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Can I have a romance that won’t make me cry

November 22, 2012

One of the hardest requests I’ve had was to recommend romance fiction that was not going to make my reader cry.

Several years ago, I had two requests for romance fiction that was only happy. One was from a borrower and the other was from a friend (who was also a borrower at another branch in my library network) both of whom were having chemotherapy for breast cancer. Both of them had said “I just don’t want to cry. I need to stay positive and I really want to read some happy romance”.

Now this may seem to be a simple task for the non-romance reader for romance is perceived as pleasurable reading, it is light, it has a happy ending. But to achieve a happy ending and to keep the reader engaged most romances delve into some dark emotions and unbelievable sadness and betrayal. These obstacles can seem insurmountable, heartbreaking, tear-jerking and emotionally distressing so much so that the reader is left exhausted before the author brings the feeling up again.

Photograph from Flickr user PinkSherbet/original owner “D Sharon Pruitt” Creative Commons License

I could never recommend Sherry Thomas’s Not Quite a Husband with the heart-wrenching lack of communication between Leo and Bryony to these women – yet it is a brilliant romance. I have read many Julia Quinn novels that are light and fun Regency romances yet to blithely recommend any of her books would mean I could inadvertently have a reader crying their eyes out over the Michael’s unrequited love for Francesca in When He was Wicked.

Book reviewers are always keen to tell you if a book is a tear-jerker but they rarely indicate when a book has brought a tear to their eye, particularly if the protagonists overcome their sad situation to have a happy ending. If I had not been asked for romances, I think I would have been more successful in finding books that were not sad. Any fiction that is based on characterisation and relationships has the potential to make the reader cry whereas I feel that this is less likely in reading an action adventure tale.

Knowing this, I felt that I needed to have read the books that I was recommending to both my borrower and my friend. I gave them both Rachel Gibson’s See Jane Score and Susan Elizabeth Philips’s Match Me if you Can. Both came back happy with those books and asked for more. I gave them Jennifer Crusie’s Welcome to Temptation but I made note to not give them The Cinderella Deal. We seemed to do the loops with these three authors with me carefully vetting each book recommendation first. After a while my borrower made her own way with her choices and we would chat at the circulation desk. Since I finished at my previous workplace I have not heard from her or how she has been.

I started lending my own books to my friend and though we didn’t get to see each other as much as I would have liked, our rotation of happy reads (delivered through another friend) continued. Sadly, a year and a half after I was first asked to recommend romances that would not make her cry my friend passed away. About two months later I received a small bag with the last four books I had lent her, one still had her bookmark left in it. As much as Rachel Gibson used to make me laugh with her wry observations and her funny dialogue, I can no longer read her books without have a cry first.



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