RT Booklovers Convention 2013: A Kiss Is Never Just A Kiss - Romance In Modern YA

As Young Adult books become more popular, an increasing number of authors are entering the balancing game that is YA. Writers must please the raging hormones of their readers while understanding the responsibility they have to younger readers and managing the expectations of their parents. At the recent RT Booklovers Convention in Kansas City, authors Josephine AngeliniGayle Forman, Cynthia Hand, Tara Hudson, and Aprilynne Pike held a panel to discuss trends, attitudes, and the future of the genre. 

Panelists (from left to right): Aprilynne Pike, Josephine Angelini, Cynthia Hand, Gayle Forman and Tara Hudson

One thing that the panel made clear was that YA romance is different than traditional romance novels. As Gayle Forman stated, “You might have three hundred pages of tension and one kiss.” This can be seen in many teen centered books — lots of longing and lots of yearning can fit between several hundred pages of a Young Adult novel. Author Josephine Angelini says that this tension, found in both teen lit as well as other forms of popular entertainment like old movies, is popular because “falling in love is always magical."

'Sex sells' may be a common saying, however, this is not always the case in YA titles. Many of the panelists said that they have felt resistance from editors and publishing houses for having sex scenes in their books. Cynthia told the audience that, “I haven’t had push back, but my characters don’t have sex they just talk about it and think about it … a lot.” Intimate situations can be a tricky topic when your readers are so young, which led Josephine to ask the others on the panel, “How do you write about boning?” To which Tara responded, “It’s hard.” (Cue laughter from the audience.)

Gayle was quite clear that she will include sex in her books, but only when the act is character-driven and true to the story. She thinks it is important to show that having sex is not always a bad decision, but she always tries to write responsible, realistic sex scenes.

And speaking of steamy scenes, the topic of new adult books was certainly addressed by the panelists. Differences between YA and NA were discussed, and the general consensus of the authors was that new adult focuses on an older age group, characters primarily in their 20s. These books also tend to be heavily influenced by the idea of 'arrested development' that can be seen in today’s society, examples that were given included continuing to live at home with parents even after graduation and being under-employed. Cynthia was hesitant to give a definition on New Adult lit because she feels that the genre is still trying to figure out what it should be. But in order for these types of books to continue to flourish, Gayle said that new adult books need to move away from common tropes and authors need to expand their plots. (Which is good advice for any genre, really.)

Another new trend that the panelists spoke about was the emergence of LGBTQ characters in YA. Several of the authors said that they have had gay secondary characters in their books, but no one had yet to feature a same sex couple as the main protagonists in a story. Aprilynne noted that sales will ultimately determine whether or not readers will see more of these characters and if they will begin to have starring roles in teen lit. She made sure to note that if people are buying them then more will be produced. 

Josephine told the audience an experience she had when she had a male character that towards the end of her book starts to talk about his boyfriend and how her editor felt that she needed to include more of a 'coming out' moment or reveal the fact that he was gay earlier in the book. Josephine opposed this idea stating, “I wouldn’t do this for a straight character, why would I do it for a gay one?”

Gay or straight, teenagers or 20-somethings, one thing is for sure — Young Adult novels are here to stay. However, in the ever changing genre, authors definitely need to stay true to themselves and away from trends in order to appeal to teen (and adult) readers. 

Interested in learning more about YA and NA literature. Check out our Everything Young Adult Page. And if you want a closer look at the RT Booklovers Convention, we have a complete overview of the event here