Hi everyone! I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted one of these, I’ve been very busy what with being back at Uni and applying for work experience placements for the summer that I haven’t had time to sit down and write another discussion post! I was thrilled with the reaction to my last discussion post, it was something I was a little nervous about writing, so I’m very glad that it seemed to be well received. But anyway, back to the topic at hand, with Valentine’s Day coming up on Tuesday, I thought I’d do a romance themed discussion post…..well ish. I saw a post on BookRiot on this topic last year, and it really made me think, so I decided I wanted to put my own two cents in on the issue. So today I’m going to be talking about being single and particularly the lack of single characters in YA.
We all know that nowadays romance is pretty much a prerequisite of YA books. I could probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of YA books that I’ve read that had no romance in them at all in the last few years. That’s all well and good, after all first romances are a big part of some teens lives. However the key word there is SOME. Not all teens have found their “one” at age 16. Heck most of them haven’t and I think it’s very dangerous to perpetuate the idea that all teens have found love by age 16/17, because it runs the risk of making teens who aren’t in a relationship/have never been kissed/haven’t yet found love feel abnormal.
This is an issue that is quite close to me personally because I was one of those teens. I was single throughout all of my teen years (I still am), I hadn’t even been kissed up until about two years ago and my teenage crushes (on actual people that I knew, not just celebrities) were few and far between. And I would read these books, where all of these teenage characters were falling in love, finding their perfect relationships and I would feel abnormal. Because I hadn’t had any of that. I kept thinking “Is there something wrong with me?”. I didn’t have this perfect ship-worthy relationship. I hadn’t been kissed, I hadn’t even ever been on a date. Don’t get me wrong, I was and still am a huge shipper, but just seeing all of these characters in books that I loved get together made me feel like there was something wrong with my life, because I hadn’t found something that all these characters in books I loved seemed to have found so easily, and I’m sure I’m not the only teen that has felt this way.
By having all YA characters paired up, a huge part of the YA audience is being erased. We talk so much about representation in this community, about race representation, disability representation, sexuality representation, mental illness representation etc but no one ever seems to talk about the lack of single representation. I know that singles are not a marginalised group in the same way that some of the other groups I’ve mentioned are, but we still deserve to be represented don’t we? Why should only people who’ve had relationships get to see themselves in books? Shouldn’t people who are single, whether we be straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, aro/ace/demi, pan etc get to see ourselves in books too? I know I certainly get enough people making me feel bad about being single in real life, I don’t need it from my books too.
It’s just not realistic to have every single one of your main characters paired up, that’s not how life works. Not everyone finds true love and that’s okay. It’s unlikely in a group of 6 or 7 teenagers that absolutely every single one of them will be paired up. Is being single as interesting as following a couple through the ups and downs of first love? No probably not. Is it important to show it anyway and show it in a positive light to encourage single teens? Absolutely.
Having single characters in YA would allow more characters to be developed on their own rather than as part of a romance. You can have the same storylines as you would if your character was in a couple, the character discovering who they are, their ambitions, their passions and in fact if you have a single character, you could focus on these things a lot more because your character isn’t being swept away in a romance. I have definitely found when writing my own YA story, I have been able to explore my MC’s ambitions, passions, and show more of her personal growth because I haven’t had to focus on a romance storyline.
I’ve also found that in books where there is a romance, that relationship becomes the main focus and all of the MC’s other relationships seem to get pushed into the background (I’m not saying in all YA books, just some). It would be great if instead of always focusing on romance, we could get some YA books that focus purely on friendship and family relationships without focusing on romances. For me anyway, my family and friends have always been more important to me than boys and it would be great to see this reflected in YA books rather than the constant focus on romance.
Having more single characters in YA would also allow for more male/female platonic relationships to be explored, which are sorely lacking in my opinion. Why can we not just have a single guy and a single girl who are just great friends? Oh I forgot, because singledom is the devil! Can we not have two happy, single, platonic girl/guy friends? Is it too much to ask for? So many great potential m/f platonic relationships have been ruined by romance and again it sends a bad message to teens. It makes it seem like if you can’t be just friends with a guy, which is obviously totally untrue. Obviously characters in a relationship can also have platonic girl/guy friends, but that’s another topic for another time!
So overall, I just want to see singleness normalized in YA fiction. To show teens that it’s okay not to have found your special someone in your teen years. That you’re not strange or unlovable if you don’t have someone. I’d love to see YA characters discovering themselves and who they are before jumping into a romantic relationship with someone. To see characters who are single by choice and happy about it. To see aromantic, asexual and demisexual characters. To see singleness portrayed as a good thing, not as something to be avoided at all costs. Single characters are sadly mostly invisible in YA fiction and that’s not a good thing. They need to be seen. So that teens like I was, who hadn’t had a boyfriend or even been on a date or had a kiss don’t feel abnormal. So that they can see themselves in the books they read. Isn’t that what all of us want? To be able to see ourselves in what we read? By not showing single teens, a significant proportion of teens are not being represented, this is not right or fair. We should embrace singleness as part of the teen experience as much, if not more, than we embrace the first love narrative. Just because it may not seem as “exciting” as the romance storyline, doesn’t mean that singleness should be erased altogether.
I have another Jo Talks post in the works which I’m very excited about, but I’m going to keep it under my hat for now, so you’ll have to wait until I post it to see what it’s all about! In the meantime however, I will have a review of my newest read, The Crown’s Game and a new Top Ten Tuesday post for you in the next few days, so stay tuned for those!