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Dramatic Romance in YA + Today's Teens = ?

Confession: I have never read Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. In some literary circles, I'm pretty sure this qualifies me to be shot and killed. Nevertheless, I haven't read it - yet!

What I have done is seen the movie with Voldemort Ralph Fiennes. Scratch that: I've seen it in English class with my fellow high school seniors. That is to say, I've seen it punctuated with giggles, groans, the occasional inappropriate LOL at Heathcliff's sadness, and much declaring of "Don't look him in the eyes, Cathy, he's Voldemort!" (Okay, that last one might have been me.)

And this is a movie that's been deemed a "faithful" adaptation of the book! Are my classmates and I just totally out-of-touch with what is traditionally considered romantic? Or in this case, tragi-romantic?

Part of the YA market may depend on that answer. The old formula for a good romance - heaving chests, heartfelt speeches, handy misunderstandings, and dramatic exits - has been relied on for a long time, even in YA. (See: that word that rhymes with Wilight.) But is that kind of romance effective in modern times? Does it resonate with today's teens - or does it just induce giggles?

Of course, it depends on the teenager. One of my friends was enraptured through all of Cathy and Heathcliff's staring contests, and she's also a big fan of YA books with a passionately loving heroine and an emotional, moody intense love interest. I love her more for it.

Young Leo can gaze into my eyes anytime.
But for me, reading those types of romances doesn't garner much reward, unless it's very finely crafted (or involves a book version of young Leonardo DiCaprio). I do have no doubt that the novel Wuthering Heights carries a weight and resonance that the Voldemort movie didn't quite deliver (in its defense, it never had a chance in a room full of antsy almost-adults).

So when it comes down to it, are today's teens out-of-sync with the classic romance codes? On one hand, it seems obvious the answer is NO: modern teens (at least a large amount of them) enjoy Intensely Dramatic Classic-Style Romances perfectly well, thank you very much, and they'll buy millions of copies of YA books to prove it.

On the other hand, it seems one could easily argue YES. Sure, this type of romance may resonate with a certain segment of teens - an excited, willing-to-buy segment - but what about everyone else? What about the eye-rollers and the not-so-engaged? Is romance in YA not alienating a whole share of teens by relying on, or at least often using, this model?

I'd love to hear what you guys think. Have teens' definitions of what makes a good romance changed in modern times? What is the average modern teen's relationship with what the market is offering? And if change is in the air, what do you think is replacing or has been replacing the Old Guard? Any other thoughts? Sound off in the comments!
Emilia Plater

Emilia is a YA author who avoids studying, food that isn't covered in cheese, and waking up before 10:30AM whenever possible. A bundle of confusions.

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22 comments:

  1. I've also never read it. But I probably should since I'm going to the home of the Bronte's at the end of the month...

    For me, romance is so personal now. It's not about generic stuff like roses. It's about getting me an autograph from my favourite singer.

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  2. Great post, I was actually just thinking about this the other day because I was watching part of the 1939 movie version of WH.

    I read the book years ago and liked it, but it was more for the *feel* of it. The wind-swept moors, the urgency of their love, Cathy's unapologetic selfishness, Heathcliff's penchant for dickiness...

    I think the appeal, as was the appeal of that book that rhymes with Wilight is that untamed "rogue" that all the women want to tame, but he only has eyes for *you* Like, he would wander in the snow for years or sacrifice himself to vampire mafia for *you*

    I did find myself snickering a bit at the movie because it seemed SOOO dramatic, but maybe those lines were more in fashion back in the day. Although...I did my own bit of snickering at that Wilight movie, too.

    I think there's a line between romantic declarations and cringe-worthy desperate love-babble. But it's not a definite line, so one teen's swoon is another teen's eye-rolling.

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  3. Great post! I'm far remove from teendom and I still roll my eyes, so I don't think it has to do with age, but with a person's general makeup.

