Impact of Romance Novels on Young Readers

Twilight. Divergent. Matched. Pride and Prejudice. Romeo and Juliet. These stories are classics; known by readers everywhere for their intricate detail and swoon-worthy love interests. However, is it possible that these stories have ruined the young reader’s current perception of relationships?

I’ve thought a lot about the role of YA romance novels in the last couple years. I once praised the gooey-feel-good, yet often simplistic plot line of romantic comedies and the “bad boy/good girl” archetype I read throughout my tween and teen years. While these books are wonderful for many reasons, I couldn’t help but realize as I got older that the protagonists were much younger than myself, and yet they had their life easily figured out by the end of 300 pages. This led me waiting throughout my teen years to be older; but as I grew into my late teens, I found the end of high school didn’t mean the completion of my self development—and more importantly—no attractively mysterious love interest would randomly come into my life. 

In a blog post about why they hate YA novels, Vivian DeRosa discusses two important points surrounding the typical themes within teen-romances: first, teenagers are inherently awkward, underdeveloped, and immature people; second, YA relationships are pure fiction. I don’t think there is a single person who looks back at their early teens and thinks they were at their peak. Being a teenager, even well into someone’s twenties, is awkward both physically and mentally; developing into who we are and finding who we want to be is a lifelong process that doesn’t conclude when one problem is solved. It is difficult for young adults to read these iconic stories and not receive the impression that they are supposed to be stunningly attractive and fully mentally developed, especially when Hollywood casts older actors to play these characters. It is impossible to think that 16-year-old Tris, while just beginning to understand her “Divergence,” could possibly build an actually sustainable relationship with Four. Or that 17-year old Bella not only found true love with a 104-year-old Vampire but gets married and fights in an ancient feud between the vampires and werewolves all while still in high school.

To this point, “YA tends to treat teenage relationships like they’re going to last forever. Many epilogues show the main character and their love interest happily married. But that’s not how most teen relationships shake out…” (DeRosa, 2017). Most teenagers are focused on typical high school and young adult things, and if they are in a relationship usually it doesn’t develop into a life-altering love story that will take precedence of their life and last forever. However, these stories have young readers believing that not only are relationships purely built on “finding the one,” but that there is no effort involved in finding, cultivating, and sustaining an actual romantic relationship. This thought process is detrimental to the perception of good relationships because it doesn’t offer the difficult perspective of how much work and time relationships actually take; it gives young readers a false foundation that life is just like these stories and all two people need is an attractive counterpart and one very passionate kiss.

Additionally, the perception of love through not just YA romance novels but all romance media is dangerous for all genders and sexualities. Because while Twilight, Divergent, and Romeo and Juliet are all coming of age stories where the protagonist’s journey takes the reader on one of self discovery as well, these mediums are often excluding the storylines of non-cis gendered, racially diverse, or gay protagonists. That a male protagonist without abs might fall in love with another male, female, or nonbinary peer who might have a diverse set of beliefs or culture is almost unheard of in YA romances, while today this is the reality of relationships. These stories, while considered classics, cater to a specific female fantasy—and without the diversity of representation, there is a whole population who may either lack a well-rounded understanding of relationships and/or see love as an unreachable fantasy.

This is not to say that these stories aren’t good. They are. There is a reason why Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is continuously taught and referenced through different mediums; why John Green’s “Okay? Okay.,” line reference has taken off with readers; and why the promotion of “sparkly, chiseled-abed vampires” has become a teen cliché. These stories are beautiful, incite strong emotions, and are oftentimes powerful. Despite having contradicting emotions about the genre, I still love and appreciate these stories. Don’t stop reading them, but don’t take them as a bible to your literary world. Teach each other that these books are not a guide for how to look, act, or love—and, most importantly, expand to local and diverse authors dedicated to telling the story that is not only special but realistic. In this way, we can indulge in the beauty and power of love, but remember that love is nothing without a relationship—which is often much more complicated than 300 pages would suggest.

Aviles, G. (2019, March 10). The rise of young adult books with LGBTQ characters – and what’s next. NBCNews. https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/rise-young-adult-books-lgbtq-characters-what-s-next-n981176

DeRosa, V.P. (2017, June 21). I’m a teenager and I don’t like young adult novels. Here’s why. Huffingtonpost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/what-ya-gets-wrong-about-teenagers-from-a-teen_b_594a8e4de4b062254f3a5a94

Book Review

How to Feed Yourself: 100 Fast, Cheap, and Reliable Recipes for Cooking When You Don’t Know What You’re Doing: A Cookbook by Spoon University

Publisher: Harmony
Genre: Nonfiction, Cookbook
Pages: 224
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary

It is back to school season—and whether this fact spurs feelings of fear or excitement, there is one unavoidable, and oftentimes frustrating, subject within everyone’s fall schedules: food. The COVID-19 pandemic has restructured dining halls for college students, tightened the budgets of families, and possibly even allowed time for new at-home hobbies. Spoon University’s How to Feed Yourself is a simple and comprehensive cookbook designed by college students, for college students.

It is incredibly flexible for anyone’s cooking level, desires, and situation. As we enter the fall with changing situations, How to Feed Yourself offers simple, cheap meals that don’t force the reader to buy a plethora of unknown ingredients, spices, and tools. The recipes are based on common ingredients to create plenty of simple, diverse, and healthy (but not too healthy) dishes. Spanning from “All-Day Breakfast Tacos” to a “No-Sharing-Required Mason Jar Banana Split,” Spoon University has prepared dishes for every occasion, every skill level, and every lifestyle.

