Jill Williamson

Jill Williamson is a novelist, dreamer, and believer. She writes stories that combine danger, suspense, and adventure for people of all ages. An avid reader, she started Novel Teen Book Reviews (www.novelteen.com) to help teens find great books to read. Her first novel, By Darkness Hid, releases from Marcher Lord Press on April 1, 2009. Learn more at www.jillwilliamson.com.

True Love? True or False?

A Closer Look at Romance in Teen Fiction

I was at a teen event this past October. As everyone came inside, they filled out a card with their names and some personal interests. One of the questions was “What’s your favorite movie?” Well, I like movies, so as the teens handed me their cards, I glanced at the movies they’d written down and started some fun conversations that way.

Then I came upon an interesting answer: Twilight.

I looked up at the girl who’d handed me the card. “Twilight? That movie isn’t even out yet. How can it be your favorite?”

“Because it’s going to be so awesome!” she said. “Robert Pattinson is so hot, and I saw a preview that looked so good, and the books are so good. And they’re my favorite, so the movie will be too.”

I found this amusing. But a lot of girls claim Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight as their new favorite book (and now movie). Why?

In a word: romance. Twilight appeals to a girl’s God-given desire to be loved by the perfect guy. So girls naturally relate to the plot because it meets that need. Overall, romance novels tend to be pretty formulaic. Boy meets Girl. Boy loses Girl. Boy gets Girl back. Twilight certainly follows this format.

But is Edward and Bella’s love true? Is it based on anything more than physical attributes? The story is packed with references to how perfect Edward looks, like he’s chiseled out of marble. And Edward would never have noticed Bella if she hadn’t had the right smell. And while Stephanie Meyer does a great job with the romantic tension in her novels, that’s pretty much all it is: Feelings. Desire.

Is that what true love is?

Taking a peek into Bella and Edward’s relationship brings several behaviors to the table that, in the real world, would likely lead to trouble and heartbreak more than lifelong love. Bella practically hates herself. She’s always comparing herself to Edward’s perfection, going so far as describing him as an angel or a god. The more she dwells on it, the more she wants to be just like him, change who she is for something she thinks is better. She actually wants to die to be happy.

And there’s a lot of talk about how perfect Edward is. But this guy eavesdrops, gets Bella to lie to her friends and family, and comes and goes as he pleases from her bedroom window, sometimes sleeping in her bed. (Um . . . can we say bad idea, girls?)

This relationship is what is being held up all over America by girls as a perfect love story.

Well, I want to take a look at some books that know the difference. Books that show characters who love God first and allow him to lead them to true love in his perfect timing. I know, I know, that doesn’t sound nearly as exciting as falling in love with a “good” vampire, but trust me on this one. God knows best.

Book: Maggie Come Lately by Michelle Buckman (NavPress)

This book isn’t strictly a romance novel. It doesn’t follow the formula, but it does show a girl who starts out a bit like the rest of us. Maggie wants to be popular and she wants a boyfriend. She actually crafts a very specific prayer to God asking for just that. And her prayer is answered, though not in any way she would have ever expected. Regardless of how she got there, Maggie is thrust into the spotlight. Suddenly girls want to sit with her at school, guys are asking her out, she’s going to parties; it’s what she always wanted. But it’s not because they like her for who she is. It’s all a result of the crisis that put her in the spotlight. Because Maggie had a tight hold on God’s hand, her jaunt into all things popular doesn’t bring devastating consequences. Maggie’s relationship with God gives her wisdom to see the truth in her classmates. She realizes that being popular isn’t what she really wanted at all, that being popular is more trouble than it’s was worth, bringing way more temptation than she cares to handle. Maggie finds herself, and once she knows who she is, she’s ready to start looking for the right kind of guy. And that confidence makes her all the more attractive, for the right reasons.

Book: It’s Not About Me by Michelle Sutton (Sheaf House) Now this is a love story. Annie thinks she has it all. She’s beautiful, smart, has a great family, and is dating an amazing, popular guy. But inside she’s really struggling. Her boyfriend, Tony, is pressuring her to do things she doesn’t want to and she doesn’t feel like she even knows God. A horrible crime shatters her world and Tony pulls away, blaming himself. While Annie is recovering in the hospital, Tony’s older brother Dan is that one who sits by Annie when she needs a friend most, even introducing her to God in a way she never thought was necessary. As Annie grows closer to Dan, she finds herself in a love triangle that makes her already-stressful life overwhelming. Torn between her feelings for both brothers, Annie learns to rely on God, the one who loves her more than anything. (I also highly recommend the second book in Michelle’s series, It’s Not About Him, that comes out September 2009. It’s a great love story as well.)

Series: Hollywood Nobody by Lisa Samson (NavPress)

This four-book series is wonderful, funny, and heartbreaking. A romance isn’t in each book, but there is one in the overall series. Scotty Dawn is an amazing character who grows over the course of the books. Her mom is a food designer for movies, so Scotty travels from set to set in their motor home, seeing Hollywood’s rich and famous up close and way too personal. In the first book, Scotty meets heartthrob Seth Haas and they become great friends. Scotty is careful not to become too attached to an off-limits older guy, especially one headed for People magazine’s Sexiest Men Alive list. Instead of chasing guys, Scotty enjoys life wherever the motor home takes her, making friends all over the country. And in the end—well, I can’t give it away! ButScotty has protected her heart and is ready and waiting for a chance at true love. Highly recommended.

Series: Christy Miller by Robin Jones Gunn (Multnomah)

This series is a classic for girls. It starts with fourteen-year-old Christy’s summer dream vacation in California. The ordinary, talks-to-herself, Wisconsin farm girl meets God, a cute surfer named Todd, and a little bit of trouble. In the second book, Christy’s family later moves to So Cal, even though she’s not where she wants to be—with Todd. And so the series follows Christy’s life and love, all the way through college to her wedding. I love that we get to see her whole life. All her trials and triumphs. It’s the sweetest of all stories, so if you haven’t read these, you’d better.

Some other books that offer the truth about romance:

• Melody Carlson’s Diary of a Teenage Girl (Caitlin series)
• Jenny B. Jones’ Katie Parker series
• Shelly Adina’s All About Us series
• Erynn Mangum’s Miss Match series

Bottom line? Real-life romance doesn’t fit a formula. Real-life romance is about loving God, loving yourself, and making good choices that will lead you to the love of your life. Take a chance on some awesome books that tell it like it is. Read smart and enjoy.

Novel Teen Reviews