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  4. wonderful post, emilia! really got me thinking. to me, majority of the teens are deff not into the whole tragi-romance thing--i mean, at the end of they day, most of us kind of are immature about the whole thing, i suppose. high school romances, for the most part (and this is just my opinion-feel free to diagree) are rather physical and short-term.
    but there ARE romances that are more...substansial, and those are the kind that normally get written. and even in those kind of relationships, dramatic declarations, like the ones in WH, prolly wouldn't fare well with today's audience, and i dont blame them. i mean, when you think about it, what kind of teen actually speaks in shakespeare-dialiect these days? (well, barring enormous literary geeks.)
    so IMO, as long as it rings true, teens will buy it. but the old-time drama would never make it in the market today, not with teens anyway.

    :)

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  5. Interesting! My guess is that teens are into the grand, oversize, sweeping emotions of old-timey dramatic romance but need that translated into situations and people they can relate to. I feel like Tiny Cooper is a good example of a very passionate but relatable-modern character.

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  6. I read it. Couldn't stand it, though Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books of all time. Go figure.

    Anyways. As someone who reads a lot of YA, has younger sisters who have even younger friends, a lot of them aren't really into the dramatic romance. In fact, one complaint I've actually heard from a lot of them is that they're tired of books where the only or main plot line is a romance. They're teenage girls 15-17 who just want to read a good book. They don't have boyfriends out of choice - want to wait until they're ready - and are tired of getting bludgeoned with the idea that the only way to a happy ending is through a romance.

    Of course, they may not represent the majority of the YA audience, but I also work in a bookstore and I've heard similar comments from teenage girls shopping in our YA section. They ask for recommendations on books that aren't just about the romance. I just think it's interesting.

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  7. It definitely depends on the person. When I was in high school I remember loving Wuthering Heights and Romeo & Juliet. (The fact that the R&J movie came out at the same time didn't hurt, though. Teen me had a major crush on Leonardo DiCaprio.)

    I think I was OK with these big, sweeping romances because that's how crushes felt. Every little thing a crush did (lending a pencil, smiling, etc) was a huge deal. It's for this reason I loved ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS so much. It felt like such a true relationship to me. And I don't usually read books that are focused solely on a relationship.

    Great post, Emilia.

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  8. I think the problem with the Classics is their age and readers thinking "its old so it must be boring". The setting is of course out of time, but the themes of love are timeless.

    Personally, I'm not much of a fan for romances, but I believe YA fiction needs some kind of love at its core because you feel it so intensely in your teens. First loves, crushes... the rush of emotions are SO powerful and exciting in your teens. YA fiction has to reflect this, otherwise it's forgetting its audience.

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  9. I attempted to read Wuthering Heights but failed to finish it. That book just isn't for me. Or, maybe it wasn't for me when I was in 12th grade. Maybe I should try to re-read it in a few years. As for Romeo and Juliet, I loved it. I like most Shakespeare I've read. But, I don't really see R+J as romantic. I mean, R is "in love" with Rosalie or Rosaline...I can't remember. But then he sees this totally bodacious J and instead focuses his attention on her. But, it's based strictly on looks! It's not like they actually get to know each other.

    Anyway...I think it depends on the person, not so much the age. I have a handful of friends who adored the ye old romantic classics. I have friends who prefered the modern romantic novels. And then there is me who tries to avoid both. There is so much more to life than falling in love and settling down.

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  10. I've never been a fan of Wuthering Heights, but I noticed that it was mentioned in one of the books of the Twilight series.

    The Brontes were always much more intense. Part of the appeal that Jane Austen still has is her witty, lighter approach to romance.

    I second those who love ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS because this shows romance done well--a believable heroine and a hero who aren't wooden fixtures; they're real people in love.

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  11. I do think teens have changed in their reading material, though that may have a direct correlation with the new books that adults have written for them (or were they written because of the demand?). But the beauty of the YA market is that it is as diverse as its Adult counterpart. My reading tastes very too, though I'm no longer a teen. Sometimes I do like a good mind-numbing romantic story (that thing that rhymes with Wilight-yes I'm guilty), but I'll turn around and read something with a lot of death in it (Hunger Games), then go read something that's lighter and heart felt.

