I think I just don’t like being told on which day I need to post a blog! But this particular Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the awesome The Broke and The Bookish, tickles me. Given that Valentine’s Day is only days away, focusing on what I do and don’t like about literary love seems appropriate. Because there are aspects of love in reality that are good and bad. Something that’s important to keep in mind this February 14th. So, let’s dive in. What are the best and worst things about our literary love stories?
- Using love as an excuse
You know when something terrible happens in a book and it’s all OK because the hero or heroine is in love with the other protagonist? Examples that immediately come to mind are Bella Swan & Edward Cullen and Anastasia Steele & Christian Grey. They say “all is fair in love and war”, but that doesn’t cover abuse, both emotional and physical, and stalking. Nothing excuses making someone feel unsafe. Especially when someone is blaming something as beautiful as love.
I’ve seen this aspect on so many people’s lists but it is 100% worthy of being on my list as well. I don’t believe in love at first sight. And with teenagers? It is always, always lust. Trust me, I’ve read my diaries from my teenage years. Every guy I was crazy about was because I thought he was hot. And a good kisser. So when girls/guys fall head over heels within five minutes of meeting their eventual partner, it annoys me. Now, if they find the person unbelievably attractive, hook up, and then take the time to get to know that person and then fall in love? That’s fine with me. But insta-love? Nu-uh, no way.
- Physical appearance
This may sound weird, but think of it for a second. How is every single male lead described in YA? As beautiful. As perfect. As various Adonises. As much as I love Cassandra Clare, having Jace’s only physical flaw be the chip in his tooth? Doesn’t make him human. It makes him superhuman. Because whose only physical flaw is a chipped tooth? I enjoy fantasy, I really do. But why do all the men have to be perfect? The only man I’ve read who wasn’t perfect was Levi in Fangirl. He wasn’t physically beautiful, but he was a beautiful personality. And that’s what won over Cather. I like my men hot, but it’s not realistic. And I know how hypocritical this is, given that Will Herondale is my book boyfriend, but his beauty helps Clare show a juxtaposition with Herondale’s past. His beauty helps people fall in love with him, but that’s exactly what Will doesn’t need. His perfection is the only example of male perfection that doesn’t annoy me. Because of that exact reason.
- Needless love triangles
Sometimes authors add a love triangle to add some cheap tension into the story. A love triangle creates an obstacle in our perfect ships. Will they choose wrong? Will they choose at all? But when there’s absolutely no chance in hell that our protagonist will choose the other guy, why are they there? I don’t like being taken for a fool by authors. The worst example of this was in the Delirium trilogy. Lena was crazy for Alex and then all of a sudden this Julian guy rocks up. Now, we all know that Lena and Julian aren’t going to last, but there he is anyway, creating an obstacle for Lena and Alex. The only obstacle needed was the whole Alex disappearing thing. Adding Julian was needless and royally pissed me off.
- Unnecessary fights
Another way that authors add cheap tension into a story. Remember when Edward left Bella? And when Nora got ridiculously jealous of Patch being Marcie’s guardian angel and she broke up with him for no reason? These fights were stupid! All it did was add a shallow “will they figure it out?” question that we all knew the answer to: of course they’ll figure it out! So these dramatic fights were just a way of postponing the inevitable. In my opinion, these kinds of fights show weak writing. If the author couldn’t think of a better obstacle than a stupid fight between the main relationship, then they must not have a very strong imagination!
- The Quotes
Oh my God. One of my favourite things about love stories are the quotes that happen when one character is in love with another. I’m not talking about the cheesy lines delivered by two-dimensional characters written by sub-standard authors. I’m talking those declarations of love by fictional men who could almost be real. Will’s letter to Tessa is one of my favourite things in literature. So instead of going on and on about the different quotes that make my heart soar, I’m just going to leave Will’s love letter to Tessa right here:
Tess, Tess, Tessa.
Was there ever a more beautiful sound than your name? To speak it aloud makes my heart ring like a bell. Strange to imagine that, isn’t it – a heart ringing – but when you touch me that is what it is like: as if my heart is ringing in my chest and the sound shivers down my veins and splinters my bones with joy.
Why have I written these words in this book? Because of you. You taught me to love this book where I had scorned it. When I read it for the second time, with an open mind and heart, I felt the most complete despair and envy of Sydney Carton. Yes, Sydney, for even if he had no hope that the woman he loved would love him, at least he could tell her of his love. At least he could do something to prove his passion, even if that thing was to die.
I would have chosen death for a chance to tell you the truth, Tessa, if I could have been assured that death would be my own. And that is why I envied Sydney, for he was free.
And now at last I am free, and I can finally tell you, without fear of danger to you, all that I feel in my heart.
You are not the last dream of my soul.
You are the first dream, the only dream I ever was unable to stop myself from dreaming. You are the first dream of my soul, and from that dream I hope will come all other dreams, a lifetime’s worth.
With hope at last,
- The Equality
When each partner in the relationship is just as important as the other one. When the two get into battles with evil (you know, I’m talking about fantasy YA), and both are just as capable at kicking arse as the other. Rose and Dimitri. Tessa and Will. Clary and Jace. Alec (bleh) and Magnus. Simon and Isabelle. Ron and Hermione. Harry and Ginny. The man isn’t stronger than the woman. The woman isn’t smarter than the man. Each contributes equally. And that, in my opinion, is what a relationship is supposed to be about: support.
- The “Before”
Not many authors nail the “before” part of relationships. But Ellie Marney does. Watts and Mycroft’s “before” in Every Breath is so sizzling hot, I had to have a bottle of cold water next to me the whole time. Romantic tension is not easy, but Marney totally nailed it. Having a crush on a boy made up so much of my high school experience that to have a YA author get it, and to get it right, just warms my heart.
- Sex Done Right
Teenagers have sex. It happens. It is a big deal insofar as each party needs to be emotionally ready, there has to be consent, and there must be some protection involved. But I hate when YA authors dramatise sex as a way to make a moral point. Yes, sex is important. But it is also a base, human instinct. I don’t like it when authors make moral judgments on characters who do have sex. So when a YA author talks about sex as just another part of the teenage experience, that wins huge points with me. Especially when young women are involved. Men race to win their virginity (yes, I’m generalising to make a point) and are celebrated. But when a woman does it, at the same age as a man I might add, she is labelled as easy and wanton and about a million other derogatory names (yes, still generalising). When young women are treated like young men in YA in this regard, it makes me happy!
- Just the Right Level of Cute
Too much cute in books drives me nuts. And has me reaching for a bucket. But when characters have awesome nicknames for each other, or a “bit” they do together, then that makes me happy. Like how Jamie calls Claire “Sassenach” in Outlander. Or how Logan calls Rory “Ace” in Gilmore Girls. Or how Will calls Tessa “Tess” in The Infernal Devices. These things can get overblown in badly written romances. Pet names can get overused, “I love you” gets said too much, and all sorts of other stuff. But when an author gets the balance right, these little things give me fangirl squeals that can be incredibly embarrassing if I’m not alone.
Happy Valentine’s Day for Saturday guys. Just remember: Valentine’s Day celebrates love. If you’re single, celebrate familial love or friendship. Don’t let yourself feel bad for being single because you are amazing. And you are loved.