Shelf Love

Beverly Jenkins' Avon True Romances: The Parental Gaze (guest: Funmi)

Short Description

Funmi’s Beverly Jenkins collection is complete, and of course it includes the queen of Black historical romance’s young adult romances that were originally published in the short-lived Avon True Romance line in the early 2000s. We discuss Belle and the Beau and Josephine and the Soldier. Did these romances hit the spot for early aughts tweens? And why do we feel like the parental gaze is peering over our shoulder while we read it?


book discussion, young adult, historical romance

Show Notes

Funmi’s Beverly Jenkins collection is complete, and of course it includes the queen of Black historical romance’s young adult romances that were originally published in the short-lived Avon True Romance line in the early 2000s. We discuss Belle and the Beau and Josephine and the Soldier. Did these romances hit the spot for early aughts tweens? And why do we feel like the parental gaze is peering over our shoulder while we read it?


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Discussed: Avon True Romances by Beverly Jenkins

Guest: Funmi

Twitter | Instagram | Funmi in Fine Books & Collections magazine


Andrea Martucci: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to Shelf Love a podcast about romance novels, and how they reflect, explore challenge and shape desire. I'm your host, Andrea Martucci. And on this episode, I'm joined by romance fan, collector, and reviewer Funmi to discuss two of Beverly Jenkins Avon, true romance, historical teen romances from the early two thousands.

Funmi you were last on Shelf Love all the way back in episode 14, which was over two years ago. Now, back at the end of 2019. So a lot has happened since then. What's new with you?

Funmi: My gosh. Thank you so much for having me. I'm so excited to be back. What's happened. The biggest thing for me probably has been that I actually finished my Beverly Jenkins historical romance collection, which I was so excited to do. And it took all of those two years since I have been here to do it.

So that's been really exciting. I've read a lot of good books, rediscovered my passion for reading. I feel like I had a lull and now I'm back in the swing of it. Took a large break from reviewing, cuz I just wasn't having fun, but now I'm getting ready to get back into it. But before I started pushing any reviews out, I wanted to just gorge on some books and get a feel for what was being put out again and see how I feel about it.

I've just been enjoying my Midwestern best life, about to get married, reading, talking shit on Twitter, all of that.

Andrea Martucci: All the good stuff. And so the last time we talked your fiance was your boyfriend and he was doing all sorts of a plus partner stuff like encouraging you to follow your dreams and, and all that stuff. So I love that now you're on your way to happily wedded ever after

Funmi: Was he my boyfriend on the episode.

Andrea Martucci: yes.

Funmi: We were living at my parents' house. He was trying to find a job and now we like live together. We have a dog. I'm getting married. That's so cute. I remember I was sitting on the ground in like the room I grew up in and that's, we were both living there cause he's not from here, but he wanted to live in my city.

So my mom was courteously, looking the other way while he lived in my room and searched for jobs. So yeah, lots changed since then. He's still the best

Andrea Martucci: And so you were recently featured in a beautiful, large color picture with your collection of Beverly Jenkins books in the summer 2022 issue of Fine Books and Collections magazine. This was an article written by Steve Ammidown on collecting romance. Can you talk a little bit more about your Beverly Jenkins collection and what motivated you and what are your goals?

Funmi: Yeah, absolutely. So I can honestly say I had no intentions of collecting her books. It was simply like I loved her books and the covers so much. I was just reading them and my mom wanted to read 'em too. And so I just would buy, two books off Amazon, but of course I was just so obsessed with the covers as a long time historical romance reader.

I have loved the clinch cover and you just don't see Black clinch covers. And so then I really started kind [00:03:00] of, I wanna say getting the lore of Beverly Jenkins and I'm just like really looking at it.

I'm like, oh my gosh. Like really the market is still basically a singular person for a historical Black romance. And I'm just like what happens when she stops writing? Like the books are just gonna be gone? I was like, I need to make sure I have what I want, which is everything she's ever written. And I want the original cover of it because recently covers have changed. I don't like when the heads are cut off, I don't like when they're just floating without features personally, I was like, I wanna have in all of its glory, all of her works. And then I realized they were hard to get and that made it even more fun.

And so it was just my personal thing. I was like, I have to have a complete collection of her works. I love them too much to not have a physical representation of like my favorite body of work. And so I just was like on the hunt for those originals, those first editions, it's been a really fun ride.

Now that I have completed it, I've asked myself what's next. I don't ever want to collect anything I don't love and I don't feel a kinship to, I'm not in it for the money. Really. I've just lost money doing it. But I don't like clutter. That doesn't mean anything. It's easy to just be like, oh, this is worth a lot of money, but it's not worth anything to me.

I think my next one is gonna be building my, I used to read a lot of romance manga. And watch anime when I was younger and I had a great collection and I'm gonna rebuild that. So that'll be my next thing.

Andrea Martucci: That's exciting. So do you display these in your home? Like they're not in a banker's box. These are on display.

Funmi: Yeah, no, they're on display right now. They're not stacked as prettily as they normally are because I didn't re-stack them after I took that picture for the thing. Yeah, they are. I have a really nice bookshelf, but the thing about the bookshelf is that it's not like wide enough, so I really want like a long like bookshelf so I can just have 'em all in a row, but no, she has almost two shelves on a really nice bookshelf.

That's just dedicated, right when you walk into my apartment, that's the first thing and if I ever need a fire, it'd be the first thing I grabbed it's right by the door.

Andrea Martucci: that's good. Keep it by the door. Do you have like a bag, like just right under it, you sweep them in and run out.

Funmi: I don't have a bag right under it, but I mean, it's so close, I could just open that door and just chuck 'em out and like, they'll be outta here. Don't even worry about it. Yeah. I love them. I look at them all the time. Sometimes I actually turn one out.

Just like I'm at a store. I'll turn one out. So I've had my Wild Rains turned out pretty soon when the newest one to Catch a Raven, I believe is the next one coming out. I'll have those turned out.

Andrea Martucci: yeah. And, And what you were saying earlier in the article about how so Beverly Jenkins started writing in the early nineties, she started getting published?

Funmi: Yeah. So she was published in July of 94. So every year I get older, so does Night Song. I was born in March of 94. So she's pub 28 years ago. [00:06:00] And as of July is when Night Song came out. But I believe hearing her talk, I think she had like over a year of rejection letters, like Night Song was a written thing and she was just trying to get the work to be accepted.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And it's wild that in the 28 years since then, since she was really a trailblazer in writing historical romance with Black characters and two Black characters, especially that there may have been books here or there, but there's really nobody I can think of who is known for writing historical romances with Black characters.

Funmi: And I would like to just take it a step further and say too it's, do whatever you need to do. But the respect I have for Beverly Jenkins in that she was like, I'm not compromising, this is the book you get. Or there is no book. Cuz sometimes, honestly I won't know an author is Black or they won't start off writing Black books, then get in the market and maybe they'll start off with an interracial. And then maybe you get too Black main characters.

I respect people doing whatever they have to do. I just know what I like more and I love how Beverly Jenkins did it because that's how I want my life to be presented. I want it to be like, no, like you get this story because it matters.

