Like most YA book bloggers, I read a LOT of books within the same genre. Sure, I read a lot of sub-genres within Young Adult (fantasy, paranormal, contemporary, etc), but the I read so much from the overarching Young Adult genre that sometimes I worry that I am becoming desensitized to certain elements, particularly my level of investment and intrigue in the romantic relationships. I feel like lately I tend to miss out on the emotions that these relationships are supposed to evoke, and I had come to the conclusion that I either:
- Was outgrowing these relationships now that I’m in my 20s, and could no longer relate to them, or
- I had read so many romances (especially in the contemporary genre) that nothing was stirring up a reaction because nothing felt original anymore, or
- Romance in general as an element in books no longer interested me
Cynical, I know, but I was seriously starting to read SO MANY books with the romance taking such a backseat for me to the rest of the plot. Romance had always been one of my favorite elements in stories, so I was truly shocked to see that I was no longer enjoying it.
I read Queen of Shadows by Sarah J Maas and was just completely and totally taken by the main romance. I was obsessed. It made me crave every tiny little scene between the two love interests, and spend the time I wasn’t reading speculating all of my theories of where the romance would go to poor, patient Max. I realized I had found myself on a hardcore ship again, and I was thrilled! All hope was not lost! I could still enjoy romance in Young Adult novels.
So what was the trick?
What had gotten me so invested in the romance in that particular book? What caused me to literally squeal in delight at certain pages instead of roll my eyes? A few nights after finishing the book (and nursing my worst book hangover of this year to date) a possible hypothesis struck me: Perhaps I can only become invested in a fictional love interest if they are my “type.” If I would be personally attracted to them, both emotionally and physically, if they were to exist. If they would be someone who I could actually stand to date. My hypothesis started to make more and more sense, because why WOULD a book evoke any sort of swooning action from me as a reader if the person supposedly invoking said swooning was someone who I would never be romantically inclined toward in real life?
On to the research:
I decided, like any critical thinking post-college student who still not-so-secretly misses class discussions and research papers, that this hypothesis of mine needed to be analyzed with some examples to back it up. So I started looking at books where I loved the romance vs. books that had popular romances that I didn’t really care for, and see what was it about love interests and romantic bonds that I either loved or loathed. *Note: This post will contain some spoilers about the literary couples mentioned.
Each of the love interests in these novels are ones that I would totally date in real life, either because we share similarities and passions, have similar backgrounds, or because I would, let’s face it, be insanely attracted to them. Some common themes I found were that more swoons are evoked when reading if the romance is a slow-burn, if it deals with deeper emotional issues, and/or is has some elements of being supernatural. All of the love interests I tend to gravitate toward are usually either older than the protagonist or very mature for their age (wisdom and responsibility are huge bonus points in my book!).
In terms of popular romances that didn’t evoke a positive response from me, or really any response at all, I found to that there were trends in things I wasn’t attracted to. Awkward-cute interactions are not my thing (Levi and Cath) neither are dudes who lack the courage to tell people how they really feel (St. Clair and poor Anna). I also detest relationships that thrive on arguments (Ron and Hermione) or romances where the protagonist clearly chooses the most BORING option (Mal and Alina).
It turns out that I have NOT become desensitized to romances in novels, nor have they become less of a prioritized plot point for me. I must be attracted to the love interest to feel swoons and/or must find elements of the relationship appealing in order to be moved by the romance in a novel. One romance does not make or break a book for me either. While researching what books were evoking an emotional response from their romances, I found there were stories that had multiple romances, such as Six of Crows, where I loved one (Nina and Mattias) and couldn’t stand another (Kaz and Inej). Having one romance that worked for me was enough for me to consider the read a successful romance and become emotionally invested in the couple, even if neither were (arguably) the “main” character. Ultimately, while I must find some sort of personal attraction to a love interest to deem a book “swoon-worthy,” it doesn’t mean I can’t love the book if I don’t (case in point, Fangirl is one of my favorite contemporary reads of all time!)
Are you a reader who is moved by romances in novels? Are any swoon-worthy moments fair game, or do you have to feel an element of attraction to become invested? What romances and/or book boyfriends/girlfriends evoke swoons from you? Do you have a literary “type?” Do you ever feel you’ve outgrown a romantic pairing in a book or series that you used to love? Let me know in the comments!