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  • Writer's pictureReagan Engleman and Margaret Gramling

The (Book) Love Hypothesis: Part Two of "Rom-Coms and Book Nerds: A Love Story"

Our mission at Her Voice at the Table is to create a space to share and discuss the intersections of student writing and well-being: how can we better serve the young people in our care, creating lessons and assessments that facilitate not just their skills but also their voices and sense of self? This mission isn’t complete without student voices, so we love when former students write for the blog, sharing stories from their journeys beyond our classrooms.

Earlier this week, Kate Schenck posted “Rom-Coms and Book Nerds: A Love Story,” a nod to her (secret) love of rom-coms and a beautiful reflection on what the genre can offer to us and our students, especially when looking through the lens of well-being. As part of her research, Kate interviewed two of her former students, current seniors Margaret and Reagan. Today, we have the joy of hearing their response to what rom-coms have meant to them. Enjoy!

Margaret: On Falling Back in Love With Reading

Chick Lit❤️. I’ll start at the beginning for you: as a young girl, I loved to read. Not novels like Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, or Magic Tree House, but rather The Penderwicks and The Selection, or any other book series that followed young girls, and you guessed it, have some romance in them. Even as a 12-year-old I was drawn to these fun, lighthearted books.

In high school, though, the busyness of school picked up, and in conjunction with having to read what felt like terribly difficult and boring novels, I lost my love of reading. So, for freshmen and sophomore year, I never once reached for a book that wasn’t required reading. But then, during the summer before my junior year, a flip switched, and I was excited to read again, probably from seeing my best friend Maddy read romance books with fun, bright covers by the pool. (Whoever doesn’t judge a book by its cover is lying and I will die on this hill.) I started with what was popular on TikTok: Beach Read, People We Meet on Vacation, and The Unhoneymooners. The Holy Trinity in my humble opinion. Maddy and I would share our books and unpack our thoughts about each book and its characters.

Celebrating Reagan's Birthday

Then, at my school’s junior year retreat in September, I was, by chance, in the same cabin as Reagan – and thank God for that! Somehow, we started talking about the books we were reading and uncovered our common love of rom-coms – and you could say the rest is history. Since that fateful day over a year ago, we have been swapping and geeking out about our favorite books, eagerly discussing who we would cast as characters in movies or which characters we liked the best. And yes, while the books are fun to read and act as a de-stressor for me (and an intentional way for me to stop scrolling on TikTok…), I think the best benefit from this reading revival are the relationships that have stemmed from it. If I had not picked up reading again, I probably would not have become friends with Reagan, and I probably would not have kept up with Mrs. Schenck and Dr. Griffin – a horrifying thought. Even if I stop reading when I get to college, I know that these relationships will outlast my reading phase, although I do hope it sticks around.

I have also slowly gained more confidence and clarity in the value of reading these romance novels. In the beginning, I was ashamed that I wasn’t reading intellectual or historical books – this shame even manifested in me wasting 20 bucks at Barnes and Nobles on a self-help book I have yet to read…it has been a year since this purchase. I recall a conversation with Dr. Griffin in the halls last year as I described this exact feeling of shame. This wise woman told me that “reading is reading, no matter what’s on the page!” and I guess that has kind of stuck with me.

No more am I hiding the covers of my romance books and only giving a general description of what I am reading, but rather I am writing this blog post and even a couple college supplemental essays about the value of reading romance books. So, while some might scoff at romance novels, I will continue to proudly show them off to the world for the immense value they offer. And in the meantime, I will continue to be grateful for romance books for bringing me one of my best friends and allowing me to connect with two of my very favorite teachers. To rom coms!🥂

Reagan: On Reconnecting with–and Loving–Ourselves

Even prior to reading a single word of Mrs. Schenck’s post, I felt I had already gained so much from our discussions. The ability to connect over reading, and furthermore, everything that reading provides and signifies for us, was remarkable and truly such a wonderful experience. After reading her post, I reached out to Mrs. Schenck to express my feelings about a recent book I had read. I feel as though I emphasized to her the escapism reading provides, and the comfort it often brings through that same escapism. However, after recently reading another popular romance book, Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren, I found myself reminded of the other enormous reason I love reading: being understood on such a deep level. [Spoilers ahead for Love and Other Words.]

In the novel, the main character Macy lost her mother from cancer at 10, and then subsequently lost her father at 18. The book is told in then and now, so adult Macy has had time and space from her parents’ passing. Simultaneously Lauren takes the reader on a journey from right after the death of her mother during the past perspective portions of the book. While the novel has a central line of romance between Macy and childhood best friend Elliot, I found myself getting emotional during Macy’s inner dialogue concerning her grief. This character immediately became a place I knew I could visit to be understood when discussing the grief of missing one’s mother and growing up with that trauma. Characters like Macy combat this crazy idea that teenagers cannot possibly be understood (a belief that I am positive every teenager has had). These books, rom-coms and all, can provide these nuggets of understanding that become priceless and very quickly treasured. They deal with heavy topics such as losing a mother when young (Love and Other Words), putting up with emotional/physical abuse (It Ends With Us), or the constant battles women still face in the professional arena (The Love Hypothesis). Books such as these can still be fun and flirty, but for the right young women, they could contain that moment of writing that rings so true you can feel it deep in your heart.

This is the dual power of romance: escapism and understanding.

Towards the end of the post, Mrs. Schenck brings forward this phrase: Both things can be true. I immediately felt this connection to a notion my therapist and I work on, but we call it ‘the power of the And.' This concept for two ideas, two emotions, two purposes existing at the same time is how I feel about reading romance. While yes, I can pick up Christina Lauren’s The Unhoneymooners and be swept away to sandy beaches and sexy angst, I can also pick up a book from the same author, Love and Other Words, and find a comfort in feeling understood in such a specific and powerful way concerning grief about losing my mother. This is the dual power of romance: escapism and understanding. So who are you to judge the vibrant covers and scribbled hearts in the margins?

Reagan and Margaret are currently drinking too much coffee and cramming too many things into their last semester of high school.

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