You shouldn't have to stick your foot in the door a certain way. Now, granted, she has talked about why she was able to do that and how she already had a dream job. She was supported in her life with her endeavors and things like that. So I can imagine how you just need to get your, foot in the door, but I'm always gonna give her flowers for that because 28 years ago, this is how it had to be.

And she's had to fight since then, because you know, when you get your book in the door, they're gonna rewrite that. They're gonna try. And this character would be more palatable if, actually the reader isn't ready to see that, and her insistence on maintaining the integrity and always keeping in mind who was gonna read it.

I think she knew who her audience was gonna be. She's always cared about the Black people who were gonna be reading her book. And I think she held onto that. as a fan, I personally am grateful that she did that. .

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And so the books we're gonna talk about today are Belle and the Beau and Josephine and the Soldier. And these were also reissued after the Avon True Romance series, they were reissued by Kimani Tru about five years after they initially came out, as Belle and Josephine.

So Belle and the Beau came out in 2002 and Josephine and the Soldier came out in 2003. And as part of the young adult series that I'm doing on the podcast, I kind of went through the history in the 1940s, they had these junior novels. And then there was this big wave of series romance in the 1980s.

And this Avon True Romance series was like the wave following that eighties boom. And I think [00:09:00] the progression, you can start to see. In the eighties, the series were a hundred percent focused on white characters, middle class, middle America type audience. And the editor at the time who was acquiring for Scholastic explicitly said we see our audience as white readers.

And Abby McAden, who was the editor for Avon, who did the Avon True Romance series was influenced by that boom in the eighties, cuz she was a reader at that time.

But I also get the sense that she was more aware, especially in 2002 that the available audience of romance readers was not just white people and that there was a greater need for representation of Black people, people of color, et cetera, in these stories. So in my opinion series is like a tiny step in the right direction after everything that happened in the eighties.

But I think the other interesting thing is this series had, I think 14 books.

Funmi: And I read a bunch of them.

Andrea Martucci: And there's two books by Beverly Jenkins with Black characters, but that's it in terms of diversity

Funmi: Which is like Avon, I'm sorry. That's like historical romance in a nutshell. I'm like, that is a problem. 2002 looks almost exactly like now in historical romance.

Andrea Martucci: Exactly because they were literally like going in their stable of authors and they were like here's who we have. Let's pull them into this teen series. And so it, it is interesting as I'm doing this look back over time where you're like, okay, white, white, white straight, straight, straight, straight, straight, short, straight shirt straight.

And then it's like a teeny bump, but it doesn't in my opinion, seem like it has progressed that much since then. The YA market has changed a lot since then, but yeah, it, it echoes the adult romance stuff quite a bit.

Funmi: definitely does. I feel like they were just such separate entities. Like I read so many like Black, young adult books at that time. And I just, they felt so separate from the trad books that were coming out. Cause I read both really,

and it just seemed like there was no bridge. Like it was like a very Black section of Black works that I would read. And they weren't similar or anywhere near in the same. Like you couldn't find 'em in the same places they weren't written by the same people or the same companies. Obviously I don't have the direct knowledge, but even as a kid, I knew I could tell they were different, like versus what's coming out at the time.

I'm like I was reading like Gossip Girl, all those type of things back then.

Andrea Martucci: So you were getting a lot of books from the library at this time, like we talked about on the last episode, and you told me earlier that you did find these Avon True Romances in the library. Do you remember what your thoughts were at the time when you started reading this series and reading Belle and the Beau and Josephine and the Soldier at the time?

Were you like obsessed with these as this is the epitome of romance? Or like what was your impression at the time?

Funmi: Okay. I felt these were the best things to slice bread. Honestly, the whole series, because I was reading adult romance, but I was young enough that [00:12:00] I preferred young adult, if that makes any sense I liked adult romance, but like mentally I'm not an adult. And so this was like like in my lane.

And the thing I loved about it was that adult romance was so fanciful because I cannot do any of those things. I cannot even drive . And so the limitations on the young adult characters, I was obsessed with it because it was more easy for me to imagine myself in that situation than like these a grown adult, living their life fornicating and doing all their things that, I would get to later

But I thought they were amazing. I don't think I took the time, like to pause in it, obviously, cuz you're a kid that's just read, read, read, read, read. But I remember being super disappointed that this wasn't the thing. I remember being super disappointed. I was like, oh, okay. Like historical young adult romance isn't really a thing. It could be please don't get me if I'm wrong. But at least I knew when I was searching around asking the librarians, they're like, oh, that's kinda what we got. And that's what the librarian tells me that they got. That's all I got, cuz I'm not going really to book stores and things like that.

So I was remember I was a little sad that they didn't keep it up

Andrea Martucci: I've done a good amount of digging and also have my own experiences, like a similar time in the library, knowing what's up in the children's library. And these did stand out to me as Ooh, historical romance. This is cool. And there was a few other like isolated short series at the time that also did historical, but it seemed like everything started shifting very contemporary for teens, or especially after 2007, like very paranormal or fantasy heavy.

Funmi: I was reading all of that, Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: yeah, but I wonder why, and I am gonna assume that there is market data to support that the interest was not as high as like, we are like, we're like clamoring for this. Because it feels like historical. I can imagine like myself as a teen, what was fun about it was like, it was imagining this other space, right?

The same as adult romance. Like why do we like historical adult romance? You kind of transport yourself to this other place where you get to imagine this world that is unfamiliar yet, there are familiar parts of it. So it's like an adventure and you're learning things about a different time and it's exotic and like it's fun versus you think about all these like contemporary high school romances.

And they're like, Ugh, I gotta get a summer job. And oh no, I gotta take classes and slam my locker. And it's that's so mundane. Like

Funmi: And I don't know why it didn't pick up. It's so interesting. Cuz at this time I'm also reading a lot of manga and there's so much historical romance manga. Like it's a thing. It is

Andrea Martucci: I didn't know that!

Funmi: Yes, it is a big thing. Like the manga, like the anime it reminds me of Downton Abbey, like Emma, it's like a big one, but yeah. So I would read a lot and it's visual too, so I love that. But harder to get your hands on. But yeah, I do remember, I was early on that Twilight phase, all of that was like a really big [00:15:00] thing, but I just remember thinking these are so good and they were just quick and they were just easy.

And I loved the covers. I thought the covers. That's how I ended up reading this book. I remember I was in the library and I just saw the cover and I was like, what's this.

Andrea Martucci: The colors are so bright and like they're fun. I was sharing on Instagram. Like I took some of the authors from Avon True Romance and then found their adult books and was like putting them next to each other. And it's, interesting because obviously the sexuality is much more overt in the clinch on the adult covers but they're in the same world.

Funmi: Yeah, they're gorgeous. I think also these are one of the most like accurate Beverly Jenkins covers, to be honest, so like the description. As in all books we've seen, like it's not as accurate. Now they're a little bit better about it, but they used to literally like, just not be accurate, the cover and you could be blonde and you're a brunette inside or redhead and so this, I really loved.

