YA Literature: The Authority on First Love?

One of the reasons I think I enjoy reading YA so much is because it captures so perfectly the idea of first love. Sure, you have your extreme situations and unusual circumstances: Twilight’s vampire/werewolf feud, Divergent’s faction war, the Hunger Games, etc. But around all that the book usually hones in on a main character’s first real romantic relationship.

In The Fault in Our Stars Hazel falls for Augustus, her first boyfriend. In Anna and the French Kiss Anna learns the difference between a crush and true love when she develops feelings for her friend Etienne St. Clare. And in Fangirl Levi worms his way into Cath’s life the same way he draws her out of herself and into the world. We see these themes of first love repeated over and over again in young adult novels because that first love experience, and the idea of that first love as being the only love, is such a unique part of growing up.

As a twenty-something I know more people who are looking for relationships than people who are in them. Everyone wants to be in love, to be happy and settled in, but so very few are. Most would also admit they’d never truly been in love or, if they’d had a past long term relationship, that they weren’t sure of what they’d had. It’s a generational culture shift in which people my age relate more closely to YA book characters than they do to those in adult fiction novels, specifically when it comes to romance.

Myself and other twenty-something adults are drawn to these books, despite the intended readership age, because, like the characters in the book, we’re experiencing these feelings for the first time. (Or, if we’re not, then we’re desperately hoping to.) Though the characters are several years our junior, we see our own hopes and feelings reflected in them. We share that same fresh-faced hopefulness, that same stomach of butterflies, and it’s reassuring to read about characters who embody those qualities that most closely reflect ourselves, no matter what their age.

Adult fiction, while it does often contain romantic undertones, always seems to be glazed over with a layer of bitterness, melancholy, or discontentment. It digs too deep into the relationship, analyzing it at every stage instead of just capturing the feelings with the enthusiasm of youth. That doesn’t make it bad literature, but it does make the overall experience less fun. And as anyone knows, the Millennial generation is determined to have fun.

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