More and more it seems that YA fiction is focusing more on relationships and less on friendship and personal development. Yes, love is a wonderful thing, but it’s not the only relationship in someone’s life, but it’s the one we seem to put the most emphasis on. I can understand why it happens. Reading about someone falling in love is akin to falling in love yourself and falling in love is a heart-poundingly terrifying and wonderful experience.
But do you know what is also awesome? Having a friend to be there if that romance turns sour. Having that person there that you know is there for you purely because they choose to be there for you and not some chemical or physical reaction. So why is it friendship is so often brushed aside in place of a romantic relationship? Why is it girls and boys can’t be friends without there being some underlying romantic reason?*
You’re probably wondering what brought this topic to my mind. (Okay, you’re probably not, but just play along.) It actually hit me while I was watching season one of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and I realized that despite the fact that there are two perfectly attractive girls and three (and then four) perfectly attractive guys, there is very little romantic interaction between them. Yeah, Tommy and Kim might make eyes at each other every once and awhile, but that’s about it.
When Trini climbs up a mountain to save Billy, she doesn’t do it because she’s expecting a kiss at the end.** Jason lets Kim and Trini cling to his arms without the hint of anything more than a friend wanting to comfort two friends. They support each other and cheer each other on because they’re friends. And it was so WEIRD for me because I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen that.
When trying to think of boy/girl friendships in YA fiction I could only think of three: Harry/Hermione from Harry Potter, Clary/Simon from The Mortal Instruments, and Katniss/Gale from The Hunger Games. Already, I think, you can see the problem.
Harry and Hermione were never romantically involved. Harry never once hinted that he had any feelings for Hermione, and considering the entire series is from his perspective, you’d think we’d have seen something.*** Then again, we really didn’t see anything about his feelings for Ginny until it was too late, so there is that. This didn’t stop the Harry/Hermione shippers! S. S. Harmony is still one of the biggest ships out there because it seems we cannot accept that girls and guys can really be just friends.
Clary and Simon, on the other hand, actually do have a romantic relationship. Not only does this propagate the idea that boys and girls can’t be friends without one or the other having ulterior motives but it also forwards the idea that once a guy makes it into the “friend zone” they can never make it out again. Why would guys try to be the nice guy, the Simon, if all girls want is the new and exciting Jace?
Finally, Katniss and Gale probably come the closest to messing with this stereotype while completely following it at the same time. Katniss and Gale’s relationship began on mutual respect. And, you know what? I’d be totally okay with that growing into love. I think romance should stem from friendship. I think your partner should be your best friend. But it would have been so nice to just see a boy and a girl have a friendship without stupid hormones and feelings getting in the way.
I’m not saying I don’t enjoy romantic relationships in YA. In many books they turn into my favourite part of the book or even the only aspect of the book I actually enjoyed, but I think that’s because too many writers are focusing on that aspect of life. There is more to life than romance, but just try to find a popular YA novel without it.
*exception: one of them is gay, but how often homosexuality is represented in YA is probably a topic for another post and for someone much better read than me
**Also, how awesome is it that a GIRL saves the GUY for once?
*** He thinks of her as pretty, like, once or something at the Yule Ball, but really I can’t think of anything else. Can you?