Discussion

Why YA Needs to Portray Healthy Relationships

Today is time for another discussion =D

I’m about to write about the importance of portraying healthy relationships in YA. The reason why I’m writing about YA, is because I feel the lack of healthy relationships in YA, much more than in the adult genre. Sure, sometimes adult books mess up too and portray something unhealthy or incorrectly, but I feel that to be a common occurrence in young adult books. So here is my discussion!

Familial Relationships

YA disturbingly lacks the portrayal of healthy, regular familial relationships, in its quest to write about broken, sad, or desolate family lives. I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve picked up a YA book and it turns out that the family is broken or their is no family life of the characters. Of course, I’m in no way belittling people who actually have such families, but I would love to see some normal, happy, loving families once in a while too. Not every family has an abusive father, or an addicted mother, or an evil stepmother, or dead parents, or evil foster-parents, or families with other tragedies. Happy families exist too and I’d love to see more of those.

The reason why portraying such happy, normal families is important, is because it is realistic and shatters the notion that you need to have a sad, broken past/family life in order to have a ‘deep’ or ’emotional’ story. I feel like there is this notion in fiction that the sadder the character’s life, the more depth and intensity the character attains, which I don’t understand. Characters who have tragic family lives are more loved, more sympathised with, the reason why authors normally write such families.

However, I’d love to see the portrayal of normal, happy family lives.

Romantic Relationships

I’m going to steer clear of topics like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey in here, because more or less we all know how those books portray harmful relationships in a ‘romantic’ light. Now, I always feel there are two types in which authors portray harmful/incorrect relationships in YA books.

  1. By portraying seventeen year-olds falling into insta-love and then suddenly realizing that ‘they’re meant to be’. It’s harmful because it’s unreal. I just graduated high school and I don’t know if things happened differently fifty years ago, but now, in the present time, falling into soulmate-ish, deep, ‘movie-love’ and acting like it is very, very, very unrealistic. Of course, love exists. But amplifying everything to an insane level is harmful because it heightens young girls’expectations. An easy example would be when I was young, I’d read all these YA fantasy novels where the hero would vow to be ready to give his life away for his heroine and I’d construe that as a necessity of a ‘romantic’ relationship. Which, I can see now is harmful to have such notions.
  2. So many harmful actions are portrayed as romantic in YA novels. And at an young age, what you read becomes the norm and if you read harmful things, you’ll probably expect those things to be normal. Which, exactly is why YA needs to portray healthy romantic relationships.

Friendships

YA needs to portray better friendships, period.

  1. Female-female friendships – because not all girls are bitches to each other. There is a suprisingly huge lack of friendships between girls which are happy, healthy and congenial. I feel that there are way too many YA books where the author portrays the main female character to be ‘special’ and ‘better than the other girls which surrounds her’ and thus she has no real girl friends. That needs to change big time.
  2. Male-female friendships – Most YA books portray male-female relationships as romantic, which really pisses me off. I would love to see some platonic male-female relationships, mainly because they very much exist and they’re fun to read about.

So that was it! I really hope YA improves on its portrayal of all these relationships because it is important and realistic.

What about you? What are some relationships you would like to see in YA books? Do you have recommendations for books which portray the relationships I mentioned above?

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28 thoughts on “Why YA Needs to Portray Healthy Relationships

  1. I agree. In my eyes, the YA genre is in a bit of a stagnant position. I can see where it’s trying to change, mostly with diversity, but it’s all the same regardless. There may be change approaching, but thinking on it now, I have yet to find a characters with some type of healthy, realistic relationship. Never found a male-female relationship when they’re just friends. Maybe I haven’t read enough.

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    1. Yes, it’s in a bit of a stagnant position. Yes, the diversity and its appreciation is excellent, but everything else is pretty much same. And yes, there need to be more healthy relationships in YA.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I agree, to an extent. I think there needs to be more of all of the kinds of books that you mentioned above, but I also think it’s important to have a diverse range of stories. I wrote a blog post earlier this year about the importance of diversity in terms of storylines, not just the characters’ race, sexuality, etc. So I think it’s important to have stories that cover all kinds of relationships, both healthy and unhealthy because both can be realistic and portray the wide range of lives people may lead.

      I also think readers need to be critical enough to understand that what they are reading may not be how it is in real life (ie. not all relationships are insta-love, everlasting relationships that start in high school). I would like to think the average reader is aware enough to know that.

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      1. Yes, but a lot of YA books are read by very young people. I myself read the Twilight books when I was 11 and at that time, the unhealthy relationship portrayed got stuck in my mind as ‘romantic’. Of course, such relationships do exist, but I think the author should make the effort to depict clearly in the book how the relationship is unhelathy and undesirable (I’m talking about unhealthy romantic relationships). As for familial and friendly relationships, there is a shocking abundance of unhealthy, or desolate lives, whereas I think healthy, happy and normal lives should be equally portrayed.