And of course I loved Belle, particularly, I just was like, I could think of like off the dome 20 Black girls who looked exactly like this, including myself at this time, which I just think is so great. Cuz sometimes even in a lot of times in like Black media, I think one type of Black girl will get noticed like just like super long hair, fair. And I love that this looks like how a lot of black girls look and that isn't always shown, maybe a wider nose, maybe shorter curlier hair, maybe darker skin.

I remember that being nice, cause I'm still wondering how does my beauty fit? I know what my mom tells me, but I know that these books aren't quite saying it. I have a tough time for me because the message I got at home was not the message I was reading and not the message I was getting was middle school for Christ's sake.

You know how that goes. I think just that cover alone, I was just like, oh my God, this is the protagonist.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Yeah. Let's jump into the books. What is Belle and the Beau about?

Funmi: "After a grueling escape, north Belle Palmer is free yet lost and alone, separated from her father on the harrowing journey, Belle has nowhere to turn until she finds shelter with the best, the first free family she's ever known. For the first time in her 16 years, Belle is able to express herself freely except where her feelings for a certain dark eyed young man are concerned.

Daniel Best is headed for great things. Educated and handsome, at 18 he's full of the promise and dream of his people and is engaged to the prettiest if the most spoiled girl around. So when a bedraggled stranger arrives in his household and turns into a vibrant, lovely young woman, his attraction to her catches him entirely by surprise.

While Belle is determined to deny her feelings for him, Daniel is caught between his conscious and his infatuation with her. That the two belong together is very undeniable, but that it could ever happen. Seems impossible.

Andrea Martucci: Dun dun Dun. This starts in April, 1859 in Whitaker, Michigan. This is in the midst of the Civil War, they're not [00:18:00] allowing Black soldiers to enlist but the war is happening.

And so Belle and her father are escaping enslavement.

This book and Beverly Jenkins stories in general push back on the idea that like not just like every moment of every day was terrible, but that everybody's situation was the same, because in this story, Belle has a very different lived experience from Adam who comes from this family in Michigan that is middle class.

They're doing pretty well. And it's not like they live in a community where there is not prejudice and not risk. So they have a very different experience. They're geographically in a different place. Their economic and social class situation is very different from Belle's.

It's not every Black person in North America's life was the same either. And I think Beverly Jenkins books do a great job of kind of going to different locations and times and showing a variety of experiences.

Funmi: And she has a lot of respect for the history because Beverly Jenkins, if you read in your books, no one falls in love while they are experiencing enslavement. And she's always said there is no happily ever after in slavery. What people think they're getting, she's not actually giving you that these aren't two people falling in love in the fields.

Like she makes sure that these people get their humanity and their agency back, and then they fall in love in that process, and they never go back to where they were. So she's not even giving you what a lot of people are like, oh, I don't wanna read about I'm like, okay. I think of like majority of the books that really are like someone who had been enslaved.

Within the first two chapters, they're not

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Probably the main conflict in Belle and Daniel's relationship is that Daniel is essentially affianced to Francine the queen who I think to be a little reductive, but also I think as a teen romance, it's like purposefully a little reductive. Francine is like the epitome of the wrong girl. How would you describe Francine?

Funmi: I mean, Just like the literal foil, like the exact opposite of Belle. I would describe her the way she has been described, which seems to be the term fast as in promiscuous, flighty, loves money. Looks good. It's 2002. So if you're too pretty you're the bad guy in the book.

Yeah, just gorgeous, shallow, rich, and promiscuous. And that's it. You don't see her in any other way, other than that. And no one else does either from the mothers to the children. Scarlet letter.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And she's also, perhaps the most damning thing is she's also really uninterested in [00:21:00] advancing the cause for freedom, cuz she's like, well, I've got mine. And why would I not buy pretty clothes? Just because they were created by people who were enslaved? And I feel like morally for the Bests, that's just like the, oh my God. What is wrong with you?

I think it's interesting that this book, and I think there's a similar setup in Josephine and the Soldier with the foil

Funmi: Yeah. Libby.

Andrea Martucci: Libby? Yeah. Where on the one hand, I think some of the aspects of the foil's character you're like, yeah. Okay. I get it you should not want to be in a relationship with that person, but I hesitate to even use the word feminist perspective. What is the message that we're sending around what is good femininity, like chaste, placing limits on sexuality versus fast, interested in appearances, et cetera.

It feels like there's like a really blatant message there. And it's not just in this book, right? There's lots of books of this time, period.

Funmi: for sure. What is so, I don't wanna say endearing, but it's nostalgic because it feels like just growing up in a Black home, like the message when I reread this was clear, it was clear. And it sounded like my mother was saying it like watch out, you don't wanna end up pregnant. You don't wanna end up doing that.

I think a lot of times, unfortunately, the message for women is just this person did this and you don't wanna end up like her, you know? And it's just like, but also, you know, she's a kid, you. What are her parents saying, like something was cultivated here. She can't be the only person who's like, I'm not gonna buy these products. This is rougher cloth. I'll take the cloth that was made by someone who's enslaved.

Yeah, it's very 2002. It's very like, she's not good. And here's why she's not good. I did like, though that at least Belle in the book started having her own little interactions, like sexually, at least with a kissing, cuz that kind of softened it.

I was just like, okay, now at least the young reader is realizing like the good girl is doing some stuff too.

You kind of have to make sense on why is what Francine did bad and why is what Belle did good. And I think she's trying to say Francine is doing too much and then doing it with more than one person.

If Belle hadn't had her own experiences too, I think the message could have been a little harsh, to be honest about a young.

Andrea Martucci: right. Yeah. And I think what you're getting at there is it's of like the sex isn't bad sex or kissing, whatever physical intimacy isn't necessarily bad with the right person. If you're like in a sort of committed relationship versus sort of like a more promiscuous sexuality. And perhaps also layered in there, the idea that Francine uses her sexuality as a way to control situations or kind of an acquisitiveness,

like it, frames the way she's using sexuality as the wrong way to use sexuality and within [00:24:00] love and romance, this is fine. As, as long as you don't go too far.

Funmi: Agreed. I feel like she was trying to show an even exchange versus Francine would start off kiss me. I don't know what her phrase was, like, kiss me so I could know if you missed me or something like that. Like she would start off let's start off in the physicality and stuff.

I actually did get that sex is a little bad from this book, because if I have to go back to Funmi and I just feel like a lot of like black parenting is do not get pregnant. Francine gets pregnant, right?

Andrea Martucci: she does. She gets pregnant.

Funmi: that is the ultimate. That is the if I'm a young kid, I'm just like, you know what that's, what happens when you spark. I think they called it sparking that's what happens when you do that. So to me, I will say it, sex being bad might not have been the thing if Shannon got pregnant, but her getting pregnant and packed off, I was like, to me, that was the ultimate, you should not be doing it unless you're married message.

Andrea Martucci: And I think there's like always an argument of like, well, is this historically accurate? How people would feel at the time, but I think it's hard to ever look at these and be like, we're really just reflecting the current value systems, let's be real here. Like we may pretend that it's about the time it's about now.

