Not romance novels. Romantic novels. Big difference.
This is all subjective, of course. Occasionally, the romantic novels I love do involve some sexuality, but it's a character-driven sexuality that focuses more on the emotional relationship than on specifics of who's doing what to whom. I think one of the distinguishing differences between pornography and art is whether the characters are dynamic and well-developed and 3-dimensional. In pornography, characters are merely stick figures with "parts and passions." Not having fully read any, it seems to me that all romance novels are the same--just in different costumes (you know, Scottish prince, ranch owner, business man, etc). But the novels I'm going to talk about are different. The sexuality isn't the focus of the story. It's merely a small part of it. It's a small part of all the things you feel when you love someone, even if you never "consummate" the relationship, even if nothing sexual ever happens being the two of you.
To draw on an old blog entry:
- inspires negative actions towards self and others
- characters are not individuals, but rather perfected "stick figures" with parts and sensations only
- does not attempt to reveal truth or explore the human condition (purpose is strictly arousal)
- inspires positive actions towards self and others
- characters are individuals, with flaws and conflicts and strengths
- attempts to understand the human experience by exploring some truth (purpose is examining the human experience)
For a more detailed and more articulate version of the muddled point I just tried to make, just go read that blog entry from 2009. And watch John Green defend himself as a non-pornographer in this awesome youtube video. (And try not to be distracted by the fact that he NEVER BLINKS.)
Looking for a romantic YA novel to get lost in? Here are a few recommendations! (This list is actually cloyingly romantic, so you might get a headache or something if you try to read all of these one right after another. But take your pick now and then if you're into this sort of thing.)
Anna and the French Kiss
OFFICIAL BLURB: Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris--until she meets Étienne St. Clair. Smart, charming, beautiful, Étienne has it all...including a serious girlfriend.
But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with their long-awaited French kiss?
MY REVIEW: Lovely. Perfect. Delightful. Steamy. Hopelessly gorgeously romantic. That's the best word to describe this book: ROMANTIC. First of all, it filled me with a longing for Paris, and I've never even been there. And Paris is the most romantic city in the world. Second of all, it perfectly captured that exciting romantic tension that makes love such a drug.
But here's the best part about this book: it could so easily have been fluffy teen romance with enough sexuality to appease the hormones of its readers. But it defied that categorization and was full of depth. This book is not just about a girl liking a boy in Paris. It's about families, friendships, bullying, regrets, growing up, finding a home, moving away, liking the wrong people, wanting the right people, and everything else that makes growing up so complicated.
Three cheers for Stephanie Perkins, I say.
Lola and the Boy Next Door
OFFICIAL BLURB: Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn’t believe in fashion...she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit--more sparkly, more fun, more wild--the better. But even though Lola’s style is outrageous, she’s a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighborhood.When Cricket--a gifted inventor--steps out from his twin sister’s shadow and back into Lola’s life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door
MY REVIEW: I'm such a huge Stephanie Perkins fan. This is called "Anna & The French Kiss #2," but it isn't a continuation of Anna and St. Clair's story. It's the telling of a different story, back home in the SF Bay Area. Anna is co-workers with a girl named Lola, and this is HER story. And it's every bit as thrilling and romantic and frustrating and beautiful as Anna's. Somehow Perkins captures young romance so incredibly well. I love the characters she creates, the real worlds, the genuine situations, and the messy complicated disastrous beauty that is love.
Eleanor and Park
OFFICIAL BLURB: Two misfits. One extraordinary love.Eleanor... Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough...Eleanor.
Park... He knows she'll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There's a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises...Park.
Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.
MY REVIEW: Buy me a gun rack Stacey, that's a BOOK. I read this in one sitting, as a reward for finishing NaNoWriMo, and I was simultaneously filled with despair about my own little YA novel and filled with a love of writing that inspired me to make my little novel more. These are beautiful characters and this is a beautiful story. Read it.
OFFICIAL BLURB: "Hi, I'm the guy who reads your e-mail, and also, I love you . . . "
Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder know that somebody is monitoring their work e-mail. (Everybody in the newsroom knows. It's company policy.) But they can't quite bring themselves to take it seriously. They go on sending each other endless and endlessly hilarious e-mails, discussing every aspect of their personal lives.
Meanwhile, Lincoln O'Neill can't believe this is his job now- reading other people's e-mail. When he applied to be "internet security officer," he pictured himself building firewalls and crushing hackers- not writing up a report every time a sports reporter forwards a dirty joke.
When Lincoln comes across Beth's and Jennifer's messages, he knows he should turn them in. But he can't help being entertained-and captivated-by their stories.
