be comparison. There is no room in my body for anything but you. My arms love you, my ears adore you, my knees shake with blind affection. My mind begs you to ask it something so it can obey. Do you want me to follow you for the rest of your days? I will do that. Do you want me to crawl? I will crawl. I will be quiet for you or sing for you, or if you are hungry, let me bring you food, or if you have thirst and nothing will quench it but Arabian wine, I will go to Araby, even though it is across the world, and bring a bottle back for your lunch. Anything there is that I can do for you, I will do for you; anything there is that I cannot do, I will learn to do...Dearest Westley--I’ve never called you that before, have I?--Westley, Westley, Westley, Westley--darling Westley, adored Westley, sweet perfect Westley, whisper that I have a chance to win your love. And with that she dared the bravest thing she’d ever done: she looked right into his eyes.
He closed the door in her face.
Without a word.

From THE PRINCESS BRIDE by William Goldman, p. 51-52

“If you’re teasing me, Westley, I’m just going to kill you.”
“How can you even dream I might be teasing?”
“Well, you haven’t once said you loved me.”
“That’s all you need? Easy. I love you. Okay? Want it louder? I love you. Spell it out, should I? I ell-oh-vee-ee why-oh-you. Want it backward? You love I.”
“You are teasing now; aren’t you?”
“A little maybe; I’ve been saying it so long to you, you just wouldn’t listen. Every time you said, ‘Farm boy do this’ you thought I was answering ‘As you wish’ but that’s only because you were hearing wrong. ‘I love you’ was what it was, but you never heard, and you never heard.”
“I hear you now, and I promise you this: I will never love anyone else. Only Westley. Until I die.”

From THE PRINCESS BRIDE by William Goldman, p. 57

What do I look for in YA romance? A book that leaves me with a happy, giddy, joyous feeling. A book that makes me wear a silly grin from ear to ear. A book I can't help but smile at. A book that makes me laugh with happiness. A book that makes me feel a little bit silly and ridiculous. A book that makes me feel something.


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Review Policy

I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

I read a few poetry books, a few short story collections, a few graphic novels, a few nonfiction books.

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I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

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