Funmi: Agreed. And it felt like 2002. It felt like my mom was talking to me in terms of this could happen. This would happen. This will happen if you do this, if you don't pull back, if you don't pull back. I guess we're assuming that he did not have sex with her, Daniel didn't, right?

Andrea Martucci: I'm assuming he didn't because he implied several times that Francine pushed for things that he was like, no, Francine, I am put off by your fastness. He wanted to.

Funmi: Yeah. That's true.

I still feel like he didn't see Francine as as valuable as he could have, because I'm like, why can you pull back with Belle? But you can't pull back with Francine. Cause you definitely went further with Francine than you did with Belle. Someone's a good, someone's not, I'm like,

Andrea Martucci: Yes. Yeah. There exactly. There's the if somebody is ascribed the status of good woman, then you have different rules in terms of your own behavior with them. And in terms of how you respect them and conceive of them, like this is wife material versus part of what Daniel realizes is Francine is not wife material, because she wants to engage in physical intimacy before we're married, which means I must be suspicious that she's also doing with it with other people, which in this book, that suspicion is confirmed as accurate.

Funmi: Yeah. I

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. I don't love that part of this book. Like

Funmi: I don't either, but I'm, I'm older and I think the lines are just not as black and white as when I was a kid. This is good. And this is bad. I feel like this is the type of book my mom would want me to read. And I think this is the absolute message that she would want me to have if I was 12 to 14, You get older and [00:27:00] it's like, well, I want someone like Francine to have a book cuz Francine can get better. She can start caring about people. She's what 17 she's 18. Like I'm so sorry. If someone had told me that my prom dress I absolutely loved at that time was made in a sweat shop. I don't think I would have not bought the prom dress like at that age, all I'm caring about is looking a certain way.

You gotta grow into morality a lot of times or whatever that is, and getting pregnant happens, people do it all the time.

Andrea Martucci: Right, right. Well, And I think that what you said about, I think this is the book my mom would want me to read. I think that's the layer that we have to remember in all of this is that these books are being written by and produced by adults who are thinking not only of what they think is an appropriate message for teens, but also understanding that teens may not have complete control over what they buy.

Like librarians are deciding what's in the library. Kids, teens may have parents who are like, you can't read this if they deem it inappropriate. So I think that there's like this self-consciousness of like remove nuance, make it a very clear binary. Good, bad. And also get too liberal in terms of allowing kids the understanding that they can make mistakes and it's not the end of the world and that things are not black and white.

Funmi: Yeah. The way I would say this is that this is more liberal and gives you more to think on than the Christian Young adult stuff. It's definitely more out there than Christian Young adult, but it's close. And I read a lot of Christian Young adult also. So I can see the similarities, but this is trying to not do that.

It just has a little bit of that air of it. Which is interesting. So I think it actually it's a little forward, to be honest the type of book it is. If that, does that make sense?

Andrea Martucci: I mean, they're talking about sex, basically. ,

Funmi: I yeah, they're talking about it. They're talking about it. And the kisses that Belle had weren't bad and they happened quickly. Quicker than a lot of Christian romance that I had. I had read at the time where I would, I was reading books where I'm only gonna kiss my husband.

Andrea Martucci: Yikes

Funmi: contemporary.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Yeah.

Funmi: I definitely think it's trying to stir some messages, but you can definitely tell, this is a mom writing a book and probably her friends' kids were gonna read this book. So let's be conscious of what we put in here, probably.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. So in the Kimani Tru editions of these books, not only is there an epilogue that was not in the original book, but there's also questions for discussion. So Kimani was Harlequin's line of multicultural romances which is sadly defunct.

And they also put out Kimani Tru, which was their YA fiction line. And so it was mostly contemporaries, but then they reissued Beverly Jenkins historicals. I thought these [00:30:00] questions were super interesting, cuz they really reveal the project of releasing these books to a young adult audience where like throughout time romance for teens has always come under fire from critics.

It sounds like a lot of the arguments against reading romance, right? This is trash, this is not educational. We should be encouraging kids to read things that are more aimed towards learning something or gaining knowledge or whatever, right? Like they should not be reading sentimental garbage, these are the arguments.

So I think that there's a self-consciousness here of when we do these series, we must drive home that you're gonna learn something here. So like for example, question one, what do you know about African American history that you didn't know before reading Belle's story? There's a really clear, like you're gonna learn history.

I think what's interesting in Belle compared to Josephine, is in Belle, she is coming from a place where information has been really constrained. Like she only knows what the woman who owned her, let her know, it's essentially living in a world of propaganda and lack of information, especially about what's going on outside of the area they were in.

And so she comes north and she's like learning all these things. She doesn't know who these visionaries at the time are. She doesn't know about the movements. And so the Bests can do a lot of like info dumps on her about this happened in this year and this person is this person.

And it's like a really effective way of learning things.

Funmi: Yeah she did a really good job with that. Beverly Jenkins does a good job of putting her history in like she's really fond of parades. She's very fond of newspapers. I've noticed that in all her books, like that's how you'll get a lot of information. They'll get an update, cuz they're reading the newspaper at the moment and then maybe they'll have a conversation about, do you think things will get better and stuff like that.

And that'll be a moment like just full of all these kernels of history and stuff. It's a little stronger here in these books, the history's super strong, but this was like clear as day. If you were a parent to read this book, you knew your kid would be learning facts like facts.

Andrea Martucci: It's not fictionalized history. The dates are gonna be accurate and all of that. Let's see. What's another question here. So the second question, were there free Black communities in your area before the Civil War? How would you go about finding out so that too, it feels like a book report type question this is now going to inspire you the reader, to do additional research about your area or to question the place you are living and like what its history is, which is interesting.

I can't imagine questions like this being in the back of an adult ro-, I mean, they wouldn't be for obvious reasons, but imagine if you got an adult romance novel and in the back, it was like, What did you learn about the ballrooms at Almack's

Funmi: I would be like, you gotta be kidding me. First of all, I'm hard pressed to even read, like once I'm done with it, I don't even read acknowledgements half the time. So I would have to be told that was there. I would be shocked if that happened, but yeah, it [00:33:00] definitely seems like, Avon is justifying these books' existence, and these are also questions that no kid wants to read.

I'm not sorry, but I highly doubt a kid was like, I wanna learn about the free Black communities in Indiana. That's where I'm at. You might wanna learn a little bit more about something maybe, but you also just picked up a romance book the way an adult picks up a romance book, to be honest

Andrea Martucci: right. Yeah. Yeah. It is. It's interesting. Cause I think what you're saying is, is like who is this for? Who are these discussion questions for? Are they gonna read this in a classroom? I'd love it if they read it in a classroom, I don't think they will.

Funmi: It's for the parent whose kid is reading a romance book. It's for the librarian who decides to buy it to make it seem like it's okay. So, you know, it, It really is like, Hey, we got your back on this because it's not looked on as good to be reading romance books a lot of times, especially when you're younger.

