As summer sweeps in with its balmy breezes and hot temperatures what’s more wonderful than a steamy summer romance? Heather and Robin initially cringed when I suggested this theme, neither of whom would be considered a fan of the romance genre in general. And I’d have to agree to some extent. Many romance books embody female protagonists falling prey to misogynistic males who overpower them with their unbelievable good looks and bulging muscles. So our challenge was to find a story or author who doesn’t characterize women as femme fatales, one-dimensional and powerless to control their destiny; objectified, and even denigrated by an irresistible sexy guy. Stories that challenge sexual prejudice and the oppression of females in our male-dominated society; that embrace a healthy image of the female body and credit women as the amazing people we are. So here’s to teenage love. That first crush, that overwhelming feeling that awakens a sleeping tigress—one who isn’t afraid to chart her own destiny, who sees men as equal partners in life, in spite of her raging hormones.
Caryn’s Pick: THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green
Yes, I went there. I don’t consider myself a fan of this author, but I decided to revisit my assessment in response to the current craze for THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. I rushed to read it before venturing into the theater in an attempt to immerse myself in the full experience. And I’m glad. The story is profound and philosophical and not typical YA fodder, but death will do that to you.
Hazel Grace Lancaster is clinically depressed, and why shouldn’t she be? Diagnosed with end-stage cancer she struggles to breathe, drowning in her own bodily fluids, shackled to an oxygen tank. She attends a weekly support group where she meets Augustus Waters and the two fall in love. When Hazel shares her fascination with a novel called An Imperial Affliction, she draws Augustus into a quirky mission to track down the author, seeking answers, after the book abruptly ends in a cloud of ambiguity.
I wanted more romance, more passion. Greene, through countless TV interviews, claims the book is a love story and not about cancer or death, but I’d strongly disagree. I’d hoped that I’d finally get past all the cancer-talk and just enjoy the love story, but I couldn’t manage it. In truth, the word cancer is used 100 times, and death/dying/dead…103 times! Some critics have claimed that Green’s dialogue and interactions are atypical of teenagers, and honestly, I’ve thought so in his other works. But another insightful critic, herself a cancer survivor, claims that facing death at an early age makes one grow up fast, tending to deal with life in a more adult fashion. I bow to her on that point. The teens speak intelligently and honestly, painfully so.There’s no doubt that it’s a major tear-jerker, and I liken it to this generation’s Love Story. That book hit me hard. I intimately identified with the characters, being a college student at the time and my boyfriend (who I eventually married) played on the college hockey team.
Overall, I found this story unique. The author artfully examines life, death, and love, with sensitivity, intelligence and honesty, and most importantly, integrity. Hazel and Augustus are good people and they didn’t deserve the terrible hand the universe dealt them. So grab the tissue box and settle in for a sad, yet profound, read.
Heather’s Pick: THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS by Ann Brashares
As Caryn stated above, romance is not my genre. There are only two novels on my bookshelves I’d consider teen romance – SLOPPY FIRSTS by Megan McCafferty and THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS by Ann Brashares. But really, those aren’t even straight-up romances, they’re coming-of-age stories with love interests. Nevertheless, they reflect the type of teenage reader I was – one who wanted realism in love stories, not that love-at-first sight BS. Even in high school I’d seen enough crash-and-burn lust fests to know they don’t usually work out. I wanted to read about relationships that would help me navigate the murky waters of real love. And I wanted to relate to the characters, and insta-love just wasn’t how I rolled. Both of these books fit the bill. I read them well over a decade ago, but recently reread the SISTERHOOD so that’s the one I’ll talk about…
This book is the perfect summer read because it’s literally about summertime, specifically the first summer four best friends spend their school-free months apart. Two of the four (Lena and Bridget) have romantic subplots.
Lena goes to Greece to visit her grandparents. She has absolutely no interest in meeting boys, yet her grandma tries to set her up with a family friend, Kostos. But… “Lena knew boys: They never looked beyond your looks. They pretended to be your friend to get you to trust them, and as soon as you trusted them, they went in for the grope.” (pg. 60) No way was Lena getting involved with Kostos. And she doesn’t. In fact, they have an awkward encounter and she alienates him. But slowly Lena sees that the boy she pushed away is a genuine guy, and that she likes him. Now it’s up to shy Lena to make a move.
I love this romance because it’s not the cliché impossibly-hot-guy-pursues-girl-who-plays-hard-to-get or impossibly-hot-guy-wants-girl-but-it’s-forbidden. It’s the more realistic girl-likes-guy-but-is-scared-to-tell-him. We’ve all been there! At least I have.
Bridget, on the other hand, falls instantly for her college-age soccer coach and pursues him with joyous abandon. And it pays off – even though coach-player relationships are forbidden, he gives in to her seductions one night. It’s implied but not explicitly stated that she loses her virginity to him. She didn’t expect the experience to be so emotional, but it is. And when he states it can never happen again, Bridget is broken.
This was the most real thing my young self had ever read. Such a painful yet common experience.
So if you want a summertime story full of realistic romance and true love in the form of friendship, read THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS. It still makes me swoon and cry – in a good way.
Robin’s Pick: THE SELECTION by Kiera Cass
I picked my book due to the overwhelming popularity of the series, book three is already out. The Selection centered on America Singer, a young woman from a caste based society. She’s a five, part of the artist class, and she is a singer. Sorry, but names are an issue in The Selection. As a five America is far removed from the ones and twos of the upper class, but not as bad off as a eight the lowest class. When the government holds a lottery to pick 35 women to win a chance of marrying the national prince, America wants no part of the reality show inspired contest. She has no desire to become the nation’s future queen, because America is secretly in love with Aspen, a boy from the servant class (a six) who is someone her family would never approve of. Since the lottery would help her family financially, she enters and is horrified when she’s selected. She must give up everything, Aspen, her family and even her job as an artist. She travels to the palace where she meets the other 34 contestants and Prince Maxon. While she should be able to enjoy all the privileges of the palace, like having enough food to eat for the first time in her life, America just can’t just forget Aspen.
What I liked about this book was it managed to avoid insta-love, something I despise. America is already in love with Aspen when the book opens, and her affection for Maxon is slow growing and believable. It also managed to show marriage as something challenging and filled with comprises, even the happy couples are far from perfect. I also liked that America managed to hold on to her own identity and moral code while being thrust into her new lavish surroundings. It also provided a valid reason for why America avoided having sex with Aspen: it’s against the law to have sex before marriage.
What I didn’t like about the book is the love triangle. It felt stale even thought it was handled in a plausible way. Also, most of the secondary characters, including Aspen felt a bit flat to me. Maybe this is a hallmark of romance fiction, but I knew much more about America and the prince, and very little about America’s best friends or Aspen. Frankly Aspen was not very interesting to me, and I couldn’t wrap my head around why America was so crazy about him. Also, I would have liked more on the political subplot and to know more about the way the classes were set up. The book reads quickly, I read it cover to cover in a few hours and found myself needing more plot. And the ending made me feel a bit cheated. I think the author held back too much for book two. If you want a quick, light romance that you don’t have to think much about, this might be the perfect summer read for you.