I’ve got J.F. Jenkins here today and she’s going to talk about Teen Relationships in Young Adult Literature. Take it away J.F.!
I’m going to get a little personal today. I hope you don’t mind. You don’t, right? Because today I’m going to talk about the relationships of young people in my writing.
It all started last week. I was eating dinner with my family and we were reminiscing about our respective high school adventures. Somehow, the topic of a particular ex-boyfriend came up. I guess you could say this relationship had been a very defining one in terms of my self-esteem because he had been rather verbally aggressive towards me, as well as controlling. Through it I learned just how strong I am, and what I’m willing to put up with in how other people treat me.
All that aside, when we were talking about said past experiences, my Mom looked at me and gasped.
“You put that one guy in your book!”
I just looked right back at her and laughed. “Because what happened between us is too hilarious and stupid to pass up.”
It was a story that needed to be told. And when it comes to teenage relationships, a lot of different angles need to be presented. Too many teen novels depict one extreme or the other. It’s either: let’s get married and live happily ever after dancing under a rainbow and have a million babies right after we graduate! Or he/she (usually he since they’re a book about girls for girls) is a complete and total jerk who has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.
To me, neither of those extremes is total reality. Not like I’m going to say they don’t happen, because they do happen, but painting only these extremes is starting to create a lot of frustrating standards in the dating world. Being a teenager is hard enough as it is, why add that pressure of finding your soul mate in high school too?
It took me six boyfriends to find my soul mate. Two of which were short middle school “let’s hold hands in the hallway and sit together at lunch” kind of things. The third lasted for eight months, but we didn’t do much beyond go to a movie and hang out. When the guy cheated on me and bragged about it, I kicked him to the curb fast which earned me the praise of my sister and her friends. That was an interesting story (it’ll probably make it to a book eventually too because it was just hilarious). Then there was the aforementioned abusive ex-boyfriend who did a lot of rather amusing things in retrospect. HE made it into a book, and I laugh at that new Taylor Swift song (we are never ever ever getting back together) because it pretty much tells the story of that relationship. Then there was my obligatory rebound boyfriend. Got over that fast. And then there was my husband.
No, I suppose I’m not one to talk since I did get married young, but as I told my parents back in the day: when you date enough losers, you figure out pretty quick what’s worth keeping around. But here’s the thing, when you look back at said losers you realize they’re not as horrible as you once thought. Yes, even the abusive one. No, I’m not condoning his behavior in the slightest. It was scary and more or less crazy. However, there was a reason I thought I loved him at the time. To this day, I have never met a guy who’s ever been so interested in hearing what I have to say. We would talk for hours on end. All he ever wanted to do was talk.
Through this I realized that when writing my relationships in my books, I need to keep in mind that every relationship has its good points. If there weren’t any, there wouldn’t be any reason for being together right? I also learned that every relationship has its flaws. Even with my husband, there are tons of them. In fact, there might be more flaws in this one than there were in my relationship with the abusive ex. Gasp! But they’re different kinds of flaws. The way we fight is different, for example, and so is the way we love. My husband might not listen to me talk about all my stupid obsessions, and he might not be overly sweet, and he has his moments where I want to punch him in the nose. At the same time, he completes me in a whole new way.
And these are things that are lacking in teenage media these days. Because it’s only one way or the other. You either have your perfect shiny relationship, or you have a relationship that’s horrid. The drama and angst that keeps the perfect couple from having happily ever after is always something from an outside source. Where is the perfect couple who works through their flaws together? That grows together? The relationship where the flaws never necessarily go away or are cured, but you learn to work around said flaws? Because you can’t make a person change. That’s something they have to want to do, and if they don’t change you have to decide what’s worth putting up with and what isn’t.
Where are these relationships in fiction? I don’t see them much in adult fiction either. I suppose because nobody wants to read a story about a couple who isn’t perfect or who can’t overcome their flaws. At the same time, it does impact our society. We are slowly being taught to give up as soon as things don’t go our way: in everything!
Someday I hope this changes. By putting more reality into my books, maybe someone will learn something from it and be touched. Which is why I have to give Miss Swift some credit. As much as I harp on her for writing about her life so bluntly, I do appreciate the reality of it.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us J.F. Below are a couple of J.F. Jenkins Books. You can check them out on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Astraea Press.