I feel like when you get older, that's a different story. That's an easy, like I'm reading what I want, I'm reading what I want, but when you're at that age where people are like, constantly talking about what you read. I remember as a kid, just like taking a book out and putting it on your desk, like a teacher might just pick it up, read the back, start floating through it. And making comments on who you are and the type of person you are reading certain books.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And I think that really gets at several aspects of being a teen where like surveillance and the feeling that adults underestimate your like, on the one hand, you don't know that much of the world, but also it feels like adults are trying to both constrain your understanding of the world, but also expect you to know more and be dismissive of you because you don't know more.

And I think judge teen's ability to understand nuance and be able to read something more complicated and have their own thoughts about it.

Funmi: Yeah. And with romance, it can just be like, I just think they don't see any value in it. And in fact, I think they see some danger in it. Like I think they see the creation of a fast woman. Sometimes when you see a kid reading a romance book, because they definitely cannot believe a kid can read complex books.

Like when my sister was going through a phase of reading dystopian 24 7, no adult was like, you shouldn't be reading dystopian books. You shouldn't be reading about this whole reimagined world. Like no one was like, you can't read Hunger Games, you can't read Divergent, but then, you know, you read a romance book and it's like, okay, why are you doing that?

What are you trying to get at? What do you like about this book? Is it the kissing?

Andrea Martucci: And it's like, yes, it is the kissing.

Funmi: literally I love.

Andrea Martucci: I love the kissing. I also love the other stuff. I'm here for the adventure too. And I think a theme that, and one of the questions in the back here is about if you could start your own business, the way Belle did, what type of business would it be?

Belle starts a sewing business and gets a sewing machine. And by the second [00:36:00] book, which is in the same like universe and family we can see her business flourishing and Josephine also has her own business as a hairdresser. And she has already started as a very young woman, 13, 14 in the first book and then she's 17 by the second book.

If you think about the project of what are the values that we're trying to instill in young women? Because like that was the target market here is this emphasis on find some labor and be an entrepreneur and that's badass I thought that was really interesting.

Funmi: I did too. I kind of thought of refreshing in a bit because I like the fact that their being enterprising was considered attractive because I think I was really worried about what was attractive and what wasn't.

And even if I had a big dream, careful about who you'd say it to. And how you say it. I think you're very conscientious of what people respond to, like saying, you realize saying I wanna be a doctor in front of an adult makes them happy. And then wondering what do you say in front of a boy?

So I liked that I was that was seen as attractive, just like I loved the Best mom with that forceful. She was in charge and I like that she was kinda like unapologetically like that. I like that was shown as something to aspire to

Andrea Martucci: Mm-hmm .Yeah. And do you wanna read the back cover of Josephine? Cuz I think that actually gets into the romantic conflict in this book or at least with one of the foils.

Funmi: it does. Okay. So for Josephine and the Soldier. "Josephine Best has it all figured out. Just 17, she's been to college, she has her own hairdressing shop and she refuses to be distracted by any of that courting nonsense, at least until nice George Brooks begins to pursue her. Jojo isn't looking for romance, but she permits George to call on her.

Adam Morgan has always been a Casanova and no girl is immune to his charm. But when he comes home wounded from the war between the states, it's a girl he used to call Pest who's turning his head. All grown up, Jojo is being, courted by another soldier. And Adam knows it would be foolish to play with her heart. Even so, he just can't get the headstrong young lady off his mind. For her part, Jojo can't deny her growing feelings for Adam, but he's always been a flirt. He can't possibly be serious about her. Besides, she has George falling all over himself to please her. As the war rages on, Adam's feelings for Jojo grow stronger, but Jojo's determination to resist him does too.

One thing is clear though: Jojo is a girl who always gets what she wants sometimes in spite of herself."

Andrea Martucci: So here we have a classic love triangle situation. George is very traditional.

Funmi: Very

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. So how does this story start to frame why George is not gonna be a good partner for Jojo and perhaps for any modern young woman?

Funmi: Yeah. It just seems like he didn't respect the decision making process that a woman can have. Like he literally just did not think they needed to be making decisions. Barefoot and pregnant. I think that [00:39:00] was even mentioned in there, like the barefoot and pregnant idea.

He was just like, you are here to help me, to be of a service to me. And that's how he saw her. Honestly, he saw her in terms of comfort and labor, but not in terms of having her own dreams, wants, opinions, aspirations, like comfort and labor

Andrea Martucci: Like an extension of him and a benefit of him as something to use, not as you are saying, as an independent person with her own hopes and dreams who has her own ideas and needs to be a partner in a relationship and not just a subordinate. Yeah, I thought that was really interesting.

And George is like at the start talking about Jojo's mother, Mrs. Best, Cecilia Best, I think her name is, and being like your father lets her do this and Jojo's like, let's?

Funmi: Yeah. It was clear as day. I was like, woo. He's got some ideas. He's got some thoughts that he's very serious about. One thing I loved about this was it reminded me of my mom when she would always tell me growing up, you can't change anything about a man other than his address. I thought that this book had that vibe because her mom was like, tell me how that goes.

Tell you me. Yeah. I'm gonna let you figure this out.

But you get the sense that the mom knew from the beginning. Like you're not gonna change that and how he feels about this situation.

Andrea Martucci: yeah. And Jojo throughout I was like Jojo, like he is, there's literally nothing about this guy that is right for you. Other than I guess he's attractive. Let this one go back in the sea because she keeps saying oh, I think I can change his mind. Oh, I think I can help him understand, that his traditional views are wrong and you're exactly right.

You can't change that about a person nor why try? What's the point? Even if you could find somebody who doesn't have this problem.

Funmi: And I think that's I don't wanna say progressive, but I think that's a good thing to show girls, because I think a lot of the times there's a lot of pressure to like whoever shows interest in you even as I would get older and I would see compatibility issues that were just like clear as day and it's like, well, he's nice.

And it's like, you're not compatible though. This is not about him being nice. I'm glad he is. I'm glad they are, but you're not compatible. So I like that this was presenting the idea of like, it's not just about who gives you attention. It's about what they're saying, what they mean. What's their intention because you're you and he does not like you

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. He likes an idea of you.

Funmi: Yeah. Agreed. I

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Adam is injured and he's an old family friend, so he's staying at the house and he's all up in Jojo's business and he's like, I really like her and Jojo's like, are you serious about me? And he's like, I don't know. I'm still out here picking flowers, which I was like Adam, Adam.

Funmi: I was too, I was like, you need to get bopped over the head. I was [00:42:00] glad that his tune changed, but I wanted his tune to change earlier because in the beginning it was giving a little bit, it's an ode to romance for sure. He almost had a little bit of, you don't know your own mind kind of vibe later on it's like, I wanna invest in your business, show me your shop.

I wanted to see that earlier than I did, cuz I was at first I was just like, yeah, like you're hotter than George. You guys have the chemistry, but you're inserting yourself and acting immature you're 21 and acting immature because she's getting attention from someone else.

