The Case for Romance in Middle-Grade and Young Adult

by Oteo

by Oteo

Question to anyone who wants to answer: When you read a mystery, science fiction, bestselling novel or any other fiction novel, whether you are an adult, a teen or a child, do you like some romance in the story?

I ask this for a few reasons. First, when I asked for ideas to blog about for girls, my wonderful friend Amie, who counsels teens and families, said, “Girls want to fall in love and live happily ever after, same as they always have.”

Next, I had a conversation with a writing coaching client about her book idea and whether it should be geared toward young adults or middle-grade readers. I thought the idea sounded more young adult, but when we discussed that, she said, “Yea, but I don’ want to have to write the romance. All young adult has romance.” She’s right about that, but I also think it’s true for middle-grade books (ages 9 to 13)–the dating relationship is just handled differently.

And why is there romance in almost every story? Because of Amie’s statement above–this is a natural part of any girl’s life from pre-teen to adult, and so it should also be in the books we read and write. The romantic element doesn’t have to take over the story, but it needs to be present.

When I wrote my young adult novel, Caught Between Two Curses, this was a no-brainer. I knew from the beginning that one of the problems 17-year-old Julie would deal with, besides her family being cursed, was trying to figure out her love life. Should she stay with her long-time boyfriend who was pressuring her to have sex and telling her that he loved her? Should she be by herself? Should she explore her developing feelings for her friend, Matt?

But in Finding My Place, Anna Green is only 13, and she is in the middle of the Civil War. She’s trying to figure out how to survive and keep her siblings alive, too. Is there any room for romance? When I first wrote the story, there wasn’t. But then I was thinking that in 1863, Anna would be expected to be married in probably about 3 years, and so she needed to at least have a crush on a young man. So, I added a crush in the middle of the cannonballs and armies fighting. I think it makes the book more realistic and when I do school visits, kids who have read the book will ask me if Anna and Albert get married.

So I’m curious if you are a writer, how do you feel about writing romance in your books? If you are a reader, do you like a love story in the middle of your action or mystery?

By the way, I’m having a holiday book sale. All my books are on sale, and I will autograph them and gift wrap them, along with extra goodies, too. T find out more and order a special gift today, please visit  Also, anyone who buys a book (or signs up for my newsletter) is entered to win a $10 Amazon gift card! Drawing is December 18.







  • I think it depends. I’m a sucker for romance, of course, but I won’t turn away a book because it’s missing a romantic storyline it everything else about it interests me. Both of my YA WIPs feature love triangles, but my MG doesn’t, and I’m not sure if I’ll add one in because I don’t think it would change that much overall.

    However, I do have a friend who’s been workshopping a YA for a few years and she keeps getting told it will be a tough sell because there’s no romance. The main character is a 15-year-old teenage girl, and a lot of agents have suggested it might even be upper MG because of that lack of a romantic storyline.

    • That’s interesting, Renee, because I think even with middle-grade, there’s the crush or teasing that goes along with liking someone, or being embarrassed even because everyone likes someone except you. I told the writer I was talking to that she could already have the romantic element there, so for example, a character could already have a boyfriend/girlfriend and leave out the romance but still acknowledge that it’s a part of teen years.

  • This really made me think about the books I’ve read over the years. No, I don’t think I require romance. If the book has a good plot or good characters, keeps me interested (like a mystery or a memoir) I’ll stay interested, but I think it has to have some sort of drama.

    One thing I do realize about myself, I like the fairy tale aspect… I have stopped reading authors who always have a character die off. I like the happy ending in a book because in real life I don’t see that very often.

    I also like when someone writes about me in their blog! Haha just kidding. Love you Margo.

    • I think I like the fairy tale aspect too. I remember ONE adult movie that I saw a long time ago that had no romance in it and Patrick Swayze was in it. It was about a doctor who treated leprosy patients–City of Joy. I loved this heartbreaking movie and at the time thought romance would ruin it, but it was so dramatic on its own. So, maybe it is the drama we need, and love can have a lot of drama.

      Oh, Amie, I will surprise you every once in a while, now, for sure!

  • If your readership is girls/women then definitely romance. If your readership is boys/men then probably not.

    If it’s for both, then a bit of romance in the background. As long as the “real” story is captivating, boys/men will put up with a bit of romance.

    • Tricia:
      I think you’ve just said more about the differences between girls and boys in your one little comment than is in any of the Mars Vs Venus books. Great observation!

  • I don’t think it’s required. I think it would really help young teen girls to have strong female characters whose story isn’t mainly about romance or thinking about boys. But if it’s going to be part of the story it should be portrayed more realistically than the fairy tale type that girls & women have been inundated with in the past. Sets us up for feelings of inadequacy and failure.

    • Debbi: I think you might be my next blog post. What you said was brilliant. I kind of see Katniss Everdeen from Hunger Games in a role you are talking about. Her main story is not romance. There’s romance in there, but mostly it’s about survival.

  • Hm. Good questions. I agree with Tricia and will add that I think genre plays into this as well. If you write sci-fi, fantasy or horror, I think the writer can get away with no romance. Think classics like Ender’s Game or The Hobbit. More recently, there’s Holes or Fablehaven. However, those are all geared toward boys.

    Stories that come to mind that do have some romantic element to them: Feed, Hunger Games – like someone mentioned above – Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Princess Academy (MG), Percy Jackson series. Those are more geared toward girls – except for Feed. That’s definitely more for boys. And Percy Jackson seems to appeal to all audiences – like Harry Potter.

  • […] of questions lately–hard questions that don’t have easy answers, like the post about whether books need romance or at the very least, realistic teen romance. Why is realistic romance important? Now, I’m on […]

So, what do you think?