UPDATE: READ THE NEW EXTENSION TO THIS POST. LINK IN DESCRIPTION!
Despite the few who haven't caught on yet and still believe that "kids hate reading," we all know that these days, reading is popular.
"I'm just like Belle from Beauty in the Beast, because I love books," teenage girls are saying, while teens of both genders are sitting down to enjoy things like Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Eragon, Lord of the Rings and other more obscure titles.
This is just what we've been hoping for, isn't it? Kids and teens finally taking an interest in literature. It has finally become cool. They're thinking of themselves as rebels or nerds or hipsters, all of which are just new versions of the word cool.
Ah, finally people are spending their time having actual constructive hobbies.
...Or are they?
Here I am going to explore just how this isn't necessarily true; how sometimes your time can be better spent playing a good, mind-building video game or watching a wholesome, creative cartoon. Some books.... a frightening percentage of Young Adult books, are frankly, crap.
There would be a lot to cover, so in this deviation, I specifically want to talk about the romance... or lack thereof; and by that I mean, a shallow, twisted, hare-brained counterfeit version of love.
To start off, I will give some definitions and pair them up with words to show you what I mean and what I don't mean.
Real Love: Not a feeling, though it can produce them. The conscious choice to be selfless toward someone despite changing feelings and circumstances. Has nothing to do with yourself in any way, shape or form; i.e, "I love him because he's always there for me," etc. To love, by its nature, is to will the good of the beloved, even if it means not always giving into their wishes. To love is furthermore, to be willing to do anything to achieve the good of the beloved.
Attraction: The action or power of evoking interest, pleasure, or liking for someone or something.
Romantic Love: Romantic Love is a combination of Real Love and Attraction, though the latter may not constantly apply.
Fake Love: Attraction falsely calling itself Romantic Love, though it lacks the even more crucial element of Real Love.
Here are some examples of Romantic Love portrayed in Young Adult literature:
From Maximum Ride:
Fang turned his head and gave me one of his classic half smiles—you know, like the kind of smile Mona Lisa would have had if she were a guy. A teenage guy with longish scruffy hair, dark eyes, and a leather jacket. Mmmmm.
I love you. I love your smile, your snarl, your grin, your face when you're sleeping. I love your hair streaming out behind you as we fly, with the sunlight making it shine, if it doesn't have too much mud or blood in it. I love seeing your wings spreading out, white and brown and tan and speckled, and the tiny, downy feathers right at the top of your shoulders. I love your eyes, whether they're cold or calculating or suspicious or laughing or warm, like when you look at me.
From Heroes of Olympus:
Percy smiled at her - that sarcastic troublemaker smile that had annoyed her for years but eventually had become endearing. His sea-green eyes were as gorgeous as she remembered. His dark hair was swept to one side, like he'd just come from a walk on the beach. He looked even better than he had six months ago - tanner and taller, leaner and more muscular.
Percy threw his arms around her. They kissed and for a moment nothing else mattered. An asteroid could have hit the planet and wiped out all life, and Annabeth wouldn't have cared.
Besides being puke-invokingly cheesy, what else is wrong with these?
Well... If you don't mind the cheesiness, not too much, right? It's not so much what they are, as what they're lacking (I'm talking about the books as wholes right now, not the individual paragraphs). The thing is that, ALL the "romantic" parts are merely shallow paragraphs like this. That's it. No mention of anything besides attraction whatsoever. The focus is completely selfish... "I can't be happy without you! I love you for ME."
In Hollow City, the new sequel to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, the main character, Jacob admits that he only went on the adventure because, "I love you, you idiot," and then goes on to literally tell us that he didn't do it because of "some stupid sense of duty." He selfishly does it to get satisfaction from being with his girl, not because he's overly concerned with doing the right thing, or any of that nonsense.
Then to make it even worse, after his girl convinces him that he "could never be with her," he decides to go home. Note: she doesn't convince him that she'll be all right... just the opposite. They're in great danger, hence the reason she wants him to leave. So what does he do? Insist that he stays and helps her anyway? Nope, he decides to look out for himself. No relationship here, nothing to be gained, right?
In the Mark of Athena, Percy admits that he still feels like he "doesn't really understand Annabeth," even though they're in a relationship. Huh? Are relationships just things you get in as a way of getting to know each other or should they be with someone you're seriously sure you want to be committed to? Maybe it makes sense to go on some dates to learn about each other, but why do they need to keep kissing and holding hands and garbage like that if they still apparently "don't really understand each other?" Oh yeah, because Percy thinks Annabeth is cute and Annabeth thinks Percy is gorgeous, and that's all they need.
Maximum Ride might be the worst. Her love interest, Fang (who, might I point out, feels exactly like an OC made up by an unoriginal teenage girl from fanfiction.net) is supposedly "her best friend." Unfortunately, we wouldn't know since the author only TELLS us this, but doesn't really show them interacting enough in the story. What we do get are plenty of paragraphs like the one in the example above. That's the height of their love as far as we're shown. Pretty sad.
