Relationship Diversity in YA

Last week was super busy and productive AND I still made time to read for fun. I feel like I deserve a medal (though the reading for fun kind of takes care of that). I revised six chapters and line edited all 50+ pages on Sunday. But the best part of all?

I got to read REBEL BELLE by the hilarious and super talented Rachel Hawkins.

As I read this super fun novel (which I highly recommend to YA lovers), I was struck by the diversity in relationships included in the story and thought I'd share my thoughts.

Normally when I talk about relationship diversity, I'm usually talking about the inclusion of relationships that fall outside of the typical heterosexual, monogamous mold most common to YA literature. But today, inspired by REBEL BELLE, I'd like to talk about relationship progression.

Most YA novels (at least from what I've read over the years) that include a romantic subplot tend to focus on the progression from first meeting (or pre-relationship if it's a friends to lovers story) to that first kiss and ultimately whether they end up together. There's obviously nothing wrong with that story arc, but relationships are about more than just the "getting there" part. The drama and conflict of relationships doesn't end when the relationship begins.

Enter REBEL BELLE.

At the start of the novel, Harper Price, our southern belle main character, is already in a relationship with her Perfect Boyfriend. They've been dating for two years, and she couldn't be happier. Except that we learn, over the course of the novel, that things aren't as perfect as Harper thought. The passion is gone and she's questioning whether the weddings bells should toll rather than if they will.

I won't go any farther into their story arc to avoid spoilers, but I loved this take on high school relationships. As a teen, I never read a story where a character had to examine her relationship and see if it's still a good fit, especially when everything is perfect on paper.

As someone who has struggled with knowing when it's time to end things, I really appreciated going through that thought process (and emotional process!) within the safety of a book. I wish I had this book when I was a teen. I can't say for sure how it would have changed things for me, but I think it would have at least shown me that the ending of a relationship does not necessarily equal a failure on either party.

And so, I say thank you to Rachel Hawkins, both as a reader and a writer. As a reader, I'm grateful to have thoroughly enjoyed the novel (seriously folks, she has an amazing YA voice, and the novel was fun, funny, and clever) and to have seen my first romantic arc that started with the MC in a longer term relationship. As a writer, I'm thankful to have been reminded to consider the diversity of relationship progression in my own writing.

-Isabel

You tell me: have you read a book that starts with an MC already in a romantic relationship? What did you like or dislike about that story arc? Leave me a comment and let me know!