Welcome to Meet The Newbies, a co-hosted event from Rachel @ A Perfection Called Books and I, in which we introduce you to all of the new kids in school aka the 2015 debut authors.
Meet Jen Brooks:
Jen has a habit of being deeply moved by profound ideas, and her writing reflects her interest in exploring human goodness, relationships, and the feeling of being a part of something greater than oneself. She loves the science fiction and fantasy genres because of their dazzling possibilities for portraying characters and ideas. She credits her undergraduate experience at Dartmouth College, her MFA at Seton Hill University, and her fourteen years of English teaching with shaping her writing. She is grateful to her family, friends, and students for inspiring her to write.
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Published: April 28th, 2015 by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
High school senior Jonathan Aubrey creates worlds at will. In Kylie-Simms-is-my-girlfriend, he’s given himself everything he doesn’t have in real life-–the track team, passing grades, and his dream girl–-until one day he confuses his worlds and almost kisses the real Kylie Simms. Now his girlfriend Kylie and the real Kylie are changing, and Jonathan must solve the mystery of his own life to save his love from a gruesome fate.
Romance Versus Love Story
Have you ever thought about the difference between a “romance” and a “love story”? In the adult fiction sphere, this is something of a hot debate akin to the “literary” versus “commercial” war.
“Love story” is used by some authors to describe romantic works of supposedly (literary) deeper themes and stronger character development than “romance,” which is used to describe stories that follow (commercial) formulas. Many other authors defend “romance” citing all of its complexity and variation.
So what is the difference, really, and how does that relate to YA books?
Let’s take a look at one definition of romance from the adult market. Romance Writers of America (RWA) explain that for a story to be a romance is must contain both:
A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.
An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.
In other words, a “romance” must have the romance as the main focus, and that romance must end Happily Ever After.
By contrast, Nicholas Sparks, on his website says this:
Love stories must use universal characters and settings. Romance novels are not bound by this requirement and characters can be rich, famous, or people who lived centuries ago, and the settings can be exotic. Love stories can differ in theme, romance novels have a general theme—“the taming of a man.” And finally, romance novels usually have happy endings while love stories are not bound by this requirement. Love stories usually end tragically or, at best, on a bittersweet note.
When asked in an interview to clarify what he meant by “love stories must use universal characters and settings,” he responded:
“Universal” means you feel as if they are real. You feel like you can know them, I don’t write stories about astronauts or CEOs of Fortune 500 companies or millionaires or movie stars . . . [People] relate to these characters, they begin to root for these characters and by the end they are moving in sync with the emotions of these characters. You need to do all of these things well to have a love story that works.
[I note here that Sparks’s definition is controversial, and I do not mean to set one person’s opinion equally against an entire association of romance writers. I’m simply saying there are different views on love and romance stories. If you search online, you can find even more views.]
This question about romance versus love story is relevant for me because my debut novel, In A World Just Right, is classified by my publisher as a romance (and a fantasy). My main character, Jonathan, spends the novel loving Kylie, but is that love the central concern of the novel? I’ve had readers answer yes and readers answer no.
When my agent signed me on, she told me my book reminded her of Gayle Forman’s If I Stay, which I took as a most excellent compliment. I think a decent comparison and contrast paper could be written on Gayle Forman’s book and mine in many ways, but I’m not sure how to define the love story/romance in either. You’re probably much more familiar with If I Stay than In A World Just Right. What do you think? Is If I Stay a romance? A love story? Both? Neither?
I think YA books have infinite, generous variations on the “romance”←→”love story” scale, however you choose to define the two ends. Maybe two ends aren’t even necessary. This is what I love about YA literature in general: just as young adults are more flexible in their thinking than adults, their entire genre is more flexible.
YALSA (the young adult branch of the American Library Association) says this about contemporary YA romance :
Contemporary romances usually include the full cycle of a romance, beginning with the meeting of the future couple. Occasionally characters will already know each other and rather than having an adorable or awkward meeting there will a trigger event that begins the change in feelings from platonic to romantic. Then, the relationship will be tested or stressed by some series of events . . . Eventually, the conflict is resolved and the characters are able to fully acknowledge their love, though this does not always result in a happily ever after.
When you hear the words “contemporary romance,” you may immediately picture pink covers with doodled hearts. Sure, some of these stories are adorably fluffy . . . Some, though, appear to focus more on the contemporary life aspect and may be more sarcastic, dry-witted, and/or out-right weird. The romance is definitely there, but it may not be the first thing that a reader thinks about. Still, others may have a heavy dose of trauma or life-threatening situations as part of the plot.
Nicholas Sparks’s “love story” and the RWA’s “romance” both fit into this much more inclusive definition, which I would argue applies to all YA books with a romantic plot. I love that YALSA’a definition doesn’t cast judgement on what kind of love story/romance is better than another. All kinds of love are served at one’s local library and bookstore, and without judging other people’s choices, readers are free to pick and choose which books to fall in love with.
What do you think? How would you define a “love story” and a “romance”? What books would you put into either category? Do these definitions apply equally to adult books and YA books? Can you think of any books whose love stories/romances defy definition?
And if you ever do read In A World Just Right, I’d love to know where it falls on your love story/romance scale. (email: firstname.lastname@example.org) ☺
Jen Brooks kindly provided a Signed ARC of In A World Just Right for #MeetTheNewbsa Rafflecopter giveaway
Check out our kick-off post to win a bundle of debut ARCs.
Meet some of the other newbies! Check out their posts and giveaways:
Remember to mark down on your calendar that May 22nd @ 8pm EST the first Meet The Newbies twitter chat is taking place using the hashtag #MTN2015