Are Our Ships Empowering Readers

Before you ask, despite the picture, I am not talking about boats. I’m talking about the characters we’re pairing together, and whether they’re portraying healthy relationships, or whether romance in literature could leave readers feeling inadequate about themselves or their relationships.

I started thinking about this back in university when my housemate and I rewatched Friends. Friends is the TV hit show phenomenon that crowns sitcoms glory days. It was big and, being 90s show, had a ridiculous amount of problems. Crowning these off was the focus on the toxic relationship that formed the heart of the show: Ross and Rachel. We see petty jealousy, manipulation and outright lies all thrown in the comedic light and portrayed as appropriate. But, I hear your cry, that was the 90s. We’ve learnt since then.

But I’d argue that young people are still growing up under the influence of unrealistic and toxic relationships, especially those in YA. And here are a few red flags I’ve seen almost celebrated in YA literature.

The first issue that comes to mind is the superficial, attractive hero trope. He fancies the heroine, sure, but his dry wit, degoatory humour, unrealistic looks and desperate need for character development hardly make him an great person. And fair enough, he often gets that character growth but he’s not the ideal boyfriend before that and shouldn’t be portrayed as such. And, while we’re on the topic, we can’t hold up the ‘not that pretty’ but strong and smart heroine, emphasising that her character is what matters most while making all the men attractive. Because men’s personalities matter too here and women are not that superficial. The brooding, over attractive hero who can’t show emotions and rather takes them out using his dry wit and crazy fight skills isn’t going to empower many male readers.

YA is ripe with love stories. We’ve read it all- the slow burn romance, the friends forever but start to see something new lovers, the enemies that change for each other, even the instantly hitting it off pairings. But have we really seen a break up? Have we seen a character get over someone and find someone new? Because, news flash, you’re first date at 17 is unlikely to be the groom at your wedding several years down the line. I’m not saying it’s impossible, I know real life childhood sweethearts and people who seem pretty happy with their first pancake, but for me and many of my friends that was definitely not the case, and it’s not projected nearly enough in literature. This unhealthy stereotype can lead readers to struggle with breakups, feel inadequate if their first relationship didn’t work out or idealise something that was never there, hardly empowering.

The lack of comfortably single heroines would be my next gripe. How often have we screamed at our protagonist that she has bigger problems than the midly attractive men chasing after her? I like romance as much as the next reader, but so often it just feels forced into a plot where the characters were platonic at best. Unnecessary romances aside, I just don’t think every protagonist, side character and remotely in the novel woman needs pairing off. The portrayals of an unrealistic need for romance and relationships that each character has could lead readers to feel inadequate or unhappy with being single, which is, of course, never the case. There is no need to fixate on relationships so much in novels or in real life: readers and characters need to feel comfortable being single.

The final toxic relationship habit that receives far too much page time that I’m going to discuss is looking around. Zuzana’s remarks about Akiva in Daughter of Smoke and Bone? Scarlett saying she’ll check out the Count while still with Julian in Legendary? That’s just cruel. A relationship shouldn’t ever make you feel second best, or a settle for. Lovers should build each other up and be clear with their feelings, not just date someone in the interim while waiting for Prince Charming, which those crude remarks can leave people feeling. Normalising partners, particularly women, looking around and commenting on attractive male characters with disregard for their partners feelings can encourage readers to disregard others feelings.

There are other, less common, relationship problems splashed across the page throughout YA: Sky being forced to date someone she doesn’t like because she and Zed are Soul Mates in Finding Sky, Agnieszka dating a man literally 100 years older than her or Clary dating her best friend Simon despite having no feelings what so ever in City of Bones. Having only discussed a few issues in this post, I conclude the portrayal of romance in literature should be reassessed, but what do you think? Do you agree? Feel free to drop an opinion in the comments section!

10 Adorable Fictional Couples

Hello hello and happy Tuesday. It’s foggy here as I race through English countryside, desperately typing as my phone is on 2% (if this post is a little unrefined that’ll be why).

Anyway, hope you’ve had a good week, mines been busy since I walked to the next town over on the weekend with my boyfriend and brother which was tiring and have an assessment at work next week (which is very scary!). But nothing better than some fictional romance to take my mind of all that.

1. Annabeth and Percy

Because what says love more than falling into Tartarus together? This couple were probably my first ship, definitely the first ship I fangirled over, since my friend and I read and fangirled over Percy Jackson all through school!

2. Jace and Clary

I know the relationship gets really weird in the middle and there is a slight suggestion of incest, but luckily that all turns out to be a big misunderstanding. Welcome to the weirdness of City of Bones. Also, I remember finding Jace hilarious as a kid!

3. Lira and Elyian

I could have squealed when Elyian realises he’s immune to the sirens song at the end of To Kill a Kingdom. These two are so similar yet have such different backgrounds it’s great seeing how they develop so well together.

