The process of blogging and reviewing really forces you to think about why you like the things that you like. This isn't an easy task for me, since my tastes are all over the place and perhaps a bit mercurial. My likes and dislikes continue to evolve, but one fact remains: I really like romance.
My love of romance was likely spawned at a very young age, but while it might be interesting to talk about the effects of Disney movies on a child's brain, my focus on romance in literature began with The Raging Quiet by Sherryl Jordan. It's the story of a young woman (in colonial times?) who befriends a deaf man, and ultimately forms a bond of affection with him despite the prejudices and suspicions of the towns people. I read this book when I was eleven, and it was responsible for flipping that switch in my brain that made me want to read romance centered novels.
Sadly, the face of young adult literature was bleak when I was that age, at least from where I was sitting. The public library that offered most of my reading material just didn't have much for teens or precocious preteens. So, after I read everything they had from Sherryl Jordan, plus the odd contemporary YA, I kind of got the hint that I might need to move on to adult literature. By the time I was twelve or thirteen, I was combing the adult fantasy shelves (our library did not have a romance section at the time) looking for adventure in fairy tales.
I got into reading actual Romance Novels because of their availability in my household. My mother read them, so they were always around, and by the time I was thirteen no one thought to question what I picked up. Mom wasn't much for forbidding books. I remember being a freshman in high school and having a friend tell me that she wasn't allowed to pick up books or movies unless her parents screened them first. This concept was so foreign to me that I couldn't get past it, and kept questioning it-- "Seriously, I can't just lend you a book without you getting in trouble?"
My first proper romance novel was Midnight Bayou by Nora Roberts. I liked, and still do like it because of it's strong characters and intense, steamy relationship building...But also because it has ghosts. Roberts actually likes to sneak a lot of ghost here and there in her otherwise contemporary books, but in this case the ghosts are central to the plot. And it is fantastic. So while I did go on to read a lot of contemporary romance and eventually some historical, my primary drug of choice became paranormal romance. From there it was a skip and a jump to Christine Feehan and Maggie Shayne, who's books I spent my allowance on and asked for for Christmas.
It's a valid point that both Roberts and Feehan pepper their novels with fairly graphic sex scenes. They weren't written with teens in mind. I just don't think it matters much. That is, I don't think that reading such scenes at that age is damaging in the way that some parents assume it is. Not all teens are super impressionable sponges that soak up and imitate everything they encounter in fiction. You also have to take into account that romance novels (with some exceptions), portray mostly monogamous sex between people in love. So were I to imitate them, I'd end up traveling to the Carpathian mountains in order to find my lifemate, for whom I've been saving myself. Or something.
These days, there are so many really good options for teens. The climate has changed, with the young adult market having exploded, and now there are plenty of (nice, safe, sex free) romance novels available that are specifically designed for teens. I find them in my formerly very boring local library, and I'm really excited about that. But just as I think it's okay for adults to indulge in a little YA fiction, I still believe that there's nothing wrong with a well adjusted teen trying out some adult fiction. Romance novels have the ability to portray healthy relationships, communication, compromise, and happy endings in a way that no other genre can quite attain. So, here's to romance novels, and all of the people out there who are just discovering them. Let's keep Happily Ever After alive!