Then, around about page 87 (it was 300ish pages total), there came a boy. And I felt bitter disappointment upon his arrival.
I loved the novel, despite the arrival of THE love interest. It continued to be compelling and gritty, and the events kept me on my toes. However, the arrival of THE boy--and the afterthought that there is ALWAYS an arrival of the love interest--caused me to consider what it means for teens that their novels MUST include love. And not just love--they include the fated, soul mated, cannot live without you, all-consuming love that fills every ounce of one's being. (Part of why I continued liking my most recent read was that it did not, in fact, evolve into that kind of love.) Most of the time, I thoroughly enjoy the love interest aspect itself within YA lit, though I often simultaneously hate that in myself. I read the Twilight series when it came back with an obsession bordering on the unhealthy, and I hated myself for it. I hated the books with a relatively intense passion. (As an aside, I go out of my way not to rip on authors on my blog, but I don't think Ms. Meyers would mind a little commentary about the self-loathing that results from the appearance of aspects within us that cause us to support and uphold what I'll call the "Ophelia syndrome," where we love characters who are weak and helpless and let their love lives consume them wholly.) My own weak attempt at a young adult novel has a love interest, and it encapsulates many (all?) of the flaws that I see within the other novels that I've read from the genre.
Even though I hate this phenomenon, the trilogies I love the most include some phenomenal (fated, destined, star-crossed) love stories. For instance, I LOVE Cassandra Clare's Infernal Devices series, but there is a strong element of the inevitability of a passionate, lasting love in it. Similarly, Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone series has a BEAUTIFUL love story that demonstrates the way that love can truly deconstruct and rebuild the world.
I believe those sentiments, and I believe that there is a way to convey them so that they make us stronger, better, more hopeful people--that's part of why I love those series. Taylor and Clare both do a captivating job of making those love stories as believable as they are beautiful.
And yet, don't we need to acknowledge other kinds of love as well? Shouldn't we show teenagers what successful, long-lasting relationships look like? Don't we need to demystify what lasting love is like; shouldn't we remove the glamor of star-crossed love and show what REAL love is like instead?
So I got to page 87 in my book, and this is what I thought:
Teens need to learn that REAL love is a choice. It's a choice that we make over and over and over again. We choose to love. We choose our lovers, and we continue to choose them day in and day out. We choose them when things are great and passionate and beautiful, and when we've decided that we're committed to each other, we choose them on all of the bad days as well. We choose them on the boring days and the easy days and the grumpy days and the despairing days.
Real love is HARD work. It requires much more effort than walking away. It involves heartache and despair. It is not easy, and it is not something that is done for you, as those fateful relationships suggest.
Real love requires dedication (especially in romantic relationships--I'm coming to understand that the love of parents for children seems to come more easily/ endlessly than romantic love).
Real love is complicated. You change and s/he changes, and life changes, and you can never pin down what is happening because everything is always shifting and slipping through your fingers.
Real love is MORE BEAUTIFUL than "fated" relationships that spring into life like the spark of a flame and then disappear into oblivion. Real love is precious and beautiful precisely because it is difficult, and because it requires the essential element of choice.
So as we approach this Valentine's day, we need to teach our teens to CHOOSE love. Over and over and over again. I'll be on the lookout for novels that demonstrate this kind of love--the kind they will likely find in their own lives. As I find those examples, I'll write about them on my teaching page.