4. Lila and Kell

They each think the other has everything they’d want, but that doesn’t stop Lila plunging into certain death to save Kell in A Darker Shade of Magic.

5. Lizzie and Darcy

Yes I am a hopeless romantic and was so happy when Lizzie chose to ignore Lady Catherine’s warning and go on that garden walk with Darcy at the end of Pride and Prejudice. It’s a little cliché but who cares!

6. Art and Celestine

Ok I caveat this with knowing this relationship is slightly on the rocks by the end of the first book, in fact all the way through the first book, but I still really liked their relationship in Flawed! It was very honest and normal (which is hard to come by in YA- how many YA couples do you know who worry about university?)

7. Shahzad and Sam

Oh gosh. These two. I am trying to keep this spoiler free but let’s just say my favourite couple in the Rebel of the Sands series go through a lot.

8. Starr and Chris

I mean he risks tear gas just to understand her world. Throughout the entire novel these two remain so close, despite everything Starr goes through in The Hate U Give.

9. Henry and Catherine

Yep another Austen. This time it’s Northanger Abbey, my most recent read. Henry who reads the same novels as Catherine, doesn’t care about her class and even has some solid 200 year old banter. He’s just the perfect book boyfriend for any heroin.

10. Blue and Gansey

I just love Gansey tbh. Much like Jace he’s hilarious and very unique and I completely ship him with his polar opposite and slightly scary love in The Raven Cycle.

Lets Compare Notes

So there you have it! Ten characters I completely adore together! Do you ship any of them? Have any on your list? Feel free to leave a link or comment!

Review: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

But vanity, not love, has been my folly. Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment, I never knew myself. – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ Very likable main character. Romance is slow and genuine, not instant attraction and good portrayal of two women building each other up.

After not really enjoying Jane Austen’s Emma I was very hesitant to pick up this novel. But I didn’t want to give up on Austen’s work totally so I put it in the last chance saloon and picked up her most famous work: Pride and Prejudice.

Elizabeth and her five sisters step out of their sheltered world by the push of their mother, desperate to find them husbands. They soon learn that not everyone is as honourable as they seem and never to judge a character too quickly as they discover all the flaws in 1800s match making.

Boy am I glad that I gave Austen a second chance. Pride and Prejudice is nothing like Emma. First of all, Elizabeth is so much better a character than Emma. Raised in a family with an overbearing, embarrassingly needy mother who is desperate for her daughters to be married and two incredibly immature younger siblings, it’s shocking how down-to-earth she is. But Elizabeth Bennet is nothing but mature.

Despite society pressure, and her awful mother, she refuses marriage to gentlemen from ‘good’ families with lots of money. She is confident in herself, clever and incredibly devoted to her older, more beautiful sister Jane.

Jane and Elizabeth’s genuine friendship throughout the novel, which shows no sign of jealousy despite Elizabeth continually been told she’s less pretty than Jane, was one of my favourites in all literature. When Jane’s caught ill while visiting a friend Elizabeth walks miles just to look after her. Elizabeth and Jane constantly confide and share personal revelations and feelings with each other with total trust of the others confidentiality and advice. If you’ve ever read The Fandom by Anna Day, think Violet and Alice but then twist it on it’s head: take out all the bitterness and back-stabbing that really has no place between real friends.

This book is about romance, but my favourite sort of romance: Darcy and Elizabeth (I don’t feel I’m spoiling much by giving that pairing away, they’re one of literature’s most iconic) don’t fall instantly in love. Actually, Darcy calls Elizabeth ugly when he first meets her (she’s a better person than me seeing past that insult). Theirs no trace of insta-love between the two and their attraction seems more genuine than just look based.

But they both get to know each other as people, slowly removing their misconceptions (which some may call prejudices hehe) about each other and swallowing their, you guessed it, pride. The quote at the top of this review actually refers to the moment Elizabeth realizes that she is wrong to judge people so quickly. She explains that by deciding she liked one man at first sight and not the other corrupted her from seeing what was actually going on. Before she had always felt she was reasonable so this revelation leads to the final line: “Till this moment, I never knew myself“.

Elizabeth spends most of the book hating Darcy and not at all interested in him, despite his wealth, and it’s only when she realizes who he is as a person that she begins to like him. Basically they get together for all the right reasons and are one of my favourite literature couples.

Similar to Emma there is a bit of learning to be done in this novel. It is a sort of coming of age for Elizabeth as she realises people are not always what they appear, that whole prejudice thing again. And Darcy starts to treat people much better and regrets being so rude to Elizabeth during their first encounter. Them learning from each other and truly caring for one another is probably the sweetest aspects of this novel. Their growing in character together just makes their love story more immense.

For me, this book is the perfect love story. Which is why I’ve rated this book so highly. I really enjoyed it, it’s very clever and felt ahead of it’s time.

Have you read Pride and Prejudice? Do you share similar opinions to me on love stories? What are you reading at the moment and do you think you’ll ever pick this novel up? Be great if you left a comment!