Friday, September 10, 2010

Girlfriend Material and the Romance

Book Blogger Hop

Are you here from the Hop? Say hello so I can check out your blog! This week's question is: Post a link to a favorite post or book review that you have written in the past three months. This was tricky: not all of my recent reviews are recent reads, so I'm reconstructing those experiences. One that might interest you, as it's about a new release, is my review of I Am Number Four, because I'm of two minds about the book...


If you missed it last week, Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein wrote an entry on romance here and author Malinda Lo expanded on it here. They're talking about elements of romance--the themes, the tropes, the plots.

When I was wee, I wanted to write romance novels (I thought that was the only way to be involved in making books; I don't have any great desire to be an author today). I started in on the spinny-display of Harlequins at the library when I was a pre-teen and for more than a decade, a romance or two was always part of my regular reading diet. I really liked historical romance; Kathleen Woodiwiss and Valerie Sherwood were favorites, and not just because they wrote thick novels that I could immerse myself in for a day or two at a time.

While I was devouring romances, I was also devouring books on romance. This was pre-Internet, so it meant books on how to be a romance writer. I no longer remember where I read this, but someone wrote that a book(/story) is a romance when the romance is the plot. In other words, it's not Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, where he canoodles with Ginny Weasley. A romance would be Harry Potter and the Chest Monster of Undeniable Lust, wherein he canoodles with Ginny Weasley and Lord Voldemort is only there as a nemesis to lip-smacking good times.

Girlfriend MaterialThat's a very simple definition, to be sure. And I was thinking about it as I read Girlfriend Material by Melissa Kantor (Hyperion) the other day. (Digression: I had an advance copy from way back, and poking the button that lets me link to the final cover was a real surprise--quite a change!) Katie would like to spend her summer practicing tennis and taking a writing class, but her mom drags her along to Cape Cod, where some of mom's old friends live. Once there, she's confronted with the idea that her parents might be splitting up, with the realization that an old friend might not be interested in being a new one, and with questions about whether or not she's girlfriend material.

I was trying to read this book as a romance, because her interactions with crush Adam Carpenter seemed to me to be the ones Katie was most interested in throughout the story. Toward the end I finally realized that the romance was there (in form #3, being wanted, and #5, being seen), but that the story was as much about Katie wanting and seeing herself, as well as about the potential-family-breakup plot. Kantor's teenagers are excellent teenagers, by the way; they are inescapably teen without being fascinatingly witty or slangy or mini-adults. And there's no reason why teenagers can't be those things, but it was refreshing to read something different that doesn't have the side problem of making the teenagers too unsympathetic.

And then! Then I wondered: Can a young adult romance be a romance, in the sense of the plot being about romance? Is it acceptable? Is it still young adult if it doesn't rely equally as heavily on self-awareness/new experiences and growth? There are a couple of well-known young adult romance writers (that, admittedly, I'm not well-versed in), and I don't happen to own any of their books--and when I skimmed my shelves just now, I couldn't find a single romance that didn't have a self-growth story just as important as the romance. Am I asking the wrong questions? Are these books out there and I don't know where to look? Is it possible to write these books, given how much coming of age as a solo unit is part and parcel of young adult books? What would you recommend?


  1. found you through the hop, I've been hearing great things about I am Number Four, i hope it will live up to the hype for me?

    I'm in the same boat as you, a lot of my recent reviews aren't recent reads (pulled out of the archive, so to say), but that'll be our little secret!

  2. I started I AM NUMBER FOUR, but haven't been able to finish it. Maybe I was expecting too much? I'm not going to read your review until I finish the book. Then, we'll see what we both think :)

    On the teen romance - sure, I think it's perfectl acceptable to have a straight teen romance, but it's not done very often. Probably because hard-core romances between teens don't seem very serious or realistic. That's my take, anyway.

  3. Hello from the hop. Your alt title for Harry Potter made me giggle. I never got into the romances too much when I was a teen. My mom would have had plenty to say if she caught me with one so it wasn't worth the risk.

    I'm off to check out your review of I Am Number Four.

    Feel free to stop by anytime
    Rachel 1001 Books

  4. Discovered your blog via the Hop. I'm looking forward to reading your reviews!

  5. Hi! Im a new follower hopping by. I find your question about romance very interesting. I love romance and I am a published author of a YA paranormal romance series. It does have a self growth subplot as well. This gives me something to ponder on as a writer. A romance to strictly be a romance! Great idea!
    The Delusional Diaries

  6. Hi there!

    Lovely blog you have here, just making my round via hop, this week I'm trying really hard to reach 300 (four to go!) so if you follow me then I follow you!

    Lisa (Badass Bookie)

  7. @ redhead: I'm definitely trying to bring more of my recent reads into the mix! Sometimes, it breaks my brain to try to both come up with something short and sweet to say about books that I haven't read in a long time and to formulate something worthwhile to say about what I'm reading at present.

    @ Susan: I hope you like it!

    I wonder, too, if we don't see true romances for YA because most YA is written by adults, and that brings the experience of having the first love not be the last...

    @ LMW: Well, I'm certainly not done pondering yet. It's a weird sort of question.

    Thanks, everyone! I'm going around checking you out and following right now.


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