We’ve all at least heard of the genre, whether through the Twilight Saga or some other poorly written teen romance novel/movie. It is the soft-core version of the adult romance novels, whose only big difference is the loads of descriptive sex scenes. The genre is generally known as being poorly written and grossly centered around a most certainly unhealthy romance, and yet it still maintains a decent-sized reader base. How does this happen? Most importantly, who is still reading it, and why? Well, There’s a few different answers to that question.
While the popularity of the teen romance genre has certainly dropped sharply from it’s heyday in the late 2000’s, it still persists in young adult literature. In fact, it not only exists as it’s own genre, it also exists as a sub-genre, and makes an appearance in just about every piece of young adult literature.
You see, while there are the obvious books where the main plot is very much about romance (like the Iron Fae, Fallen, and Eleanor and Park), I’d have to say around 97-99% of all young adult literature has romance as a major story line, even if it isn’t the main one. Which, isn’t too unusual: plenty of adult books have some form of romance in them. The only issue here is that it’s always the same romance, and it is just like the ones found in purely romance novels. I’ve mentioned in a post before talking about the typical “unusual” female protagonist and her male counterpart. That’s basically the story here. It’s always a modest but stubborn, brash, inexperienced (romantically, sexually) girl that is supposed to be a “feminist symbol”, paired with the sarcastic, arrogant, and experienced guy who represents all the dangers of an abuser. But it’s okay, because the guy is secretly a sweetheart who hides behind a shell because of his “broken” past. Literally, this is almost always how it is. When it’s not, it’s shockingly refreshing.
The only issue is, young girls fall for it every time. I fell for it when I was a young teen, also. Why? Well, everyone wants that romance that’s destined to be. At least, when you’re young. As you get older relationship goals get much more realistic (sometimes). But as a young teen with no experience in dating, I didn’t really know what I wanted. I wanted to be that protagonist who kicked butt and got the guy of her dreams. Which, makes sense. When a romance that would in real life be abusive gets romanticized in the novels, everything about the guy seems angelic. It seems attractive, and it’s fictional, so you can get insanely invested without being classified as a stalker. That’s how they get you.
It’s not just young girls, either. I have an aunt that is way too invested in trashy teen romance novels, and she’s certainly not alone. There are plenty of middle-aged mothers who read these kinds of books. Why? Everyone needs an outlet. Whether it’s watching TV, running, drawing, or reading, everyone has to find something. But what about teen romance novels attracts so many middle-aged mothers? Well, I can’t say for sure. Mostly because there’s several theories, that can’t truly be proven by asking them. One is dissatisfaction in marriage.
Dissatisfaction is probably the biggest theory, because usually it’s the most accurate. Women who find themselves in positions where they’re not happy in their relationship, but not too unhappy where they’ll get a divorce, will turn instead to the cheesy teen romance, wanting to imagine themselves young again, being swept off their feet by a dreamy young man. It seems the most reasonable, and least far-fetched, especially when paired with the fact that in the US, there is a 40-50% divorce rate among first-time marriages.
Another theory is they use it as a form of escape. Not just from an unhappy marriage, but from being a middle-aged adult all together. Why not? Use the main protagonist to see yourself as a teen girl in her action-fighting prime, no kids, no job, no taxes to worry about. You want to escape to a fantasy world, especially one where the guy promises to do all the “hard work” for you. What a bargain, right?
Either way, the trashy teen romance genre maintains a solid base from both middle-aged mothers and young girls, and will continue to, as long as it pervades the young adult genre. Which, doesn’t have to be a bad thing, so long as the toxic depictions of the main protagonists gets wiped out. I’m tired of seeing the same male and female protagonist again and again.