By the time Lincoln realizes he's falling for Beth, it's way too late to introduce himself.
What would he say . . . ?
MY REVIEW: I love Rainbow Rowell. I love everything of hers that I've read. She's so wonderfully articulate. Her writing is simple and honest, and every now and then, she throws this incredibly descriptive sentence or passage in that reminds me that metaphors EXIST. I also love the characters she creates. There's often some sadness to them, which makes the happiness they find all the more meaningful. Well done, Rainbow.
Just One Day
OFFICIAL BLURB: Allyson Healey's life is exactly like her suitcase—packed, planned, ordered. Then on the last day of her three-week post-graduation European tour, she meets Willem. A free-spirited, roving actor, Willem is everything she’s not, and when he invites her to abandon her plans and come to Paris with him, Allyson says yes. This uncharacteristic decision leads to a day of risk and romance, liberation and intimacy: 24 hours that will transform Allyson’s life.
A book about love, heartbreak, travel, identity, and the “accidents” of fate, Just One Day shows us how sometimes in order to get found, you first have to get lost. . . and how often the people we are seeking are much closer than we know.
MY REVIEW: So wonderful. This is already a huge source of inspiration to me in my own novel, but it stands on its own as a wonderful bit of writing anyway. Just as romantic as Stephanie Perkins, and full of characters I care about, who are quirky enough to be interesting and ordinary enough to be real.
Here's something interesting. The "one day" of the title is over within the first third of the book. It took me by surprise at first, but that one day is the beginning of a story that is so much bigger than "boy meets girl." I love that.
As a side-note, I've either got to stop reading wonderful books about Paris, or I've got to go to Paris.
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist
Rachel Cohn, David Levithan
OFFICIAL BLURB: It all starts when Nick asks Norah to be his girlfriend for five minutes. He only needs five minutes to avoid his ex-girlfriend, who’s just walked in to his band’s show. With a new guy. And then, with one kiss, Nick and Norah are off on an adventure set against the backdrop of New York City – and smack in the middle of all the joy, anxiety, confusion, and excitement of a first date.This he said/she said romance told by YA stars Rachel Cohn and David Levithan is a sexy, funny roller coaster of a story about one date over one very long night, with two teenagers, both recovering from broken hearts, who are just trying to figure out who they want to be – and where the next great band is playing.
Told in alternating chapters, teeming with music references, humor, angst, and endearing side characters, this is a love story you’ll wish were your very own. Working together for the first time, Rachel Cohn and David Levithan have combined forces to create a book that is sure to grab readers of all ages and never let them go.
MY REVIEW: Highly enjoyable, and poetic in that prose-y way that I love. (Plenty of swears and sexuality, just as a warning, if you'd prefer to abstain.) There's so much wonderful...HONESTY in this book. I love that.
"I mean, where do these words all come from? I sit here on this sidewalk and they just appear to me."
"Maybe they're always there and you just need to live enough life to get them to make sense."
Dash and Lily's Book of Dares
Rachel Cohn, David Levithan
OFFICIAL BLURB: “I’ve left some clues for you.
If you want them, turn the page.
If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.”
So begins the latest whirlwind romance from the bestselling authors of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions?
Rachel Cohn and David Levithan have written a love story that will have readers perusing bookstore shelves, looking and longing for a love (and a red notebook) of their own.
MY REVIEW: Utterly enchanting! I've read "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist," so I was excited to pick this one up, and I liked it just as much, if not more so. It managed to capture the excitement and uncertainty and magic and terror and joy of love. And one of the best parts about his book is that the characters are ordinary. Well, they're extraordinary in the sense that EVERYONE is a little bit extraordinary, but I couldn't pick Dash or Lily out of a lineup of typical New York teenagers. And I like that. Ordinary people often have extraordinary stories. It's not that Dash and Lily are BORING...it's the opposite. They're interesting because they are so average.
Also, I like that gay characters are present and it's not even a thing.
I'd love to hear more about Rachel Cohn and David Levithan's process in co-writing. Because it's created some great stuff.
The Fault in Our Stars
OFFICIAL BLURB: Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.
MY REVIEW: I'm in love with John Green's writing. Part of the power of this book is its departure from his usual formula. What John Green does in "The Fault in Our Stars" is address the fundamental question of "Is the risk of a relationship worth the reward?" and then raises the stakes by like a billion. Loveable characters, beautiful prose, moments that crack your heart open and moments that you can't stop smiling about. This is one of those rare books that has the power to tear you up (just a little) and then put you back together again, a little braver and a little stronger than you were before.