Love to read them. Hate to read them. Love to hate-read them. Readers just can’t get enough of YA romance tropes and storylines. From fake dating to pairs being snowed in together, the plots are as comfortably familiar as a worn-in fluffy sweater. But there’s no end to the possibilities for re-interpretation, as two new anthologies demonstrate: Fools in Love: Fresh Twists on Romantic Tales, out today from Running Press Kids, edited by Ashley Herring Blake and Rebecca Podos, and Serendipity: Ten Romantic Tropes Transformed, coming January 4 from Feiwel and Friends, edited by Marissa Meyer. For readers with a fear of commitment to a long story or those who like to play the field before settling down, these anthologies offer a sampling of romance tropes from some of YA’s best-loved authors.
Like many recent projects, Fools in Love got its start on Twitter. In the summer of 2019, Podos (Like Water, The Mystery of Hollow Places) tweeted: “Is there a YA romcom anthology where each author tackles a different popular trope? I want one.” Faster than you can say “missed connection,” she had wished such a book into being, with Britny Brooks-Perilli at Running Press Kids acquiring and Herring Blake (Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World; Girl Made Out of Stars) enlisted as co-editor. The editors generated a list of tropes and approached a number of authors they admire to participate in the project, including Rebecca Barrow, Gloria Chao, Mason Deaver, Sara Farizan, Claire Kann, Malinda Lo, Hannah Moskowitz, Natasha Ngan, Lilliam Rivera, Laura Silverman, Amy Spalding, Rebecca Kim Wells, and Julian Winters.
Each author was asked to choose and rank their top three tropes. The process immediately dispelled the fear that there might be “15 authors vying for the enemies-to-lovers trope,” Podos said, and every author ended up with one of their top-choice tropes, including second-chance romance, kissing under the influence, and mistaken identity to name a few. From there, the writers were given creative license to create a story.
“The great thing about this anthology is that we were given such freedom to approach our tropes in whatever way we wanted,” said Rebecca Barrow, whose story “Bloom” is based on the love-transcends-space-and-time trope. “I thought about a girl who was driven by a desire for revenge, and what would happen to her if she was completely knocked off her feet by love in the midst of that mission.” Although she typically writes contemporary realism, Barrow said the story offered the opportunity to explore “a really interesting challenge: the magic of time travel combined with the magic of the feelings blossoming between these two girls.” The result was an “ethereal” story that showcased Barrow’s beautiful prose style, according to Herring Blake.
For her sibling’s-hot-best-friend story, Lilliam Rivera took inspiration from that wellspring of all happily-ever-afters: Disney. “When I was young I watched the 1953 film Lili starring Leslie Caron as an innocent French girl who falls for a carnival puppeteer,” she said. “It's a strange film, but my love for puppets exploded so I knew I wanted to write a story about a family of puppeteers for this anthology. “Along with romance, Rivera added in elements that explore family dynamics and identity. “Ultimately, ‘These Strings’ is about stepping away from the strict roles imposed by family to allow love to flourish,” she said.
Podos took on the second-chance romance trope with her story “Disaster,” which she describes as a story of “sweet, ’90s-era disaster gays at the end of the world.” Meanwhile, Herring Blake tackled the grumpy-one/soft-one trope in “Edges,” which she described as a story of queer romantic angst. The anthology came together during the pandemic, offering both the editors and authors “a great escapist project during quarantine,” Podos said.
A Collection with 'Ebb and Flow'
Hot on the heels of Fools in Love, Serendipity arrives with the new year. “Editing a collection of short stories is something that’s been on my writing bucket list for a long time,” said Meyer (Heartless, The Lunar Chronicles), crediting the Stephanie Perkins-edited collection My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016) as inspiration. Mayer hand-picked the authors “because I adore their work, so I trusted them to write something amazing,” she said, adding, “I love romantic short stories. There are so many tropes that I adore as a reader and I knew they could serve as really fun inspiration for the contributors.”
So many tropes, in fact, that not all of them were used in the anthology and she’s got a few saved in her back pocket for another potential collection. For Serendipity, Meyer worked with Elise Bryant, Elizabeth Eulberg, Leah Johnson, Anna-Marie McLemore, Sandhya Menon, Julie Murphy, Caleb Roehrig, Sarah Winifred Searle, and Abigail Hing Wen, as well as contributing her own story to the collection. “I was absolutely thrilled when I received the stories,” she said. “I love them all so much, and it was a lot of fun for me to see how each author put their spin on their chosen trope.”
Johnson (You Should See Me in a Crown) took on the stranded-together trope in her story “Anyone Else but You,” in which an unlikely alliance between two classmates blossoms over the course of 11 hours while the pair is locked in a party supply warehouse just before an end-of-school celebration. In “The Surprise Match,” Menon (When Dimple Met Rishi) takes on the matchmaker trope with an unlikely lovers story set against the backdrop of the lead-up to prom. Searle wrote the graphic short story “Keagan’s Heaven on Earth,” a secret admirer tale with a very happy ending. In her own story, “Shooting Stars,” Meyer explores the one-bed trope through a class-trip story set on an old steam train.
“I gave a lot of thought to what the similarities and differences between the stories were and tried to sort them in a way that would let each story shine,” Meyers said. “For example, a number of the stories feature high school dances, so I took care that those didn’t get all bunched up together. I also noticed that some stories were very light-hearted, while others tackled more serious subjects, so I attempted to alternate those vibes where I could, to give the collection a nice ebb and flow.”
Mayer hopes readers will “swoon, sigh, and smile” their way through the collection, finding new life in familiar tropes interpreted by some of their favorite authors.
For Podos, the anthology was an opportunity to highlight the work of authors with “a range of identities and experiences,” in stories that are “incredibly readable.” Regardless of the trope, this is a collection that focuses on the happily-ever-after that readers crave, especially at a time when connections in the real world have been hard to create.
Fools in Love: Fresh Twists on Romantic Tales, edited by Ashley Herring Blake and Rebecca Podos. Running Press Kids, $17.99 Dec. 7 ISBN 978-0-7624-7234-5
Serendipity: Ten Romantic Tropes, Transformed, edited by Marissa Meyer. Feiwel and Friends, $18.99 Jan. 4 ISBN 978-1-250-78084-3