    Rebecca T, I'm with you. I've read Wuthering Heights twice and still can't understand the appeal (I'm so frustrated I'm going to read it a third time). Jane Eyre is also one of my favorite classics.

    Great post! I might go watch the movie now just to make Voldemort remarks, haha.

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  12. Disclaimer: I haven't been a teenager in about four years, so I may not be fully qualified to answer this question. However, I did read (and love) things like Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice in high school. Then again, I had a somewhat different view of romance than most of my peers.

    However, maybe it isn't that teenagers are "out of touch" with romance - maybe it's just that the ideal has changed a little. I've spent the past couple months volunteering in a 7th grade classroom for one of my classes. I've seen some of the books they're reading - The Hunger Games, The Forest of Hands and Teeth - books whose romances are built a lot on tension. Or I look at what my 18-year-old sister reads. Yeah, she loved Wuthering Heights. (I think she was the only person in her lit class who did.) But she also likes stuff like Twilight, stuff by Meg Cabot - again, a lot of it is about the tension.

    Then again, I guess you can say that for the classics, too. Pride and Prejudice is a prime example. But a lot of those books that my students and my sister are reading seem a lot more straight-forward - you know, without all the flowery speeches and stuff. Which I think is just something we see a lot of today in general.

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  13. I laugh out loud every time Mr. Darcy says, "You bewitch me, body and soul" in the Kiera Knightly/Matthew MacFadyen version of P&P because if someone said that in real life, it would just be ridiculous. I had a guy say something very similar to me once and I wondered what greeting card he had stolen it from.

    But at the same time, I was flattered by what this guy said, and even though I laugh at Mr. Darcy, I still find it secretly romantic. I think that my laughter at the over-dramatization of romance in literature and film is really just a way to cover up the fact that I really do wish someone would say that to me. Teens (and adults, for that matter), are all trying to figure out how to express these very real, very raw emotions without being "uncool". So it's very easy to look at these dramatic tragi-romances (great phrase for it, btw) and laugh at the way they stumble and fall and generally make fools of themselves because it means that, for once, people are laughing at someone other than you.

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  14. Ok I am going to be a little brutal here - so please take me with a grain of salt - or just assume I have been drinking again - if it's easier to take me that way.

    Romance is not all it's cracked up to be and too many young adults have discovered it to be fooled by old people eyegames.

    Yes they are romantic too - but they don't play as real to kids now.

    Heres the deal - when that stuff was written - the word sex was unspeakable. It was all wrapped up in a pretty bow and handed out carefully.

    My kids are sitting here watching a movie called Love and other drugs - the subject is funny - they get the difference - between "Oh baby" and "Ohh. I am lost in you."

    Love and sex are not the same thing - You know it - the kids now know it. Romance has indeed moved on. Now.... romance is about 'what would you do - how far would you go - if it was real?' It is not just - he looked at me! and fifty pages of dissecting the eyeball!

    Kids now have seen more hump-daddy-hoochie then anyone can ever hope to explain or justify...thats no big deal really.

    I get so frustrated when schools allow all sorts of 'hacking others to bits' - in the library. But must discuss if a book merits any attention, because it may have a reference to not fitting in with the romantic convention.

    Pure her meets noble him - they stress for 6 novels and don't kiss on the last page.

    The walls are breaking down - but more are built just as fast.

    Hunger games - Peeta laying in mud - near death and Katniss searching for him.

    "Are you here to finish me off, sweetheart?"
    His accepting - being at peace with her being the one. Needing to speak to her - giving away his location - knowing his game is over but one moment is worth all his life - knowing the last thing he sees will at least be her----- That is romance. choosing it anyway - life in her hands - no expectations - there is my life and I accept your choice. That is the magic.

    It did not stay romantic - but that moment was beyond golden.

