So, as someone who will rarely pick up a book just based on the romance, it may seem odd that I would choose “Forbidden Love” as the theme for my first book display at Glen Ellyn. It certainly seems odd to me, but obviously I did it anyways!
I started thinking about this display when I read Sara Farizan’s beautiful If You Could Be Mine. I found this story about two teenage girls in Iran to be so powerful. Not only do Sahar and Nasrin have to face the fact that their relationship is literally outlawed in Iran (and carries the risk of death if they are found out), this outside pressure also reveals the other tensions and cracks in their relationship. Their love is deep and passionate, but as two flawed people with everything working against them, they, and we readers, must question if that is enough.
I think that is part of what draws me to books with forbidden loves. When there are intense outside pressures – not just the idea of “we shouldn’t be doing this” or “I don’t want to like you,” but “loving you could lead to my death” or “I will have to commit a terrible betrayal if I love you” or similar weighty considerations – they can both deepen and wreck relationships. The romance in these books is often secondary to the development of the characters as individuals. Park and Eleanor’s relationship is beautiful, but so is watching the way it changes each of them and how they deal with their life outside of each other. In Matched, Cassia’s growing feelings for Ky are certainly interesting to read about, but the way they inspire her to question the world around her and stir rebellion in her is much more compelling, at least for me.
All these books contain romantic elements, of course. And some of them are even categorized as romance. But once the dangers and difficulties of love and romance that is actually forbidden are added to the mix, the characters in these stories must examine themselves and grow, must face difficult choices and must decide how brave and transgressive they are willing to be. And that is always worth reading about.