Thoughts

This year I made the bold and, admittedly nerve-racking, decision to cancel my meal plan as I am sure many incoming and returning students are doing. As I ventured into my new reality of consistently cooking for myself, I wanted a cost-effective, nutritious (but not too healthy), and simple cookbook tailored to my novice skill set to help me out. I am usually apprehensive about cookbooks because they are often shrouded in mystery from complicated recipes, expensive and uncommon ingredients, and unrealistic expectations (because let’s face it—my food never turns out looking like the picture). However, I was very satisfied with this cookbook—it uses simple recipes, has consistent, colorful, and an easy-to-follow page layout, in addition to encouraging language. The ingredients needed for every recipe are basic, and the recipes are created with the expectation that the reader only has “an oven with a stovetop and broiler, a microwave, a fridge, and a sink.” The book is split up largely by chapters with recipes featuring some of the most common food items (eggs, chicken, pasta, fish, potatoes, toast, grains, veggies, and bananas). Later chapters provide recipes for occasions or habits, such as make-ahead meals, group recipes, date-night ideas, alcohol, and desserts. While this structure seems confusing, it allows you to find recipes based on what you have available. The book also outlines the most basic and important points of cooking and flavoring meats, using grains, and seasoning vegetables while offering flexible recipes which is encouraging and a helpful tool to understand the basics of food.

I’ve tried several recipes, including the “Not Your Average BEG,” the “Deconstructed Chicken Pot Pie,” and the “2-Ingredient Flourless Pancakes.” The recipes were fairly delicious and creative. The “Not Your Average BEG” used toaster waffles to create a kind of bun for the egg sandwich, and while the “Deconstructed Chicken Pot Pie” could have used additional seasoning, it was simple and a great dish to learn how to cook with chicken. My favorite recipe so far, however, are the “2-Ingredient Flourless Pancakes” because they offer different flavor suggestions and I had the freedom to get creative and substitute or add ingredients. As a beginning cook and novice cookbook reader, I am very happy to have taken a chance on this book because it is tailored to any cooking level, flavor pallet, and bank account. If you don’t eat meat or need a dairy/gluten free diet, the recipes offer substitutes and diet-specific recipes. Additionally, it has recipes for the lazy days, the single-parents, the working student, and the tired-of-ramen freshman.

We naturally come to food for community and enjoyment, and while our lives might be stressful in many ways right now—and our dinners might look different—our food shouldn’t be stressful. This book gives me hope in my ability to create a meal instead of spending that extra five dollars on the grocery store’s frozen meals section; it gives me hope that I can learn a new skill; and it gives me encouragement during this time—I hope it can for you, too.

Book Review

Again, But Better by Christine Riccio

Publisher: Wednesday Books
Genre: Contemporary, YA Fiction
Pages: 384
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 4.95/5 stars

Summary

Written by well-known BookTuber Christine Riccio, Again, But Better is a story for anyone needing encouragement to find themselves and gain the confidence to live in the moment. The novel follows shy and awkward Shane, a 20-year-old pre-med major who decides to spend a semester in London on a limb. As Shane begins her semester abroad, she is determined to essentially re-do her college experience—this means not overthinking, being more outgoing, and having the confidence to go after her dream and her crush. However, as Shane begins to explore new experiences, she is constantly torn between her desire to be a writer and her parents’ expectations of medical school. When these two forces collide, Shane has a decision to make—but will she make the right one? Riccio frames the story so that we are not just reading about Shane’s development, but we begin to understand that everyone is just trying to find themselves. In the end, Riccio shows us that with some courage, faith, and strength we can live up to our personal expectations and desires, and that ultimately anything is possible.

Thoughts

I originally picked up this book because I strongly resonated with the description of Shane. I thought it was unique that a young adult novel focused on a 20-year-old rather than the typical 16–18-year-olds. Shane’s age, as well as the internal conflicts she deals with throughout the novel, is a subject that was close to my heart—Again, but Better is about a college student trying to find who they are and who they want to be, and I think this is something everyone can relate to, especially college students. The novel is great because the reader can feel the anxiety and struggle Shane experiences, but the struggles of the other characters are also evident. There is a beautiful balance in seeing not only how we can be consumed by our own worry, but also the great comfort of knowing everyone is sharing this experience.

One of the aspects which I greatly appreciated was how Riccio doesn’t sugarcoat the fantasy of having a crush or the fear associated with going outside your comfort zone. The initial interactions between the characters is awkward—especially as Shane describes not knowing how to stand in front of her crush, or not initially “clicking” with one of her roommates. The evident anxiety within Pilot (the male protagonist and Shane’s love interest) in making an incorrect decision is one which almost everyone can relate to, and Riccio doesn’t represent this agony as simple. People are oftentimes represented to us from what we outwardly see, but this book makes a good point in showing that what we outwardly express isn’t what we always are; it links the perception of who we are on the outside to who we want to be on the inside.

Above all else, I loved how the central idea of the novel wasn’t consumed with the notion that if Shane only finds “love,” she will inevitably find herself. The romance within the book adds exceptional flavor, but it is in no way the main course. Rather, Riccio chooses to emphasize Shane’s discovery of herself in a time separate from Pilot. It is a book that goes beyond the stereotypical “find love and find yourself” narrative, but really focuses on the development of the characters and the development of yourself as a reader. This concept is so refreshing in a young adult novel.

Again, But Better is a fast-paced and personal read for those who want something lighter, but still deeply meaningful. No matter who reads it, the themes and development of the characters is something that can resonate with everyone. We overthink, we get discouraged, and we let others expectations of ourself get in the way of what we really want. The second half of the book allows the reader to acknowledge Shane’s mistakes and see where we ourselves tend to slip up. We see her struggle, and the struggles of those around her, as we try to navigate the world in relation to others and ourselves.

If you enjoyed Again, But Better, author Christine Riccio created a Spotify playlist to accompany the novel that can be found here!


Guest post courtesy of Lauren Kuhman