Team Romance or Team Independent: Teens Chime in on Love in Dystopian Fiction

BookendsCindy and Lynn: Lynn missed a wild middle-school book club meeting a few weeks ago. I believe it started during Jackson’s rave review of the recent Printz honor title Scythe by Neal Shusterman. This 8th-grade reader loved the book, but commented that he really doesn’t need romance in his dystopian books. “Romance is fine,” he said. “Just leave it in the romance books.”

A few years ago, when Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series was popular, teens were picking Team Edward or Team Jacob for Bella’s love interest, and Hunger Games brought on cheering for Peeta or Gale. But many of our students weren’t feeling the love. Anna (6th grade) agreed with Jackson and wrote a short essay on the topic. Here’s an excerpt:

Books are like an alternate world for many people. They allow them to escape into a place without hardships, loss, and grief. Books let people wander into an endless realm of beautiful characters, incredible plots, and amazing places. There is only one thing, though, that is wrong with some of these science fiction, fantasy, and action-adventure novels. One thing that could wreck the entire story. That is. . . romance.

[T]he plot is racing along with speed, action, and excitement when suddenly—HIT THE BRAKES! It stops completely, some people kiss, and then it starts racing along again. Why is that even there? It just pops out of nowhere, and it’s not even an interesting part in the first place. It’s COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY AND A WASTE OF PAPER, INK, AND THE READER’S TIME.

Our interest piqued by Anna’s strong convictions, we invited our middle-school students to give us their opinions on romance. Some of our students agreed with Jackson and Anna and thought it got in the way of the plot or the action.

“I wish that in books, the protagonist wouldn’t fall in love with other main characters. I feel like the author wastes so much potential in creating these types of conflicts, when they could instead make a conflict that is less cliché, and hopefully, pertains more to the genre of the book. Keep romance in the romance genre!”
—Emily, 7th grade

“I feel that romance does add an interesting element, but I feel almost every book has some sort of romance in it and that kinda ruins the story. I feel like people are running out of ways to back the story out and they just add romance.”
—April, 6th grade

“Well, almost all books have romance, so we don’t need any more. It is totally pointless, has nothing to do with the plot, and can wreck the whole book for someone.”
—Anna, 6th grade

“Romance is already its own genre, so why does it have to come and ruin other books! Not all great books have to have romance involved.”
—Juni, 6th grade

Other middle-school students were less romance-averse:

“I think that romance should be included in all books. Romance keeps the reader engaged in the story through the boring parts. Romance is a natural part of life, so it also should be a part of books!”
—Elyse, 7th Grade

“I think that romance belongs in books. This stirs up the story, especially if it’s between two boys and a girl, this creates drama, adding small details about what happens before the climax of a book. This shows the character’s FEELINGS. And those are important to know when you read a book: what is the character thinking?
—Raighen, 6th grade

“I think most romantic storylines add to the story’s interest level. One really good example is Matched, which is a dystopian based book but is all about romance. It makes the story intense and adds to the dystopian feel by the society controlling her love life.”
—Timberlyn, 8th grade

“I feel as if romance adds a certain element to the story. Without romance, the story (in some cases) could drag on. Also, romance gets readers excited, especially in dystopian books.”
—Sidney, 6th grade

“I feel romance helps the story in a way and that it helps readers get even more excited for things.”
—Jasmin, 7th grade

Seventh-grader Matthew sums up these opinions quite succinctly: “Romance in books is fine, as long as it doesn’t become a major plot point.”

We’re guessing that high school students might have a different opinion than some of our younger students, and we’d love to hear from them. We’d like your opinion, too. Team Romance or Team Independent?



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

1 Comment on "Team Romance or Team Independent: Teens Chime in on Love in Dystopian Fiction"

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  1. Cindy says:

    This is something I’ve been going on about for a while, so I was happy to read this article. Not every book needs a romantic subplot. Not every life has a romantic subplot AND THAT’S OK! I think it’s especially important to help kids understand that. You don’t have to have a boyfriend/girlfriend all the time, and not every one meets their soulmate and lives happily ever after. Some of us actually manage to live quite happily on our own. There’s nothing wrong with romance novels, and nothing wrong with romantic subplots in other novels. Romance is a part of life. But it’s not part of every life, and it doesn’t have to be in every, single novel! I find it hard to escape, to the point that it seems ridiculous. I’d like to read a good thriller, dystopia, or fantasy without a romantic subplot, but they are hard to find.

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