This was originally a comment I made on the HuffPost article “Lovesick and Tired: Unnecessary Romance in YA,” but it encapsulates my thoughts on romance and relationships within YA that I’m reposting it here.
YA literature is, at its heart, about relationships. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have to be romantic ones. Some of the most beautiful YA I’ve read didn’t center on romance. One of my faves in recent years is The Sweetness of Salt by Cecilia Galante, and the core relationship in that book was between two sisters.
Consider many of the great teen stories of the 80s: Goonies, The Outsiders, Stand by Me, The Breakfast Club. Romantic elements were on the periphery but not the essential relationships that fueled the story. They’ve become classics because they resonated with their audience, not because the love interest was hot.
As an agent, I want to find more YA that focuses on relationships that aren’t necessarily romantic. Stories about mothers & daughters and fathers & sons, about a group of friends or the lack of such connections, about siblings or cousins. Essentially, I want to find books that capture the heart of the teen experience without regard to whether the characters hook up or not.
Don’t get me wrong; I love a good romance. But it isn’t the most important aspect of a YA novel—or at least it doesn’t have to be. It’s not about the kissing, but the emotional connection teens feel for each other and those around them. That is what sets YA apart and what pulls in readers.