(On Some Classic Teen Romance Novels)
I may be really getting old, the reason I feel like I’m not that in touch anymore with what kind of romance novels teenagers in this generation are reading in the comforts of their bedrooms. However, based on what I’m learning from commercial media and from some teenagers I know, many if not most of them are as romantic as many people my age were 25 years ago; meaning, they still read romance novels. However, the type of romance books many current young adults are into is not those which involve puppy love, handsome boys next door, and cute girls in school and the neighborhood. Instead, they are more interested in the so-called vampire-themed fantasy romance novels—those which have sexy and beautiful and handsome vampires (or other horror characters, for that matter) falling in love with equally alluring humans or vice versa.
Nothing is wrong with that. After all, books regardless of genre are all food for the brain. Whatever detractors might have to say, they remain a part of literature. In fact, being an eclectic bibliophile myself, I have also in my collection books in the vampire-themed genre—like Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series (Twilight, 2005; New Moon, 2006; Eclipse, 2007; and Breaking Dawn, 2008) and Anne Rice’s latest Vampire Chronicles (Merrick, 2000; Blood and Gold, 2001; Blackwood Farm, 2002; and Blood Canticle, 2003).
However, what many teenage and young-adult booklovers might have been missing these days are those reality-based, true-to-life romance novels popular in the 1980s like Sweet Dreams and Sweet Valley High.
Sweet Dreams (Are Made of Books)
A series of 233 numbered stand-alone young-adult romance novels, Sweet Dreams were published from 1981 through to 1996, written mostly by U.S. writers like Barbara Conklin, Janet Quin-Harkin, Laurie Lykken, and Yvonne Greene. The stories tell of highschool drama and romance: first love, first dates, first heartbreaks. My personal best-three are books #1 (P.S. I Love You), #22 (Secret Identity), and #170 (Rock n’ Roll Sweetheart). These were some of the first books that inspired me to write similar stories about love and relationships.
P.S. I Love You, by Barbara Conklin (September 1981): “When her father left after the divorce, Mariah lost her sense of family. Now she’s lost her special summer, too. Instead of fulfilling her dream to become a writer, Mariah has to help her mother with a house-sitting job in very rich Palm Springs. People with a lot of money make Mariah uncomfortable. Until she meets Paul Strobe, the rich boy next door. Paul’s not a snob, and he doesn’t act superior. In fact, his sandy hair and blue eyes make Mariah fall for him. With Paul, Palm Springs becomes romantic after all. But there’s one major problem: Paul is seriously ill and all his family’s money cannot help him. Will Mariah lose Paul, too, just when she’s found her first love?”
Secret Identity, by Joanna Campbell (September 1982): “When she meets Eric Bliss, Jena Maxwell forgets her disappointment about not going to Europe for the summer. Jena falls deeply in love with the gentle and handsome Eric.
But as their fabulous summer passes, Jena begins to wonder why Eric is so mysterious, quiet about his family and friends. Then Jena learns the truth about Eric, and her beautiful summer of happiness and love is ruined.”
Rock n’ Roll Sweetheart, by Laurie Lykken (March 1990): “Chrissy McCall has always wanted to be a rockstar, and when she meets Robin James, lead singer of a popular local band, the big break she’s been hoping for seems clear. Not only does he invite her to a rehearsal, but he also gives her a chance to audition some of her original materials. But that’s not the only reason Chrissy is thrilled—the handsome and cool Robin seems to think she’s pretty special, too. At first, there’s real electricity between them as they sing the love songs Chrissy has written. However, after a few more rehearsals, things begin to change—the moment the music stops, so does the magic. Will the romantic duet she’s dreamed of end on a sour note?”
To read the synopses of the other books in the series, check out http://sweetdreamsseries.com.
Sweet Dreams books are no longer available in bookstores like Chapters and McNally Robinson, but you will still find copies at many of the used-books shops around Winnipeg at very affordable prices. A few years ago, I chanced upon on eBay someone who was selling her near-complete Sweet Dreams collection. An avid fan of the series, I purchased it. I am yet to finish reading all of them, but I’ve since begun rereading especially my favorite ones. While reliving the experience, I’ve realized that stories about young love, which I first discovered in high school, never lose their spell on people who remain romantic and idealistic despite their age and experience. Deep within the pages of the books, I could still get lost in bittersweet delight.
The Last Leaf
I guess vampires or no vampire, novels about romance and relationships will remain well-loved especially by teenagers and the young at heart. However, there’s one thing I’m sure though–many teens nowadays would rather that their lovers bite them on the neck than kiss them on the lips. This sounds sexier; but my advice to young booklovers, try to get your hands also on some old romance books like Sweet Dreams, to make yourself somehow feel like truly innocent teenyboppers especially in this age when growing up seems to have become a fast-forward process.