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Don’t be the Problem: Young Adult Fiction Romance in 2023

By Rachael Balke

I started work on Leza of the Alpha Line when I was seventeen years old. Because of life, I didn’t finish the story until I was twenty-nine. I get the unique experience of growing up while writing Young Adult fiction, and it has opened my eyes to a uniquely YA problem. Problematic themes pushed onto young impressionable minds, especially in the romance department.

Unhealthy Young Adult Relationship Ideals

While the story remained the same, if you look at my first draft versus the final product, it looks like two completely different people wrote it. And, in essence, that’s true. I had to completely rewrite interactions between Anna (the fourteen-year-old littler sister) and Evander (the older brother’s best friend who is a twenty-year-old grown man) because as an aged reader those scenes just gave me the ickies!

Growing up, I was taught through media that teenage crushes on grown people was perfectly ok. Now you can’t stop a teen from crushing on a hottie, but said hottie should definitely not be doing anything with the teen’s advances. But how many songs talk about taking seventeen-year-olds home from clubs? How many movies show that it’s okay to date your older brother’s friend?

Problematic Past Influences

Without naming names there was a book series I was OBSESSED with as a teenager. The series came to an end at twelve books, and I ate them up. In those books, the main character, whose age ranges from fifteen to seventeen through the series, has a relationship with one of her teachers. At the time, I thought that was perfectly normal! It wasn’t until I reread the books as an adult did I see just how bad these themes were (the character’s other relationships are also very toxic and not healthy) .

Or another book series that swept the nation where the boyfriend isolates the main character from friends and family, emotionally manipulates her, straight up kidnaps her, and is extremely possessive of her. These things were presented as reasonable because the main character loved him, and we, the reader, are told that he loves her.

Takeaway

I truly believe if we want to protect young readers then we, as writers, need to model what healthy relationships look like while still romanticizing young love.

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