So I do think bringing in earlier the fact that he supported her strength, he supported her hair dressing business. Like I think that needed to be shown earlier. Cause I think that was a little later in the book to be honest.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah, he spends a long time just being attracted to her and also really relying on his ideas of her as a child where he's like, you're the pest and you're a hot pest now, but you're still a pest. And he refuses to see her as a matured young woman. And also isn't that interested in the fullness of her life and her dreams and all of that for a while.

Even though he's not like as outwardly misogynistic as George is beginning. But also Adam is like, you should stop seeing George, but also I'm not done sowing my wild oats and you're like, excuse me. And you're a hundred percent, right? That's it's like a, this is romance hero as we have come to know them, archetype.

Funmi: I think I'd want a little less of that for a young one, to be honest for someone younger, at least when you're presenting these people who are not compatible. So obviously as incompatible, then I think the people who are need to be obviously compatible and I think the way to balance George being so traditional would be to show those aspects of Adam earlier.

I think he needs to show way more of an interest in the exact things George didn't like, it was clear. You could tell Adam would be fine with it, but I feel like he was more handling her attitude, pissing her off and he could handle it. I'm the person who can handle you.

Andrea Martucci: yeah, which is a little I don't wanna be with somebody who can handle me. I'm not a horse. I was like, Ugh on Adam. I thought Jojo was awesome. And yeah, like Adam's arc in terms of falling in love with Jojo, it feels like way too much wrapped up in jealousy and like wanting to hold her in reserve for himself and not liking that she's getting other attention and kind of being more interested in her because somebody else is interested in her and then coming to the realization that he has to shit or get off the pot because he's worried that the pot will be taken from him but it's like, do you want her regardless of other men's interest in her?

Funmi: Yeah. I think at 28, Adam isn't [00:45:00] my type of character. I think at 13, I would've been obsessed with this older guy who could handle me and to be young and to get your older brother's friend, my older brother's friends looked so good. They looked so good.

That was a dream. Yeah I put myself in the moment. I'm like, okay, now I take myself out of it. I'm like I wish Adam had just been softer. I wish he had been nicer a little bit, just not so much of a, this is my claim because y'all don't have a man in this house, your brother's gone. I'm his friend, wow you're hot.

I love Josephine cuz rightfully so. It's like, you know, you've acted like a ho for as long as I've known you. Now you think you have a right to come in here. I do like that she was like, yeah, calling him a wooden head and pushing back and saying absolutely not. Holding off and making her mind.

So what makes Adam, someone I can deal with is that Adam being paired with somebody like Belle would have pissed me off. It would have pissed me off because Belle's too mild. I'm just like I don't like when alphas aren't challenged. I do not like it, it starts, the dynamic is weird.

So Adam becomes more palatable with someone like Josephine.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And I, I think the questions in the back of Josephine are hilarious. " How is courtship different now than it was in Jo's day?" And then I like this one, "besides his good looks why did Jo find Adam to be a better match?" I'm like, yes. Why did she find Adam to be a better match besides his good looks?

Funmi: Courtship. When I hear courtship, I immediately like I'm back to Christian fiction. I'm back to Christian romance, immediately. Courtship like I remember when that word was getting thrown around. Funmi you should want someone to court you, and I was just like, yo, this is boring. Like courtship is like marriage, you know what I mean? it's like, are you gonna get married, do nothing sexual and get married. That first question makes me feel like youth group reading right there. It's a a little kissy for youth group reading, but that made me feel like a vacation Bible school kind of question.

Andrea Martucci: yeah. Yeah. Yes the word courtship, then it's framing any romantic relationship purely and the end goal is marriage and that is what you always need to be striving for. It's not right, but also, I don't know if most people's conception of dating is entirely different.

I think there's always this like idea in the back of most people's heads about some sort of long term commitment being the eventual end goal. I don't think we think of it now in such blatant terms. We're like if it works out like maybe, we're not thinking like next month we'll get engaged and then get married the way in these historicals it can happen.

But it also is this binary of you're either courting and you have the right intentions and you're going tensions and you are going towards marriage and you're gonna be chaste. And you're going to show that you are a good woman and worth marrying by [00:48:00] being chaste, or you are fast in the terminology of this book. And you're a bad woman because cuz you're focused on a relationship without the end goal of marriage and in the Christian ideal, procreation.

Funmi: And like it says, and that's why the question made me think too, cuz it doesn't say, how is courtship different from dating now? It just says, how is courtship different now than it was in Jo's day? And I think that's the kinda like frame that you can be courting now. But yeah, it does have a lot of that, like imagery going in there and It's the real world in a lot of ways, it's still very current because there's nothing wrong per se, with being a Francine or being a Libby.

And in all honesty, like what is Adam doing other than running around, enjoying his time, flirting with people and getting what he wants out of them. Cause he doesn't wanna marry them. So he, Adam and Francine are cut from the same cloth. With Adam, maybe caring a bit more like they didn't show him as someone who doesn't care about enslaved persons.

So other than those qualities, the big ones in terms of how they are with their affection, is very similar. But truthfully, like when you start to act like Francine, you get treated that way. And I think there's a mention of like your reputation. I think she says a lot, is only thing a woman has.

On one hand, I don't think that she really believes that is true because in Josephine, Trudy her friend Gertrude, is still seen as worthy even though she's doing what she's not supposed to do in terms of work. Even though she's flirting. She's really just, she's flirting with another man while she's engaged. She's shown to be a little bit dimensional, but I think she's trying to say you can be, there's a consequence, there's a consequence, these type of things.

And I like Josephine more. I like Josephine and the Soldier more than Belle and the Beau, because of the Gertrude character, literally that was the depth that I didn't get in the Francine.

Because it's more to it than that.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. I think that makes a lot of sense. What's interesting, when you think about the relationship dynamics between the two, like Belle is much more of a passive character than Josephine. Like Josephine is like very spunky and spirited. I don't know if that's like a classic romance heroine, but then Adam is like that alpha romance hero and Belle and Daniel have this much more like growing attraction and they get to know each other and their values are aligned and it's like, this is very gentle, and then it all works out. And I think the same things that kind of bothered me about Adam, where I'm like, Adam, Jesus, get your act together.

I think is also the excitement that we as readers get where I think there's like a part of romance readers that love that fantasy of somebody seeing you and just being instantly like, this is the one and I think romances play out that he doesn't realize it yet, but he'll get there and like, she has to fight [00:51:00] against him and then they'll get to this happy ending.

So I think that's like kind of the dynamic in Josephine, except it's pulled back a little bit because Adam is like maybe a little bit more indifferent than as a romance reader I want him to be like, I'm like, Adam, don't you see that this is your ideal partner. Like

Funmi: What I love so much is that Belle's very traditional, mama's cooking biscuits. She can sew and rightfully so. These are the domestic things that she would literally know how to do because she hasn't been allowed to be like Josephine is.

Josephine can not sew. Josephine can not cook. She is not interested in learning how to do it. She wants to make money. She wants to be a business owner. Maybe kids eventually, but she's I wanna work and do it. I'm like, I love that kind of presentation that was put there. Belle and the Beau was very sweet and very traditional in my opinion.

