Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Happily Ever After in YA

IMG_3268 by thesparechangekitchen
Photo Courtesy of sparechangekitchen and WANA commons

Happily Ever After. A word that ends almost every single fairy tale ever written. And something that almost every little girl dreams about.  And if you think about it, almost every heroine in the old timey fairytales are teenagers. But how realistic is happily ever after for teenagers?

There are a lot of critics out there that tout that authors shouldn’t include a HEA. That there is no way teenagers no real love at that stage in their life and we shouldn’t show teenage marriage.

Photo Courtesy of Rebecca Barray and WANA commons
 Of course, the most heavily criticized is Twilight with *spoiler* Bella’s marriage to Edward and the subsequent birth of their daughter. But others have done it, with less detractors. Harry Potter did it. And Hunger Games. Even if both of those made sure to let us know it was many, many years in the future.  Some books even hint strongly that the characters we’ve loved for 3 or 4 or 8 books have their HEA.

But a lot of YA books leave the readers with the question of what happened after their happy for now ending? 

Did they get married and have kids? Or did they break up even after they went through and how strongly they shouted their love for each other?

But again, how realistic are these views?

I know my first love was in high school and I even married him a few short months after high school. We started dating my sophomore year and 3 years later we were married. 15 years later we’re still married and quite happily I might add. However, one of my very best friends from then, waited until after college to marry a man she met while in college.  They were only married about a year before they divorced. Of course, there’s the flip side of that with the opposite results.  So what’s more realistic? Is there a standard? One that says if you do this, then this will happen? 

Wedding Ornament (Back) by sleeplessinnewcastle
Photo courtesy of sleeplessinnewcastle and WANA commons

But my biggest question about all this, is what message are we teaching our teen readers by having it or not having it? If we have it are we saying that that’s what’s expected of them? That they should pick their chosen life mate in high school and if they don’t find them, there’s something wrong with them? By not having it, are we saying that they can’t possible be smart enough to understand that marrying their sweetheart right after high school is a big decision and shouldn’t be rushed into blindly? Something in between? As writers, is this even something that we should worry about? Should we choose sides and write that side? Or should we just write what’s organic to the story and not worry about “teaching” something. And trust our teens to know what the right decision is and to talk to us if they have questions?


  1. By not showing the "happily ever after" ending, we aren't saying that it isn't possible, just leaving it up to the readers' imaginations whether the characters stay together / get married or not.

  2. My husband and I started dating when we were 18 (we've been together for 8 wonderful years). But, like you said, for every 'happily ever after' teenage relationship, there are several more that don't end happily. I have several friends in their mid-twenties who are already divorced.

    I think it is something that we, as writers, should be concerned about. There's a real difference between infatuation and love, and that difference becomes so apparent the longer a couple is together. If the fictional couple is in infatuation, I think it's fair to show the relationship fizzling out. Are they really, truly in love? Then I think it's up to the writer to show the depth of feeling and make a case for why those two characters would stand the test of time, even if they did fall in love as teens.

  3. Anonymous. That's a great point, too. Like so many other things authors don't show. Like some don't describe characters because they want to their readers to use their imagination.

    Nickie: GREAT point! I agree, completely.

  4. I write 20th century historical, so it wouldn't be historically accurate for my teen characters to just date people the way modern teens do. It was considered normal in the 1960s, 1940s, etc., to be married in one's late teens or very early twenties, and to soon have kids. A number of my teen Shoah survivor characters are engaged at all of 14, 15, or 16, and married as soon as they're both 16.

    For contemporary characters, though, I think it's rather unrealistic to show people who exclusively date throughout high school, get married soon after graduation, and live happily ever after. Now that my handwritten magnum opus has reached the modern era (1998, anyway), I'm still having some people get married young, but now I'm showing the realities of teen marriage in the modern era. Some teen marriages will work out because of the planning, budgeting, and realistic outlooks that went into them, while others will fail because they thought it was little more than playing house and something that was expected of them after a certain point.

  5. this is an interesting discussion! I personally like a book that gives me a big heart squish at the end, but that doesn't mean I have to see the YA characters married. I just like knowing that they've weathered a storm together. I dated a guy all through high school, we weathered a lot of storms, we got engaged ... and then we broke up. For me, it was something I had to figure out on my own and I don't think a fictional book wouldn't influenced me one way or the other. So, to answer your question, it's not a message I'm particularly concerned about delivering one way or the other. I'm more interested in telling the story the way it needs to be told.

  6. I believe you should write the ending that belongs to the story. I don't necessarily believe we are telling teens we expect anything from them. If anything, I would like to think a happy ending is something we hope for our readers to have. To me an HEA or HFN ending is something the characters deserve after all that a story puts them through. Plus, as a reader, I feel cheated if there isn't some kind of happy in the romantic couples' future.

  7. Stories are thought-experiments, not step-by-step guides to living. Otherwise, our teens would have conflict-driven, high drama lives! :) I actually addressed this issue head-on in my first book, a love story, where the girl and boy fall in love in 4 days and have to decide if they will make life-changing decisions because of it. By working through the thought-process, I think that helps teens think about issues of their own that they face.


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