    It isn't any more realistic then old people eyeball games.

    Romance must now find a higher place than just a few random exchanges - kids now are more able to see - true love as opposed to hump-daddy masks. It isn't that they are too stupid to see romance - but lots of the old signals - don't fool them for a second.

    classic romance is still perfect for the classics - but trying to copy it today is a mistake in my little twinkie brain.

    Just because subtle romance - is subtle does not mean - it's not there. Just because one person is enchanted with one romance - doesn't mean, all will be.

    Great, thought provoking post!

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  15. great post, emilia! I've thought about this myself. there's definitely an audience for the sweeping, melodramatic kind of romance, even in the teen set, but I prefer mine more nuanced and realistic.

    p.s I haven't read Wuthering Heights either.

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  16. Way back when I was a teen, we read "Wuthering Heights" to stir our emotions, and we read "Are You there God..." to stir our hormones.

    I think there is a continuum that has to do with how close a reader wants to be to the story and characters at any given time--how aligned. (Escape vs reality.)

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  17. Love me some young Leo *swoon*
    (I haven't read some of the romantic classics, either!)

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  18. I tried to get through Wuthering Heights. I really did. Didn't work out for me. Jane Eyre, on the other hand, is a different story but that wasn't until after I read Jane by April Lindner. Now it is one of my favorite classics.

    Personally, I like the *idea* of classic romance. However, I think most people (not just teens) find this type of drawn-out, over-the-top romance to be a bit corny.

    Why? Because it has been done so many times.

    I think what we (readers and writers) sometimes fail to realize is that these classics were not always classics and novels like Jane Eyre were considered "edgy" in their prime.

    What I read is whatever I'm in the mood for at the moment. Sometimes it's good chick-lit. Maybe a nice dramatic love scene thrown in there somewhere. Sometimes I need a little action (as in, Matt Damon/Bourne Supremacy-type action . . . not the other, er, you know . . . nevermind).

    The real reason I read-or attempt to read-novels such as WH, JE, or P&P, is the same reason a pianist listens to Bach or Mozart: to study them. These classic novels, however boring or corny or extremely drawn-out, are beautifully written.

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  19. I'm a teen but not American, but anyway I don't really like classics because.. of the old English. That English is kind of hard for me to understand. So I watched Pride & Prejudice, the one with Keira Knightley and I like the movie a lot! But Mr. Darcy is uh, not hot :x The Romeo & Juliet movie with Leonardo DiCaprio is too hard to understand for me. No idea about Jane Eyre, I want to watch the movie though :D

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  20. Ugh, I didn't like Wuthering Heights or Romeo and Juliet. The writing is amazing, but I felt like I constantly wanted to hit the characters in the head and yell at them to stop being so stupid!!

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  21. Just the other day I made a romeo & juliet joke and my 14yo son admonished me that it wasn't funny and i wasn't at ALL romantic .. he felt R&J was the absolute height of romance.

    he didn't read it for school, though. maybe that makes a difference.

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  22. I don't actually know what I think makes a good romance. It varies a lot in the books I read. And, I've never fallen in love, never been in a relationship, never even been looked at by a guy, so I have no real-life stuff to compare it to. But I think out of all the books I've read, Matched by Ally Condie has very realistic love in it. When I was reading it, I couldn't pinpoint the moment when Cassia fell in love with Ky, but by the end of it, I knew they were in love. But my other favourite book in terms of romance (and in terms of being my all-time favourtie book) is Divergent. I just love the character of Tobias, I think he has a lot of depth to him. But also, I wasn't sure if I liked him straight away, I grew to love him throughout the book, which made me feel like I'd been on a journey with those characters, that I was falling in love with him whilst Tris was.
    In my first published novel,I worried that my male characters were too perfect, and that's something I'm very conscious of in the novel I'm currently writing ~ making my lead male character more realistic.

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Item Reviewed: Dramatic Romance in YA + Today's Teens = ? Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Emilia Plater