And I think Josephine and the Soldier it's a little bit more dynamic and I really enjoyed that. I enjoyed that she was the one who had to come to terms with this because Belle from the beginning was like, Daniel is so cute. He would never like somebody like me. And I like the fact that Josephine is just the one who's has the pick of the litter essentially.

She has a lot more power in her hands and I think Beverly Jenkins is trying to show that it's okay to have that power because again, her best friend is juggling two guys too, but Josephine was like, I don't have a commitment. Like she's like, even I wouldn't do this. So I think she's trying to show like, you know what? You can have options. You can date multiple people, but how you go about it matters.

Andrea Martucci: Mm-hmm . Yeah. What you were just saying is interesting in the context of the last question for discussion in Josephine. "Mrs. Best, and many of the other women in Jo's life can be called strong women. Who are some of the strong women in your life. And why do you think they are the way they are?"

What is the construction of a strong woman in these two books?

Funmi: For me in these books, it was an assertiveness. And I think with Belle, you saw it when she became sassy. And there was a moment when he was like, where did this sassiness come from? She's what's sassiness. It was clear, like the word sassiness was used like five, four times or something like that.

So then you see her asserting herself. This is what I like. This is what I don't like. Don't talk to me that way. And then the mother from the beginning, try to control her if you want, this is my house. This is how it's going down. This is how I want it done. This is what I like. This is what I don't like.

That's how I was seeing it the most, it was declarative. This is what I want, and this is how I want it done. Kinda like statements coming from women, that's how I saw the strength.

And the second way that I saw the strength was just seemed like they had their own hobbies. Something I don't wanna say hobbies, but something that they [00:54:00] did that was their own that they were passionate about. Like with the mother being shown as an orator and she's been to England and, in that type of a way and of course the business, a job, of some sense, like a job and a strong voice is how I thought she defined it.

Andrea Martucci: And I think, related to that too and you were talking about this being able to hold to those boundaries in relationship to their romantic partners. There's communication, but it's also very much like, Nope, these are my limits and, take it or leave it.

You either want me, or you don't like, this is who I am. One part that was really interesting in Belle is, when Belle's sassiness starts coming out, she's kind of like, I think I'm just finding who the real me is because I've had a certain idea of who I should be imposed upon me in my entire life and never thought I would get to make any choices about who I wanted to be.

And I'm exploring that. I think this is who I am, and given Belle's situation as a formerly enslaved person, that trajectory makes a lot of sense. Jojo starting out from that place, given her life situation also makes a lot of sense, like where she has grown up with this mother who is a fantastic role model, as you said, has her own interests like, the relationship with her husband is very much like one of mutual respect and understanding, and they respect each other's needs and wants, et cetera. They're in constant communication about that. So Jojo from the start, just being much more assertive makes complete sense.

Funmi: Yeah. And that was really enjoyable for me. I think I was just so interested in like the Jojo and her friend Trudy dynamic, because truly like Trudy is like, they're cut from the same cloth. They literally grow up together. You see their beautiful friendship in the beginning and then you of see okay, you can assert yourself, but let's talk about how you do it. Let's talk about cause even, all these strong women catch Trudy in her going too far, you know, and all of a sudden it's like, okay, you know, we believe in asserting ourselves, but not like that.

And now you're just standing here kind of on your own,

Andrea Martucci: And that speaks, I think, to something that is also really present in both of these books, which is the assertiveness and independence within boundaries, like within the norms of community and within the norms that have been established by parents, like there is a lot of parental guidance in these books.

Like these parents are like, these are the rules, you're gonna follow them. And that there will be consequences if

Funmi: oh yeah. Like Joseph and the mom was like, cut it out. Like she was quick to be like cut the attitude. On the first book. It's not as old school as children are meant to be seen and not heard,

but it's like modern children are meant to be seen and are like, know your place. It remind again, I'm just saying this is exactly what my mother dreamed me of reading, because this is how I was raised.

Be like, okay. She always raised me to be boisterous, fun, now hold up, now, these are adults [00:57:00] talking, be quiet for a second.

It was a limit. It was a quick limit. I'd be oh, too far.

Andrea Martucci: yeah. Well, And I think that's like really interesting in teen romance where, you can be a powerful woman and assertive, but also still within the boundaries of the society and culture that we live in and within your parents' desires or guardians desires,

Funmi: yes. Okay. Now I just was thinking why. Okay. So there's like I'm reading books as a teen, right? As a young adult team, whatever. There were the books that I felt like the author never thought the parent was gonna read, but there are the books where I thought, I feel like the author thought the parent was gonna read 'em first and then give 'em to the kid.

So this is parent read it first because I read plenty of books where it just reads like an adult will read this and then they will say a kid can read it. Because some of the stuff in here like the heavy parental guidance. You know, normally if the, I feel like if the author doesn't think the parents reading it, it's all about circumventing that versus this is more so about it's always there. Unfortunately we have to do things within it. You get a little, a teenth of that circumventing with the like sneaking out,

but the parents do, they get caught. They knew the whole, he ends up going to Canada,

Andrea Martucci: Yeah.

Funmi: getting sent to Canada for man to man talk, she's falling asleep at the table and stuff.

So it, it definitely showed even if you sneak the parent knows everything that's going on, Yeah, cause I read a bunch of young adult books. At this time too, you got like that big push for the boarding school, the rich like Gossip Girl, the A-list, the Clique, private like Kate Brian books.

Like these books were like super rich white people having sex. Wearing designer clothes, money like, oh. My mom did not believe in censoring me, but she hated that I read those books. Hated it. She'd be like, are you sure? Are you sure? Cause you know, you'd open the page. They're like doing a line or something or, or having relations with their lacrosse coach, come on, horrible stuff here.

And the covers, those were the books you knew to put at the bottom of the library bag. Those were the books you did not just leave lying around. I just felt like the authors and everyone knew kids quickly were like, I need to make sure my mom doesn't flick through this. Or my teacher doesn't, flick through this, but this felt like my mom would've been like, Hey, I saw this,

This seemed like a good book. See the question in the back. Oh, I love these questions.

Andrea Martucci: I mean, and it's so interesting because. I think the editor at the time was literally like, and Avon was interested in reaching out to young readers because they are underserved. And also because maybe we can get them into the romance fold. And now they know who Beverly Jenkins is. Now they know who Lorraine Heath is. And that name is gonna make sense when they see them on the adult [01:00:00] shelves.

Like the fact that so much of that is then filtered through, and we have to get parents to sign off on this. Like maybe I'm an adult. And I read Beverly Jenkins and I'm like I would like my daughter to read a romance, but not these ones, maybe this one, you know what I, it like it feels so weird and mediated, because I think that when you're a young teen, it there's almost more pleasure in the sneaking of material that feels unsanctioned.

Funmi: I think them actually taking that out would have made this a more successful series because again, it's not Christian fiction, but it's reminding me of it. And a lot of them did because it was heavy on the morals, not to say a lot of these young adult books didn't have the morals, but when you're reading at that time, you wanna feel like you're reading your own book.

