Quick question. If you read romances, would you be disappointed if you picked a book that didn’t have a happily ever after (HEA)? Not even a happy for now? Would you feel cheated if it did not include a satisfying epilogue?
Do all romance novels need to have a happily ever after? The book community is divided. Every few months, the conversation is back on social media. Often fueled by a low rating because the readers felt cheated. What better time to revisit the topic as we step into a month meant to celebrate love? A month where we will surely be inundated with romance book recommendations.
Before we proceed, a disclaimer. I will not be naming the books (apart from a couple of them) since I do not want to give out spoilers. We are talking about the book endings after all.
Making of a romance novel
Technically speaking, a romance novel is a work of fiction that focuses on the relationship and romantic love between two people, typically with an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. 99% of the time, it ends in a happily ever after.
For some readers, it is about the journey. The triumphs and setbacks that make up the story with the promise of a happy ending.
Does an emotionally satisfying ending need always be a walk down the aisle? According to the purists, it is an unwritten rule. Some consider no HEA in romances akin to the mystery left unsolved in a mystery or thriller novel. Who makes the rules?
What exactly is a “happy” ending
In a traditional sense where romance books and movies are concerned, a “happy” ending is the couple overcoming all odds and living happily ever after. Most romance novels follow the set formula complete with the breakup in the third act. Where all’s well that ends well.
One of the most popular tropes of a small-town romance is when a woman on the brink of a major promotion returns home, rekindles a lost love and decides to stay back. Chucking everything that she has worked hard all her life for that one true love. Sexist much? High time we challenge societal norms.
Another popular trope of enemies to lovers walks a thin line with bullying and toxic relationships. All are pushed under the carpet or tied into a neat bow for the sake of a happy ending. An optimistic ending, maybe. Emotionally satisfying, definitely not.
Closure. Self-discovery. Personal growth. The protagonist prioritizing self over continuing in a relationship with fingers and toes crossed? These can be considered emotionally satisfying too.Embracing Imperfect Endings in Romance Novels #RememberingLoveBlogHop @MindRustic @sukaina1422 Click To Tweet
Romance vs love stories
Love is messy. Not all love stories have a happy ending. Romance books are meant to be escapist. They are popular for a reason.
Gone with the Wind has all the elements of a romance but is considered historical fiction. The Fault in Our Stars is a young adult fiction. Why not just label romances without HEA as a love story or worse, women’s fiction, and get on with it? But then again, why?
Realism in romance novels
All said, authors are exploring realistic conclusions in romance novels. True to say that imperfect and deeply human stories leave a lasting impact. Repeating what I said earlier, it is meant to be all about the journey. Whether or not they are received well by readers is a different matter altogether.
Some authors seek a middle ground using open endings with a promise of resolution. The Happy For Now. No walking down the aisle or riding into the sunset. Red, White, And Royal Blue does not necessarily end in a happily ever after (it is a happy for now) but is emotionally satisfying.
Romance reads are feel-good books for me. Whether as a palate cleanser after a dark and disturbing read or an escapist one when I feel overwhelmed. When I pick a romance book or watch a romance flick, I do expect a HEA. Even if it is predictable and a bit unrealistic. I leave my book blogger self behind and enjoy it as a reader.
That said, formulaic romance books are underwhelming and even off-putting. After a point, they seem cookie-cutter and Hallmark-ish. Sometimes leaving me with the thought “this story did not need a happily ever after”.
I also feel a book with a satisfying open ending can be labeled as a romance. Just as love comes in all shapes and forms, realism in romance novels should be acceptable too. Am I rambling? Do I sound confused? Maybe, I am. But I am definitely ready to explore romance reads with alternative endings.
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Is it time to challenge the traditional notion of happily ever afters? Are we as readers ready to accept more realistic romance novels? Is it time we embrace alternative endings and allow the authors to tell the stories they want? Not force them to adhere to the rules? Or are we just stirring the pot here, attempting to spoil a good thing? What are your thoughts?
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