May 2, 2014

Romance and Young Readers

Shape Of My Heart by Kemberlee Shortland - 500by C. Margery Kempe

You may have heard that ‘New Adult’ is all the rage now, eclipsing even Young Adult; I don’t know about that. Marketing terms can be hard to parse exactly, but there’s no doubt about one thing: books aimed at younger readers are selling like hot cakes — and who doesn’t want to be young again? The appeal of romance to young readers is taken up by our guest, Kemberlee Shortland, writer of the Irish Pride series. She’s also head of one of my publishers, Tirgearr!

Take it away, Kem!

I was recently asked what age I thought was too young for reading romance novels. My first inclination was to say at least 16. But then I got to thinking, what was the first romance novel I read and how old was I? I started reading romance when I was 13 but really, it was probably earlier. 

I distinctly remember buying my first romance novel and knowing it was romance. That was in 1981 when I was 16; the book was Highland Velvet by Jude Deveraux. I was an early reader though and thought romances were adventure stories. I can’t remember titles or authors prior to Deveraux, but I do remember being captivated by tales set on the high seas, wagons crossing the prairie, or epics taking place in far off places. I was a young woman on the brink of adulthood and where I’d previously ignored the intimate scenes of the characters, I was now intrigued by them. 

The question of how old a girl should be before being allowed to read romances has long been asked. Friends who started reading romance at a young age say, “The sex? I just turned the pages until the next action scene started.” Secretly, we read the mushy stuff because we were all growing up. Sex was something we didn’t understand. We read romances to see how the whole boy-girl thing worked. Sex Ed classes were basic and focused on the physical rather than emotional. What romance did for young girls was introduce us to the emotional. We craved the knowledge of a real loving relationship. We giggled over the purple prose, but we were growing up, and we wanted boyfriends! 

The publishing industry recognized this need in the market and started publishing books like Ann Brashares’s Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High, Judy Blume, Jenny O’Connell . . . even V.C. Andrews. And more recently, Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight. These authors focus on relationships and emotional attachments of love while giving us great adventure. 

So what age is too young for romance? Only a parent can answer that question, especially romance with graphic sex. But if you ask me, given a choice of books about love or war, the adventure of life over quests filled with horror, I’ll pick love and adventure every time. 

And secretly, I still giggle over the purple prose — even when I’m writing them! 

 What was your first romance?

Irish Pride Series

Irish Pride Series
Available April 2014


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  • Post authorchristineblackthorn

    I was asked a similar question recently. I know I started to read romance books with 9 – more for the adventure content than the romantic one. I think that is part of my point. Does it not depend how a child reads it? As a parent we have the responsibility to keep up to date with what our children read and discuss it with them, if they want to discuss it. I am not sure how a book about two people falling in love and yes, having sex, is different from books about genocide and torture in this (Harry Potter and Hunger Games can be a good example here). By telling them they cannot read it we make romance a taboo topic rather than a completely normal part of adult life. Worse, we separate sex from the emotional link of love if we pretend that adult romantic interaction does not have a physical expression.

    Reply to christineblackthorn
    • Post authorKemberlee

      All of what you said, Christine!

      Everything swings on a pendulum. If we’re going to allow violence the we need to swing 180 and allow sex, to some degree. These days it seems ok to see daddy slap mommy, but get embarrasses and all giggly and embarrassed when daddy shows mommy how much he loves her with a kiss. And “Oh, please, not on her mouth, dad!” So gross! 😉

      Reply to Kemberlee
  • Post authorMadeline Iva

    I started reading around 13 and DEFINITELY for the emotional/romantic/sexual side of things. They were such a huge experiential part of my life I could tell you all their plots still.

    On one hand, looking back, there might have been better ways for me to learn about sex and romance–because real life with boys my age was nothing–NOTHING–like what I was reading. This is why I advocate for books that have romance AND sex AND relationships that are teenage-ish. Because otherwise, the teens are going to just read the adult stuff. And I mean, let’s be realistic—do we really want teens reading bdsm erotic romance? We’re at such a different place for that stuff in our lives—and that’s not the intro they need to help them find healthy, fulfilling, sex-positive and sex-responsible lives.

    On the other hand.

    On the other hand, those romances back then contained cautionary tales — Older, more experienced men + beautiful young women = beware! Without those books I don’t know that I (living in a not-so-great environment) would have been as cautious as I needed to be. The heroines got an HEA but they had to go through a LOT to get it. These books taught me everything about the need for caution and the toll that blindly going head first into an entanglement could lead to. So I am thankful to Jude Devereaux and Laura Kinsale, and allllllllll those romance writers back then.

    Reply to Madeline Iva
    • Post authorKemberlee

      You’re so right, Madeline. There certainly are levels of sex that children should not be privy to. I’d say a rounding NO to erotica. BDSM or otherwise. There’s not a lot of emotional build up to justify why the sex happens, and the sex can border on the violence kids are seeing on TV, which is against the point we’re trying to make here.