Like me and my mom would go to the library and we would check out separately. I had my own card, she had her own card. You don't wanna feel like like you're a kid. Cause I think you're trying to not necessarily be a kid, you're searching for that. Like a lot of youngins, like to feel older, oh, I'm reading a romance book.

Oh, I'm doing this. You know what I mean? But that's the one thing I will say. It just, it feels a parent read it first and then gave it to them. Versus they read a lot of books at the time that did not have that type of air. The whole series was like that. And that kind of makes me wonder okay, Avon, how do you see your regular romance then?

Do you see it as something that I don't know? It seemed like they were like trying to admit like, Hey, I promise you, we're not giving you the shameful stuff the adults are reading. Do you see your stuff that's like playing into trashiness? I promise this is not trashy. This is educational. This is moral. This is fundamental. And it's just or it could just be romance for a younger audience. Could just be that.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah, I think it's very paternalistic. This series feels very paternalistic which is weird as you're alluding to, in a genre that frequently is dealing with these paternalistic beliefs about what the books are and what they should be like. Yeah. I think that's a very good question. How do they conceive of the adult romances?

Are they like, oh, I guess we'll just put out this trash, trashy women love it.

Funmi: That's what are saying. I was just like, what are almost like they're feeding into what I would think the industry should not be. Cause I, I would think nothing is wrong with romance, but maybe this is just too grown for this age. That's all you needed to do was just like, let's cut the sex a bit. So that's really it.

I. Just take that down, change the fact that, maybe they live with their parents. I don't know historical. They were all living with their damn parents, but, just change the aspects to fit the age. But I also think they didn't know what they were doing too, because at the same time, they're like, okay, they're 18, they're 19.

I read adult romance books where the girl was 19.

Thinking about that now. Like Adam is 21 and I think how many romance books have we read? Like I'm 21. I've been on the Shelf for the last three years. I'm a spinister.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And they literally get married at the end, [01:03:00] like in the epilogues. So this series was like an echo of the Sunfire series, which was historical romance in the eighties. And those characters were like 16 usually. And a lot of times they are married or essentially engaged at the end. And it's like super interesting that when you do teen romance in a historical setting, people did get married younger then like there's like a different expectation of how this relationship is gonna go and like how soon we're gonna commit and all of that.

But then it's like weirdly incongruous, as you're talking about, where you could read an adult romance with characters almost the same age. And it is just a completely different story with not just much more sexually explicit, but I think like much more tumultuous and passionate.

Funmi: Yeah. And that's why this is just like, when you write young adult, you're writing it contemporary because that's why they're waiting until they turn 18. You don't have to do that then. You did not have to wait. Like Adam 21 could have married her easily at 17 at this time period, easily, people got married younger than that.

The waiting aspect I think is because, it's 2002

Andrea Martucci: Mm-hmm

Funmi: And at the minimum, a young adult picking this book up needs to know that at 18, we wait until we're 18 in, in this country, to do those

Andrea Martucci: in this house.

Funmi: Mm-hmm . Yeah. I think like that aspect was there because yeah most of these books. adult romance where they're dipping and dabbing and doing everything. 21, 20 easily, I think they're trying to push the age up now.

Andrea Martucci: Well, and you and I, at the time that we read these as young people, we're reading adult romance. And I think that like you were talking about these Gossip Girl type books that were out at the same time, too. I feel like if you are that age, you're like, this is super tame. And there's parts of it that are appealing, but then you're like, if I want historical, I can read these historical romances over here.

And if I wanna read YA, I can also find like contemporary teens that are pushing the envelope more. And so it feels like maybe especially by 2002, the teen consumers were a little bit more savvy about their other options and other options existed that could give them like the fun fantasy elements, but also push the envelope past probably their own experiences.

Cuz you think about like the fun of a historical is you're gonna like go to a different time and it's fun, but like Gossip Girl, you are going to a different world that you don't live in and the rules are different and technically it's people who live in the world you live in, but not at all.

Funmi: Yeah, no, I mean, they're like 1% literally it's you're reading about 1% people and you don't have that money. This was just, it's just very tame. It's very tame for the age that would pick it up. I think they'd like it. And I think that's why [01:06:00] I don't think any of these books stuck in my mind versus when I'm on Twitter and people are like, do you remember reading these books?

I'm like, oh my God, this book was so wild to me when I was younger, because it pushed it for that audience. This is parental. The whole series was like straight from my mom's hand to me versus some of the other books I read and I've read books that were like similar to that.

I think I was a big Sharon Draper fan at the time and she wrote a lot of books and I think she still writes books actually for African American children and like young adults. And I think she was like moral too, but it was just a lot more ensconced in the young adult world.

The adult gaze felt a little bit more hidden. The drama was much higher too. It was higher. Versus this is just, this is just a little milder. I would be so curious to know like what they asked for when they put these books out. Cause I think they had, I think they had a hard box.

Like you can do this and you can't do this or that. I think all of these authors were constrained, but also I don't think they were writing an adult before,

Andrea Martucci: Oh, they weren't except for Meg Cabot who had written young adult and adult.

Funmi: yes. And that's how I actually got into this series initially was Meg Cabot because I was obsessed with Meg Cabot books and she's from Indiana.

Andrea Martucci: If anyone has inside information about what the writer's guidelines were for this, let us know. Funmi is there anything else you wanted to say about these books?

Funmi: I just think they're so cute. I think they're so cute. They're nostalgic for me. They feel like going back into my home. And I do think they're good conversation starters. I actually think they're for a little younger audience than people would think, or just like really early in romance because I can see it being a little tame, and a little parental, again, the parents are everywhere in these books, but I just thought they were so cute. I loved talking about it. It was fun to reread 'em. It was a good, like little bit of a throwback. I don't have any kids myself, but it makes me wanna have a conversation with my mom.

Talk about certain things. I love Beverly Jenkins's books as always, whether they be adult or young adult. She did a good job.

Andrea Martucci: And obviously you had to have them in your collection.

Funmi: I had to have them in my collection. Especially in the OG, the original Avon True Romance covers. Cuz they're so vibrant. They're so beautiful. They're so well done.

Andrea Martucci: Funmi thanks so much for being here today and talking about Beverly Jenkins' Avon True Romances. Where can people find you online?

Funmi: You can find me on Twitter. I Believe my at is still When Funmi Met Romance. Sometimes it changes a little bit when I'm job hunting. And my Instagram is also when Funmi met romance with underscores in between each word.

Andrea Martucci: cool. And that's Funmi F U N M I cool. Thanks for being here.

Funmi: Thank you!

Andrea Martucci: This episode was part of a short series that I'm doing on teen romance. You can hear a quick overview of the evolution of romance stories in series for young adults in episode 121. Coming up [01:09:00] next Dr. Amanda Allen, who studies young adult romance going back to its early days as junior novels in the 1940s will share her insights into how and why romances for young adults have evolved over the decades.

I'd love to hear your takeaways from these conversations on young adult romance, either on social media, where you can find me at Shelf Love pod on Twitter or at Shelf Love Podcast on Instagram. Or you can always email me at Andrea. At Shelf Love Podcast dot com.

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