With The Fault in Our Stars about to fall on cinemas across the world, fans of the beloved novel are queueing up and Kleenex is cleaning up. I haven’t decided if I can or should go yet. At first, I was worried because I love this book so much and couldn’t bear another Golden Compass horror. But even John Green has blessed the film and praised its stars. Now my hesitation is more about preserving my mental health than my sense of literary integrity. I still have not fully recovered from Les Miserables.
The film has also generated a fair amount of discussion on great YA fictional couples. Who are the great YA fictional couples? What makes them so memorable for us? How do they manage to stir our hearts and other parts so thoroughly? I like a good love story as much as anyone and probably far more than some. Love makes for rich motivation and objective in a story. Romance gets the reader on your protagonist’s side. For young adult readers, it can also have a profound impact on developing their understanding of emotion, sexuality and their sense of self.
Previously in this blog, I have expressed emphatically the need for sex-positive heroines in YA fiction. I made vague reference to a few characters whom I believe embody those qualities in a way which nurtures young readers. Now I want to explore which couples have made a real impact on me as a keen reader of YA fiction. Some of these characters I discovered when I was, shall we say, a part of the target audience and some have come to me as an adult fan of YA/Cross-over books. My favourite twelve YA fiction couples.
MINOR SPOILER ALERTS
If you have not read this trilogy run don’t walk to your nearest book store now because it’s a life-changer. The relationship between Will and Lyra builds slowly, beautifully over the course of two books. When they eventually get together it’s sweet, tender joyful, awkward, sexy. And if you want tragic agony forget Romeo and Juliet or Hazel and Augustus—these two take the prize.
Eighteen-year-old me would have flatly refused to read this book. I would never have picked up Twilight either. My adolescent logic would have gone something like this: Everyone is reading it, Everyone is talking about, Everyone has probably just seen the film and not even touched the book, Everyone is a lying poseur ergo I will not read it. Eighteen-year-old me would have missed out because teen me didn’t always realise that some things are popular for a reason. This is popular for a reason. Yes, it is heart-breaking and I sobbed many times—which is embarrassing if you’re listening to an audiobook whilst shopping in Sainsburys. But it’s also funny and honest and so very smart. Run don’t walk.
What? Harry & Cho? Not Ron & Hermione? Not Harry & Ginny? Nope. Harry & Cho. Not because I think they are such a great couple but because I have seldom read a more honest portrayal of first love. Harry crushes on Cho from afar for three books, cursing Cedric for getting there first. Then HURRAH Cedric dies and Cho is single. The course of their relationship is unflinchingly truthful. Once Harry gets Cho he really isn’t sure what to do with her. She has her idea of what a Couple should be and Harry, who clearly has not read the Teen Romance Handbook, is delightfully clueless. From their first damp kiss under the mistletoe to their cringe-worthy first date in Madame Puddifoot’s Tea Shop to their break-up that was not so much a break-up as a fade-out. Totally, hilariously honest. Ron & Lavender are a close second.
Not strictly speaking a YA novel, but I read it when I was thirteen and again at sixteen and eighteen and twenty-five. Definitely one of my favourite fantasy novels with one of my favourite couples at the heart of it. What do I love about Colin & Maggie? I love that they are friends first. I love that Colin starts off with traditional ideas of feminine beauty which Maggie challenges. I love that Maggie wins. I love their love scene—both of them are ill, unwashed, imprisoned. What better way to kill time and keep warm in an ice dungeon?
Tiffany Aching is one of my top five YA heroines. She is someone who is quite thoroughly ordinary, but shapes her life, her world and herself into something extraordinary. For three books, readers think Tiffany is destined for the baron’s son Roland—and they make an interesting couple. But Preston is just perfect: funny, far too clever and brave. My favourite human traits in one package. I love that Preston chases Tiffany. I love that it takes her ages to get it. I love the last line of the book.
