I recently came across this post by writer Anna Staniszewski about whether romance is necessary in YA novels. The site she writes for, The Enchanted Inkpot, is technically dedicated to middle grade and young adult fantasy, but I think that this debate is just as relevant to historical fiction. Looking at all the YA historical novels I’ve encountered recently, I’ve noticed that every single one includes some kind of romantic element. I wouldn’t exactly call romance a requirement, but it’s very, very prevalent.
Usually, I don’t mind romance in historical fiction – it certainly interests many teenage readers, girls in particular, so it may help to draw them to a book they might otherwise overlook. I also think that romance can be a nice way to show that some human experiences, like falling in love, are relevant to any time period. The one thing that does frustrate me about romance, though, is that some publishers and booksellers overemphasize it at the expense of the historical elements. A few of the book stores in my area have a separate shelf for romance in the YA section, and I recently realized that I might be missing some great historical novels that the bookseller has chosen to place on that shelf because of their heavy romantic elements. On the one hand, I’d prefer not to have to dig through a stack of contemporary romance novels to uncover perfectly good historical fiction…but on the other, I do realize the average teenage girl is much more likely to buy a book labeled “romance” than one labeled “historical fiction.” Unfortunately, I’m not sure if there’s a way to strike a balance between marketing a book as historical fiction and marketing it as romance to keep both of us happy.
Do you think romance is a necessity in young adult historical novels? Is there a good way to balance romance and history, particularly in the way that books are marketed and sold?
Melissa Luttmann is Associate Editor for Young Adult History/Historical Fiction at Wonders & Marvels.