If you keep up with the world of commercial fiction, you may have noticed that the genre of the rom-com is making a bit of a comeback, in more ways than one. Romance was one of the most popular genres in literature in the 2000s, with big names such as The Notebook and Bridget Jones’ Diary giving the genre some serious cred with their success with book to film adaptations. In 2008 alone, “romantic fiction generated $1.37 billion in sales, making up 13.5% of the consumer book market.” However, romance stories have existed for centuries, with writers like Jane Austen as pioneers.
But in 2020, the genre is once again on the upswing. According to an article written by Kaylee Brewster, one of the reasons the romance genre is having a revival is because in “this era of digital dating, replete with hookup apps, girlfriend group-texts, glitter grams and ghosting, the rom-com genre and its tropes have changed a great deal since its heyday in the ’90s. But some characteristics remain the same: Missed connections, fake relationships, second-chance romance, cute banter and warm tones remain common hallmarks.”
Romance has long been considered one of the lesser genres of fiction, many viewing it as trashy, “girlish” and without intellectual merit. In 2018, Jen Miller for The Lily, wrote an article entitled “Why are romance novels considered ‘fluff’? Because they embrace female sexuality.” In this article, Miller writes “romance gets trashed, says Sarah Wendell, co-founder and mastermind of Smart Bitches Trashy Books, and author of three books, because ‘it traffics in emotion and empathy and personal connection and values happiness.’”
Romantic stories don’t need to be, and often aren’t desired to be, of the highest literary pursuits. More often than not, romance is written for ease of mind, to tap into humans desires for a happy ending and exploit them to the fullest extent, often in the most heartfelt and tender ways.
The romance book as we know it follows a typical pattern. Person A meets Person B, Person A and Person B interact (often in a flirtatious manner), Person A and Person B grow closer, conflict arises between Person A and Person B (either from each other or an outside source), Person A and Person B must learn to face said conflict, and then Person A and Person B end up together, happily. The predictability of the happy ending is what draws readers into the romance genre. In a world full of turmoil, with heavy international conflicts, the climate crisis, politics and mental illness, light-hearted stories with love at their core are exactly what people need sometimes.
In today’s world, romance doesn’t just exist for the 25-year-old white woman sitting alone with her cat and a bottle of Moscato. The genre is going through some serious upheaval and restructuring. In her same article for The Lily, Miller asserts that “When women of color and from other marginalized communities weren’t reaching readers through traditional publishers, they made their own careers and made their own enterprises and connected with other readers.” This highlights how the genre, as well as the process in which these stories get published, are progressing and transforming. While many stories still focus on white, heterosexual relationships, romance novels focusing on queer characters, characters of color, and characters with disabilities are on the come up. Books such as Red, White and Royal Blue; Crazy Rich Asians; The Kiss Quotient; The Right Swipe, and Love Her or Lose Her show how far the genre has come, and how far the genre can still push its boundaries.
Romance may always be regarded as silly and fantastical to some, but to others, it is an escape into a life that always guarantees its readers a happy ending, something that can be hard to come by in everyday life.
Below is a list of some of my favorite romance stories (both of all time and at the moment). If you’re a fellow romantic, like myself, you might just enjoy these easy reads that tugged at my heartstrings and made me shed a tear or two (or three, but no one needs to know that):
- I Owe You One, Sophie Kinsella
- The Hating Game, Sally Thorne
- 99% Mine, Sally Thorne
- One Day in December, Josie Silver
- Attachments, Rainbow Rowell
- It Ends With Us, Colleen Hoover
- Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell
- Anna and the French Kiss, Stephanie Perkins
- Me Before You, Jojo Meyes
- Red, White and Royal Blue, Casey McQuiston
Lauren Ablondi-Olivo is the Long River Review fiction panel editor. She can be reached at email@example.com.