K-I-S-S-I-N-G/ Romance in YA

It seems appropriate that it’s the month of Valentine (or more accurately/grossly/bloodily the feast of Lupercalia- go google it. I’ll wait). Back? Wondering why Hallmark didn’t make a card for that? Enlightened? Good.

So once again I am wondering about romance in my writing.
I don’t set out to write about love and relationships. I usually set out to write an action-packed story with a kick-ass heroine, but love usually finds a way in.
Ashes, Ashes has a romance. It is not a central theme but it is there.
The next book I wrote has none. It is a tale of friendship between two teenage girls.
But my current WIP is developing a romance.

It’s sort of inevitable in a way.

Throw young people together, give them challenges, if they respond in a strong way, feelings grow. I try to have love come from an appreciation of someone’s character, their kindness, or humor, or bravery rather than from muscles or pretty faces.
I fall half in love with these characters myself after all. So it’s only fair that someone gets to do some kissing.
There must be some intense interaction between characters otherwise things get boring pretty fast, and throwing a little sexual tension is a good way to achieve that fervor we writers all love so much.

I blogged about romance in YA back in 2009. At that time I was worried that there were too many renditions of teen girl protagonists losing themselves completely in a boy in situations which were not always healthy.
Since then we’ve had books like Catching Fire and Mockingjay, Ash,Graceling, and Ascendant, to name just a few.

I understand how the uncertainty of a crush, attraction, blossoming love is ideal in a book. It creates tension, colors every interchange, lets the reader into the character’s brain. Plus aren’t we all somewhat defined by who we love whether it be healthy or unhealthy?

But still I struggle, because I want my characters to grow into themselves first or at the same time, to know themselves, and not just fall for the first pretty face. And I don’t want my boys to just be pretty faces either. They have to be a foil for the main character (if they’re not the main character themselves.) They can’t just be paper cut-outs and exist merely to be fallen in love with.

It’s a very thin line to draw. Add to that, the difficulty of not just rehashing the old stereotypes, and I think sometimes it’s better not to even go there.
I ask myself: does the book call for a romance? Or can it succeed without one?
But then your character has to be able to stand on her (his) own as an interesting human being, full of weakness and strength, questions and answers, able to take the reader on a ride without all the kissing.

What do you think?