I Do? They Don’t. Young Marriage in YA Literature
This is a joint post about marriage in young adult literature. Romance, problems, college, family drama, addiction, and identity are all pretty common themes in YA lit, but marriage is definitely not. So how did we come up with this topic?
Mia: Weddings have been on my mind lately. I got married in September, and like other brides before me I found myself pondering the idea of marriage from lots of different angles, thinking about cultures and traditions and what it means to me personally. But one thing I didn’t consider until Sarah brought it up in an online conversation was how marriage and weddings connect to the world of young adult literature.
Sarah: I was looking through my old books to select one for my “That Was Then, This Is Now” series on The Hub. I was considering one of my favorites- Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones by Ann Head, which was a particular favorite of mine. It features a young high school couple who has to get married when the girl becomes pregnant. It was the only book I ever read about married teenagers and although it was incredibly dated even when I read it (published 1967) I found it romantic, tragic, and fascinating. While I was considering it Mia’s wedding was on my mind, which was how I started thinking about marriage and weddings and YA lit. I particularly wondered if there are any novels showing realistic youngish people getting married.
We both found ourselves coming back to this topic, sometimes with book suggestions we’d dredged up from long-ago memory, sometimes with recent contemporary examples of young adult friends or fictional characters who were planning their own weddings.
The longer we reflected on this topic, the more we realized that we really couldn’t find many realistic stories about young adults preparing for their weddings or marriage. Then we started to wonder why. There seemed to be enough examples we could cite from fantasy or historical fiction (for example, 2012 Morris Award Finalist and 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults selection, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, which features a political marriage of the main character, or Twice Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris, which is a fun fairytale)– but far fewer to be found depicting real teens thinking about marriage. We could think of many other examples of stories depicting important young adult relationships, big life decisions, and even rituals. But as accustomed as we may have become to equating a happy ending with a wedding in romantic comedies and the fairytales we experienced as young readers, there were hardly any books for teens that lead to vows, veils, and gold rings. Which is not to say that marriage is never, ever addressed.
I Now Pronounce You Someone Else by Erin McCahan is a switched identity romance in which the swept-off-her-feet heroine is proposed to on her 18th birthday. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer (a 2009 Teens’ Top Ten winner) features the long awaited marriage of Bella and her vampire love, Edward. 2009 Printz Honor book Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan is a story in which the ultimate marriage proposal may surprise readers. And Kavita Daswani’s Lovetorn addresses the contemporary practice of arrange marriage, with the teenage protagonist torn between her fiance in India and her high school life and boys in the U.S. While all of these titles have engagements/marriage as a significant part of the story, none of them have particularly shining examples of marriage or a happy ending.
We concluded that perhaps YA lit as we know it today really started to emerge at a point when there were more options for life after high school, and it seems like YA books helped to define their audience by highlighting so many of the less-traditional options that were becoming available paths, rather than the traditional ones. So, in older titles such as Beverly Cleary’s Sister of the Bride (1963) and Carson McCuller’s Member of the Wedding (1946), girls with family members getting married consider their own marital futures, whereas YA in the ’70s and ’80s has older teens considering colleges, and whether or not to stay close to home or break out and go far away. Even in Sarah Dessen’s newest novel, The Moon and More,which is set between high school and college, and has a long term couple in it, marriage is not considered as a serious next step.
With the emergence of the â€œNew Adultâ€ novels, perhaps that is where one might find serious relationships where marriage is a possibility. A perfect example is Meg Cabot’s latest Heather Wells mystery–The Bride Wore Size 12. Teens who read Meg Cabot’s decidely young adult novels and then continued on to the the Heather Wells series will be reading about a bride-to-be.
This was a fascinating subject for us to explore and we would love to hear from you in the comments your thoughts and/or title recommendations!
-Sarah Debraski, currently reading The Whole Golden World by Kristina Riggle, and Mia Cabana, currently reading Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff