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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Inside A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy

Happily Ever After?

I like romance novels. When I have time to fit in books that aren’t young adult books, romance tops the list. Well, along with mystery. And non-fiction.

I have to admit, I am very particular about romances. About what is called a “romance.”

What I want is simple: couple meet, stuff happens, happy ending.

I’m not a fan of things that make either part of the couple look stupid or shallow. So, I’m pretty particular about how current or ex boyfriends or girlfriends are depicted, not because of “oh, don’t like cheating” but more because it’s almost impossible for me to read about a horrible partner and not judge the person for not realizing it and moving on.

I’m also not a fan of first love, true love. But, weirdly enough, I am a fan of the “woman moves back to her home town after years away” storyline.

Most important to me, though, is two characters I like and respect and want to see together; a plot that makes sense; and a happy ending.

For a romance, to me, that means only one thing: the couple are together at the end of the book. I don’t need to see marriage and/or babies; but I don’t want to see death and break-ups. End it in death or the couple not together, and what I see is a contemporary book with romantic elements, but NOT a romance. And if someone recommended such a book to me when I asked for a romance, I’d throw the book at them when I got to the end.

Which brings us to teen books and teen readers.

Is a romance for teens different than a romance for adults?

I say that while librarians or publishers say yes, teens say no.

I read romance in high school. Typically, Harlequins, but other ones, also. In the library, frequently, I see teen readers read adult romance. Sometimes I wonder if part of the reason is the lack of happy endings in books that are called teen romances.

Now, I get that a teen romance is not going to have a “happy ever after, marriage and babies” ending. Honestly? I wouldn’t want that, the idea that the teen romance is the One True Love. (See note above about First Love, True Love.) But, on the other hand, to call a book a romance and have the couple not be together at the end — a Happy For Now — annoys me to no end, because I believe, a thousand percent, that when a teen wants romance that includes the couple being together, still, at the end of the book.

So, what do you think?

Does a teen romance have to have the couple together at the end of the book?

What is your favorite teen romance to recommend to readers?

And what title have you seen recommended that leaves you scratching your head, wondering, “does the person suggesting that even know what a romance is?”

Oh, as for favorite teen romance? Right now, I’d have to go with Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins.

As for head scratcher: in looking up various lists, I saw Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher come up as a “Love & Romance” book. Admittedly, it was on Amazon. But still. No, just no. I’d say that such online store lists are a reason why librarians will still be in business, but I’ve seen some weird recs on library listservs so librarians aren’t always better.


About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is


  1. One of my favorite teen romances is Jen E. Smith’s Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. And if you want a weepy “will they ever get together?” romance, Gayle Forman’s If I Could Stay.

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      I love Jen Smith’s books! Definitively what I think of as “romance.” I haven’t read Forman’s book yet (I know, I know, I really should.)

  2. Such an interesting question! Is there a sub-category for the sad, weepy romance stories? The Thorn Birds, Love Story, Romeo & Juli… well, you get the idea. Usually I prefer the happy ending. So should we come up with some alternative labels, like “star-crossed” or “teenage-might-have-been”? I really loved Daniel Handler’s Why We Broke Up —the way it describes the relationship—but maybe that’s different from Romance, too. Hmmmm.

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      I think “tear my heart out” is it’s own category! A “make me cry” book is it’s own category altogether. I was wondering, is WHY WE BROKE UP a romance? I think maybe. Even though most of the book is about a romance that isn’t the romance at the end.

  3. Have you been inside my head lately? Because I’ve been thinking the same thoughts. 🙂

    I completely agree that teens looking for a romance are going to want the couple together at the end, just like an adult would expect from an adult romance. Heck, it’s what I want when I’m reading a romance for teens. I agree that there shouldn’t be a first love is forever thing, but together and happy for the moment is what I like. MEANT TO BE by Lauren Morrill came to my mind while reading this. The couple is together in the end, but it is not a relationship anyone would see lasting very long. However, the reader is given a nice romantic experience with a satisfying conclusion.

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      Yes! A satisfying conclusion in a romance is the couple together. If they have broken up, then it’s more a coming of age with romance. And, sometimes, it’s almost a matter of where the story ends. Yes, many relationships end — both teens and adults — so end the teen romance while they are still together. Why add the extra chapter of falling out of love or whatever else happens?

  4. I love Stephanie Perkins’ romances. They’re smart, fun, and yeah I love the “happy for now” ending. And I love Maureen Johnson’s earlier books. She does romance — or what I remember being “romance” (it’s been a while) — really well. But right now, my two favorite romance books are Gayle Forman’s Just One Day and Just One Year. You do have to read them together, and it’s a bit True Love, but she’s smart about it. Plus, bonus world travel. It makes me happy.

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      I have to read Just One Year. I really liked Just One Day, and how it was a romance that wasn’t a traditional one, and can’t wait to see how/if Just One Year changes my view on characters.

  5. Such an interesting question! I agree about the First Love=True Love thing. Many of the HEA relationships that work for me are set in other times/places. Fairy tale retellings, or historical fiction, settings where people would potentially get married a lot younger than in contemporary society. When it’s contemporary, I want to be able to believe that the characters are happy at the end, regardless of whether they’ll necessarily be together forever. On the other hand, one of my aunts married her high school sweetheart and they’re still married, 30+ years later. So a lot depends on the story and characters, and how well they’re set up.

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      I realize as I read more of the romance community posts/tweets, that what I really want in any romance is HFN (happy for now, that is, happy couple at the end of the book) and not HEA (which, it seems, requires a forever commitment at the end, symbolized by babies and marriage.)

      I agree that some HS sweethearts live happily ever after, so it’s not impossible. What I dislike is the idea that – -to get overly wordy — that first love is the only love, with no room for there being a difference between like and love and lust; or, especially with teenagers, that there is no room for two people to be in love yet have different pathways in life that means togetherness is not for them; or, again with teens, no room for the characters to grow in ways that means togetherness isn’t good for them anymore. I’ve seen that “change” being treated as a bad thing (you were fine till you changed, ok, make the person change back for the relationship) and I find that troubling.

      • YES to all of your last paragraph! I especially think that there being “no room for there being a difference between like and love and lust” is a problem for me. It’s what I dislike so much about the “I saw him and he was so handsome and it was true love forever” tropes. If that gets complicated, well and good, but if that first attraction is the only thing the relationship is based on and there’s no need for re-commitment, I don’t buy it.

  6. I was just going to mention Stephanie Perkins, too! I also really love Megan McCafferty’s SLOPPY FIRSTS series for a romance that could also not be a romance. Sarah Dessen is of course the standard of swoony romances, her characters are usually always together at the end of the book. I think that’s what makes a teen romance: That moment of finally getting together, and not breaking up by the end of the book, that makes it romantic. That’s much more enticing that forever when you’re young, right?

    A potential exception is Deb Calletti’s books: Very often romantic, not always with a happy ending. I might also consider the SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS books romance books, but various romantic leads fall off during those too.

    Thanks for a great post and an interesting discussion!

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      Love McCafferty and Dessen. For me, Dessen is usually more of a contemporary writer who includes romantic elements and has some great romantic leads, but I don’t always think of her as “romance” because the HFN doesn’t happen. I guess what I want for romance in a book is for it to end before things go bad, and if a romance ends in fiction, it usually includes things going bad and I don’t want to read that when I’m in the mood for romance.

      I have to read more Calletti!

  7. I absolutely like my romances to have happy endings, whether it’s teen or adult. I understand it’s difficult to have couples in young adult books live “happily ever after” since they’re so young, but I like to have the sense that they CAN and WILL make it work, and that they’re definitely together at the end. I’m not satisfied if I don’t believe they will be together. It’s the romantic in me. And, hey, I married my high school sweetheart. 🙂

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      Yay for you marrying your HS sweetheart!

      I posted above in a reply what the concerns I see for fiction and HS couples, so I won’t get into that.

      But I do think that some romances, well, stay romances. A fifty percent divorce rate doesn’t mean that adult romance books should end with “and five years later they divorced,” so why shouldn’t teen romances end with the couple still together? Who cares what may happen freshman year of college, after the book ends?

  8. Stephanie Perkins’ “Lola and the Boy Next Door” is a favorite (liked it even more than Anna and the French Kiss). Also, Jenny Han’s “Summer” trilogy is awesome. Yes, it takes F-O-R-E-V-E-R for the The Couple to get together, and there’s a bit of character suicide in book 3, but the journey is so satisfying and the books are just, well, good!