      The first book I read that had sex in it was Tame the Rising Tide by Virginia Morgan. When I picked it up, I don’t know why, and saw the heroine was 14 (nearish to my age) I thought I might connect on some level with the protagonist. She’s suffered physical abuse which resulted in pregnancy (they were already talking sex ed in school and unplanned pregnancies) and that her babies were snatched away. Then she set out on a big adventure. There were a lot of mixed signals back then. I was an early starter and not just reading and math. I had ‘become a woman’ before age 10 so had raging hormones early on which I didn’t understand. Reading a book like this, where a girl nearly my age seemed to have something in common with me was appealing. I remember enjoying the story as an adventure story, her self discovery, and eventually finding Mr Right. I totally bypassed any sex in the book though. I wanted to read about her adventure.

      From there it was onto Julia Grice who wrote stories like Daughters of the Flame where the heroine was in the circus, and Velvet Promise with a heroine in medieval England, and Silver Storm by Cynthia Wright who’s heroine was on a pirate ship, and . . . well you get the picture. I was gobbling up romances before I knew they were romances. The sex wasn’t even considered until later on when boys started looking at me for a change. By then, I was like take me on an adventure, THEN I might let you kiss me 😉

      Reply to Kemberlee
  • Post authorKel

    I started reading romance very young, but am pretty sure I started reading Barbara Cartland and similar non-explicit stories. I think I was about eight or nine. I was also reading SciFi and Fantasy novels (Piers Anothony, the Darkover books and Asimov for sure…) so my reading material was a bit older than most people my age.

    I read it for the adventure and for the character development. Boys were just other people, and romance was swashbuckling and courtly love, not kissing. I was reading more explicit stuff by about 11, but I was also in highschool early, so my calendar age isn’t really a good indicator of normal age. Boys were still mostly just people… although slightly more interesting.

    I agree with the people who say “It all depends on the child.” In the end, parents need to be the final arbiters of what their child is mature enough to read. Some kids will be reading adult books at 13, some won’t be ready until their 20s. If parents’re unhappy with what their child is reading, they need to put their big girl and boy panties on and TALK TO THEIR CHILD. I know, it’s a horrible, horrible world where parents need to actually communicate with their children and take part in raising them, but there it is.

    • Post authorKemberlee

      {nodding yep, yep, yep}

      I don’t think I saw boys as just boys though. I remember my dad had a really good friend who used to come over with his guitar. He always sang me American Pie. One day I made him promise he’d marry me and he agreed. I was SO heartbroken to find out he’d married someone else. I might have been 5-6 lol My family ran a service station so cute boys were always around, and I was always trying to get their attention.

      Until I was about 10, my favorite reads were Roald Dahl and John D FitzGerald and his Great Brain series. I read Gone With the Wind when I was around 11-12. I’ve always preferred the larger books. I think GWTW was probably my segue into romance…historical romance. Couldn’t get enough once I picked one up.

      Yes, definitely, it’s the parent’s ultimate decision what their children should read. I would hope they would make those choices with as much information is out there rather than bowing to social pressures.

      And I couldn’t agree more. Communication is paramount. In most things.

      Reply to Kemberlee
      • Post authorKel

        I definitely knew that there were romantic options, but my parents were extremely careful not to assign expectations of romantic partners to their children (I think my father was actually disappointed that I wasn’t a lesbian). Boys were an option, but none of them met my expectations – I’m quite serious about the courtly love and swashbuckling thing… the lack of both formal dancing and sword fighting in modern life was a serious disappointment in the dating arena for years. 😉

      • Post authorKemberlee

        Oh yes, I had my dating years disappointments too. I was raised by grease monkeys in the family garage. Cutest boys from the high school worked there after school and on weekends, and during the summer. As I got older and the cute guys were working there full time, it was difficult not to drool all over the place. I think the glare in dad’s eye though told them “Don’t even *think* about dating my daughters!” (I have a younger sister) And it worked. It wasn’t until last year when I met up with one of those guys from high school who worked for dad who told me, “Man, I wish your dad hadn’t given me ‘the eye’. I really liked you.” That was nice of him to admit. I’d gone through most of my teen years thinking no one liked me. All along it was dad’s glare!

        I think my folks thought I would be lesbian too (she’s not dating, what’s wrong with her?) so really discourage me from bringing girl friends home for sleepovers. So I read. A lot. Everything. Westerns, high seas swashbucklers, medieval, contemporary, etc. All romance though.

        It shouldn’t have surprised anyone when I brought home my first boyfriend . . . a cowboy(ish). Then a guy with a Harley (weekend biker, though his brother was a biker).

        Years later when I brought home the man I ended up marrying, you could actually hear the sigh of relief. I think it’s still echoing around the planet 😉 He’s a pharmaceutical engineer (I introduced him as a druggy to my folks {snicker}). Banker looking guy with a steady job and savings. No fast cars, no Harleys, no mechanics. A ‘normal’ guy LOL

        It’s funny how reading a few romances can affect one’s life in subtle ways. Though I don’t ever remember reading about engineers or bankers 😉

        Reply to Kemberlee

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