Love triangles are a classic trope of YA fiction: Edward-Bella-Jacob; Jace-Clary-Simon; Peeta-Katniss-Gale. You can keep them because Eponine-Marius-Cosette beats all. Again, not a YA target novel but I remember Les Miz from stage and page at the age of seventeen. Eponine: first inhabitant of The Friend Zone. Oh how I identified with her. On My Own was my go-to shower song. Who am I kidding? It still is. And, unlike Jacob, Simon or Gale she goes all the way for the one she loves.
7) Clary & Jace from The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare
Don’t judge me…ok, go ahead and judge me…but I liked this couple most when I thought they were brother and sister. It made their romance far more dangerous and naturally far sexier. Forbidden love doesn’t get much more forbidden. As a couple, I like the fact that things start off damsel in distress-knight swoops in to save the day but evolve into something far more equitable as their relationship grows. He saves her, she saves him, he kidnaps her, she plunges an angelic sword through his chest then they save the world together. Epic stuff. I also like the way sex is honestly and various presented throughout this series. Clare shows us sex used for power, for control, for comfort, for fun, even as something holy and redemptive.
Sometimes only a bit of storybook romance will do. I have read various adaptations of this Grimm fairytale but Andrew Lang’s is my favourite—possibly because it was read to me so many times as a child. I love that Lina and her sisters take joy into their own hands—sneaking off night after night for clandestine dates with handsome, captive princes. I mean, how sexy is that? And the classic princess-pauper class divide is here with Michael a mere gardener whose magic flowers win the princess’s heart. Meanwhile, Lina risks everything because she does not want Michael to become just another love slave of the magic cave. Beautiful stuff.
One of my most beloved books from childhood and one which I think has the most to offer young readers. The quest for identity is central to YA fiction. Why am I here? Who am I? Where do I come from? How do I live my life? What am I supposed to do with myself? When can I start to do that? These questions live in the hearts of all young people and it is the job of YA authors to help them make sense of the questions and the answers. Orphaned at birth, as far as he knows, Taran struggles throughout five books to figure out who he is. At first, he seeks only to learn who his parents are. When he meets Eilonwy his search becomes far more important as he yearns to discover that he is someone worthy of her. For her part, Eilonwy could have cut his efforts short sometime in book three but then neither of them would have been able to make the choices they do in the end. Oddly, I remember the fourth book Taran Wanderer being my least favourite as a child. Re-reading them as an adult, I found it the most profound and interesting of the series.
I’m still in the throes of passion for this book which I read for the first time last month. Visually stunning, emotionally wrecking and so damn romantic it hurts. As a couple, Marco and Celia are one of those die for you, kill for you, burn down the world just to roll around in your ashes kind of forever loves. Poetry, wine and flowers might be acceptable tokens for some lovers, but these two give each other funky clocks, magical ice gardens and pull down the stars—literally. Sigh.
I might be alone in this, but does anyone else want to dig up Louisa’s grave, shake her bones a bit and say: SERIOUSLY? I love this book. Little Women means a lot to me. But SERIOUSLY? Laurie winds up with Amy? A-MY? And Jo marries some old German dude? For REAL, Louisa? No way. OK, I agree that Jo should not have taken Laurie’s proposal right away. She needed to grow up. He needed to grow up. But once they both matured they would have been great together. I don’t buy it. I don’t like it. Let’s re-animate Louisa’s corpse with some Voodoo mojo and make her sort it out. Who’s with me?
This is another run don’t walk sort of book. I think it should be required reading for the planet. Sephy and Callum make my list because their love story is so damn messy. There is passion, friendship, affection but also ugly prejudice, uncertainty, violence, betrayal, cruelty. Their defining love scene is not just awkward it is uncomfortable in many ways. But ultimately it is a love story. The complexity of it makes it all the more memorable and real.
I apologise for the hetero-bias of this list. I wracked by brain trying to come up with queer couples that have impacted my reading and came up with nothing. Willow and Tara from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which isn’t a book) or possibly Sam and Frodo from Lord of the Rings but their additions seemed lame and forced. My mother always says I read the wrong stuff. Now taking suggestions for Queer Romance books.