Now, I'm not saying that in these stories the characters would never try to help each other out, it's just that there is a definite lack of emphasis on the selfless, Real Love side of their Romantic Love, and a HUGE over emphasis on attraction. It's shallow, pure and simple.
Things like these and Twilight (yes, I am comparing the romance aspect of these series to Twilight, sorry) are what give teenagers crappy ideas of being in love. When they base their relationship on the mere selfishness of "well, we both have crushes on each other," and get wrapped up in using the other person like a drug for their own pleasure, forgetting completely about the selfless part, their relationships are NOT going to be truly meaningful, however Percy and Annabeth's might be portrayed.
It's getting tiresome to read about twerpy teenagers and their side-plot soap-operas -"Do I really love them? I just don't know. Gee, I'm SO confused over how I feel about him!" - when the answer is really so simple. Instead of looking at how they selfishly FEEL, why don't they ask themselves what they are or aren't willing to DO for that person?
One of the worst love triangles I've ever read about would have to be from the Kane Chronicles where Sadie has to choose between either Anubis (who is conveniently in hot, teenage boy form for some reason), and some guy with no personality called Walt. Guess who she ends up with at the end? Well, the two boys end up turning into the same person and sharing a body, so she conveniently gets to date both at the same time! What a happy ending. Sadie gets as much pleasure as she can, all wrapped into one. How ideal! Now they can BOTH comfort her whenever she's crying in a corner. Selflessness? What's that?
And what about the Hunger Games, Catching Fire? Katniss has been traumatized by being put in the Hunger Games, a horrendous, evil, scarring event where she finds herself having to kill other children. If she doesn't marry Peeta, the government could get angry and kill her family and loved ones. A war could break out at any moment. You know the story.
And then, this shallow MORON named Gale starts getting mad, because... she doesn't feel like being in a romantic relationship with him? I can see he's really looking out for her best interests there. Oh wait, but he has a FEELING that he loves her. Real Love absolutely wouldn't be saying, "you know, Katniss. I can see that there's a war going on and people are getting killed here. Maybe I can reassess my priorities and not worry about being girlfriend and boyfriend at the moment. Clearly you have a lot on your plate, so I'll selflessly step aside, which would really be best for you in this situation."
But no. He acts like a clown about it and actually gets angry. Now if love evidently isn't looking out for each other's best interests here, then what is it? Giving each other kisses and holding hands? That sounds like a swell idea, Gale. You must be so disappointed that you're unable to do those things in the middle of a crisis.
How about Teresa and Thomas from the Maze Runner series? The book starts out with the guy having no memories of anything whatsoever, and over the short period of time that passes somewhere around the last half of the book where the girl makes a few appearances, they're suddenly madly in love by book two.
Not only was their display of so-called love shallow in the story, but what also showed through was the bizarre desperation with which the romance was thrown in. Maybe considering Romantic Love such an essential is what leads us to water it down in an attempt to make it look easier to develop than it really is.
You can see this happening in real life too.
At schools, sometimes what happens is that kids get bored. When you're all stuck together in a building for that long every day, there are going to be certain phenomena... such as inventing a little game called Dating.
Let me introduce some more words I'm going to use (note: they are my own definitions, not necessarily traditional ones. I'm going to use them to help further illustrate my points).
Being in Love: When two people of equal eligibility have Romantic Love for each other and make conscious decisions to be committed to each other.
Dating: Not to be confused with the act of going on dates, Dating is a twisted, lesser version of Being in Love, in which, two of any people who feel like it are attracted to each other and make the conscious/-ish decision to show physical displays of affection (and maybe text each other a little more).
Fan-mance: A false type of love, derived from the words "romance" and "fan-fiction" (seeing as fan-fictions are a good place to look for it). Can be either a disproportionate mixture of Attraction compared to Real Love, or just Attraction on its own. Unlike plain Fake Love, Fan-mance can come in all shapes and sizes. Whether it be furries with multiple partners or animu characters that are married to objects, this "love" is rarely looking out for the good of their love interest. Pleasure is key.
Fan-Fiction: A fantasy reality (differing from a mere fantasy world) where universal principles of logic do not apply, resulting in strings of words that can give the illusion of making sense when in reality are mere nonsense despite what we apply them to. Example: An object can remain blue, even if it stops being blue. (Assume for the sake of the example that "being blue" has the same intrinsic meaning in both halves of the sentence). Another example: You can love someone merely by using them for pleasure or other personal means.
I'm sorry if I ripped on any books unfairly. Some of them I read a while ago, so I apologize if anything I remembered was inaccurate. I do, however stand by my point and that in general, romance from YA books is nothing but rubbish. Be careful what you read.... it can rot your brain.