Recently Flavorwire posted a list of 10 Toxic Relationships in Teen TV and YA Books and while I realise there are plenty of less than stellar examples of relationship health in media targeted to teen audiences (and Flavorwire hits on some biggies), the post made me feel a need to gather my own list of 10 Positive Relationships in Young Adult Fiction.
WARNING — SOME SPOILERS.
1. Alanna and George
from The Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce
From early in the series George, the King of Thieves, is one of the only people who knows Alanna’s secret; that she’s hiding her gender so she can train to become a knight of the realm. While Alanna initially falls for someone else, George offers steadfast friendship and support which eventually develops into a mutual love that author Pierce revisits obliquely in future series.
2. Anne and Gilbert
from the Anne of Green Gables series by L. M. Montgomery
One of my favourite things about the way Montgomery handles Anne and Gilbert is that she doesn’t let them get together too soon. Because of her over-the-top romantic fancies, Anne is able to develop as an independent character, largely unfettered by real world romance until later in the series. It’s one of the more realistic portrayals of two people growing into each other that I’ve encountered.
3. Hazel and Augustus
from The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
I found Hazel and Augustus’ relationship compelling not because of their circumstances (both have/had types of cancer), but because it feels representative of a real experience of teen love – with not every moment feeling earth-shattering, but others feeling like they’ll break both you and the world together.
4. Todd and Viola
from the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness
What I love about Todd and Viola is that, for the majority of the series, their relationship is less about romantic love than it is about absolute trust, camaraderie and challenging each other. It’s a relationship that allows the reader to watch both characters grow and, at times, falter.
from the Old Kingdom Chronicles by Garth Nix
This is another series whose romance I love in part because it doesn’t dominate the book. Sabriel and Touchstone happen almost by accident but, as is revealed throughout the series, it’s a happy accident.
6. Aislinn and Seth
from Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr
One of my favourite things about Wicked Lovely is that the main character, who has the power to see the often invisible fey creatures that live alongside mankind, chooses a very human guy over an impossibly beautiful immortal. And, as the series progresses, Marr addresses issues that paranormal romance and urban fantasy novels with immortal characters often fail to.
7. Janet and Thomas
from Tam Lin by Pamela Dean
With slightly older main characters than the average YA novel (they’re at university), the main relationship in Tam Lin is fantastic in that it’s not the first serious relationship Janet experiences in the book — a great representation of the fact that the first person who entrances you may not be the one you end up happy with. Although Janet and Thomas’ relationship is potentially a fraught one, the novel ends with them approaching the future armed with both affection and pragmatism.
8. KJ and Virgil
from Wolves, Boys, and Other Things That Might Kill Me by Kristen Chandler
KJ and Virgil demonstrate how someone else’s passion for a subject or idea can be infectious. I loved that the issue they come together over (conserving the wolves in Yellowstone National Park) is a bigger focus of the book than their developing relationship — it’s a story where caring for someone doesn’t have to mean making them your whole world.
9. R and Julie
from Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
I enjoyed the humour in the film version of Warm Bodies but it couldn’t compete with the pathos and philosophical depth of the book. While it would be easy to dismiss the romantic relationship in this book as almost literally toxic (a human girl and a zombie?), R and Julie’s relationship feels less about the transformational power of love and more about how a sudden awakening to purpose can burn away apathy.
10. Sylviianel and Ebon
from Pegasus by Robin McKinley
Okay, this one’s cheating a little because A) it’s not a romantic relationship and B) the two characters are not of the same species. However, Sylvi and Ebon’s relationship as bond-mates (a royal human and a pegasus who can communicate telepathically) is arguably closer than many romantic relationships and the two support each others interests and goals throughout the novel. In many ways it’s one of my favourite relationships in YA fiction.
While I’m very fond of all these examples of romantic (or friendship) success in YA, I have to also admit that a large part of me thrills at YA novels that have no romantic resolution — books that acknowledge the excitement of flirtation and having feelings for another person, but whose stories and characters’ lives don’t revolve around these relationships. While I love a good fictional romantic entanglement as much as the next reader (believe me, after Tamora Pierce’s books I was on the lookout for a King of Thieves), I’ve grown to love still more the books that allow their characters to be young people whose interests, goals and self-worth don’t become overshadowed by the narrative burden of an epic love.