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        1. That’s true, but I don’t think we should necessarily have healthy relationships portrayed in every single book either. That would get pretty boring to read. And in the context of a story, it’s hard sometimes to call out the problems while still fitting the book. For example, even if someone in Twilight had told Bella that what Edward was doing wasn’t romantic or normal behaviour, I doubt she would have listened.

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          1. Definitely healthy relationships in every single book would be boring. We just need more varitey – both healthy and unhealthy relationships portrayed. I do agree with your view – of how pointing out problematic stuff in a book is not always possible, but that still doesn’t justify letting a problematic book fall into the hands of someone young or inexperienced enough to not be able to point out the problems.

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            1. But I don’t see how the author can control that. Once the book has been published, it is (or should be) freely available to everyone. That would come down to the parents’ responsibility to monitor what their child is reading, and make sure to talk to them about it.

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            2. But don’t you think authors should take care not to portray problematic things as ‘romantic’ or ‘normal’. Write about abusive relationships, but in an accurate way. Making it like Twilight and showing absuive things to be ‘romantic’ is wrong. However, I recently read Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios which portrays a very absuive relationship, but in the light in which it should be portrayed.

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            3. Absolutely, but it is also the reader’s responsibility to be critical and not take everything they are reading at face value. Obviously that can be harder for younger readers. In the case of Twilight specifically, I honestly never got the impression that Stephanie Meyer thought there was anything wrong with Edward and Bella’s relationship, so it’s also a matter of how the author views it. If they see certain kinds of behaviour as romantic, they will write it that way.

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            4. Just because the author is viewing it a particular way does not take away the problem from the representation. We all have different opinions, agreed, but sometimes, something which is wrong is wrong no matter how one views it.

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            5. What I’m trying to say is if Stephanie Meyer (just as an example since we’ve been talking about Twilight, I have no idea if this is her actual opinion) views Edward’s behaviour as genuinely romantic, I don’t think she would represent it as creepy/inappropriate instead. It is down to the reader to decide how to interpret it, and based on reviews I’ve seen of Twilight over the years, it seems pretty divided.

              Let’s take another example — 50 Shades of Grey. To be fair, I have not read it but the segments I have seen of both the book and the movie, including a full plot summary, the relationship seems very abusive. Yet some people would also argue that it is romantic.

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            6. Well, yes I would agree that things depend on the point of view showed. But I still don’t consider that to be justifiable of portraying something problematic.

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            7. But my point is who decides what is problematic? I agree that it’s not good for an author to intentionally portray problematic content, although I would qualify that a bit and say it depends on their purpose. Using problematic content is sometimes necessary to tell the story (ie. a racist character, to show how horrible racism is). In certain other cases, it does seem a bit more subjective. For example, many people agree that the relationship is Twilight is problematic and abusive. But what about books that portray cheating in relationships? A lot of people would agree that it’s problematic to show that kind of behaviour being rewarded, but I’m not sure people would necessarily agree that it should not be in books at all.

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            8. I don’t have a problem with portrayal of problematic things, just with their portrayed as ‘acceptable’. Of course, cheating should be portrayed because it happens in real life (I’ve even written a post on it) but cheating to be shown as ‘okay’ or ‘acceptable’ or even ‘romantic’ is wrong. At least by my opinion :)

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            9. Right, but problematic relationships that exist in real life are sometimes viewed as acceptable by the people involved in them. There are unfortunately so many cases where people don’t recognize they are being abused until it is too late.
              I don’t mean to come across like I’m being argumentative. It’s just a topic that I’ve been struggling with for a while now — how to handle problematic content, who decides what is problematic, etc.

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      2. Yes, that is important. I think it’s just a little too one-sided right now. Awareness is also very important. You have it right on the money with your explanation, perception, and perspective of the situation.

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  2. YES to all of these. I agree with everything you said here. Especially the girl-on-girl hate needs to stop. I mean, I couldn’t picture my life without my girlfriends! I keep wishing YA female characters would experience the same thing (obviously it’s okay to only have male friends too) I’d love to see more friendships in general

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  3. This is such a great and important post. I agree with you, we do need so much more healthy portrayals of relationships in young adult books. I’m always saddened by how families are portrayed in books. It’s true, single parents and all of the complicated, abusive and else, relationships in families happen – but there are also parents that are together for a long time, happy, protective of their children, present in their lives and giving curfew and stuff. We need more of that for sure!
    Also with you on the romantic relationships, it is crazy how often messy relationships are portrayed, while it would be so important to emphasize on healthy relationships based on mutual love and comprehension and overall appreciation for one another, consent and everything that goes with it.
    AND YES FEMALE POSITIVE FRIENDSHIPS please, and male : female friendships. Alice Oseman’sbooks have great m/f friendships :D

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    1. Yep! Good, healthy, loving families need to be portrayed too since they very much exist. Also, there is an extreme importance of portraying healthy relationships so that young teenagers learn from them and be happy. And thanks for the recommendation on the m/f friendships!

      Liked by 1 person

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