Teenagers have it rough when it comes to love. Their hormones are going haywire, their brains are still developing, and when they fall for one another, they fall hard. As our mothers always told us, boys are bad for you — and the more we read, the more we realize how true that can be. In literature, teen romance can be beautiful and eternal, but it can also be costly and crazy — or it can be all of that at once. Consider this our warning to all you teenage lovers out there: make sure your beloved is not a kidnapper, a psychopath, your brother, or a hundred-year-old vampire before you wear his letterman jacket. Or go for it. Up to you. Click through to see our list of some of the worst outcomes of young love in literature, and let us know which of your favorite tragic teen affairs (as there are oh so very many) we’ve missed in the comments.
Toby and Shelby ( Citrus County , John Brandon): Child Kidnapping
As the back cover of this terrific novel muses, “teenage romance should be difficult, but not this difficult. Boys like Toby should cause trouble, but not this much.” When smart, achieving Shelby moves to rural Florida with her father and sister Kaley, she expects surfers and gets swamp rednecks. But she also gets mysterious, orphaned Toby, and briskly resolves to win him the way so many good girls have so many bad boys. Toby, mostly unaware of this, but trying in his own way to win Shelby’s affections while probing the limits of his own strangeness, goes decidedly overboard. Suffice it to say, 3-year-old Kaley goes missing, the police arrive, and Shelby is driven tearfully into his arms — but of course, for Toby, the victory is bittersweet, and he has to go check on something.
Ada and Van Veen ( Ada, or Ardor , Vladimir Nabokov): Accidental Incest
No spoiler here: the book opens with the revelation that the lovers are brother and sister. True, Ada and Van Veen’s affair had been a sticky one from the start — when they met and fell in love, Ada nearly twelve and Van Veen fourteen, they thought themselves cousins, which is better than siblings, but not great. Regardless, their love affair lasts their entire lives, until they grow old together and Nabokov begins to merge them, calling them “Vaniada, Dava or Vada, Vanda and Anda”, as they (arguably) start to kill themselves so that they may “die into the finished book.” All we can say is, if there’s any doubt whether you’re related to your boyfriend, get a blood test before anything happens.
Jon and Carolyn (“Jon,” George Saunders): World-changing pregnancy
In this strange and beautiful story, Jon, a teenage product-tester in a corporate-owned bubble sneaks into the Privacy Tarp of the girl he has a crush on, the result of which is that Carolyn becomes pregnant. All fine, and not unheard of, until Carolyn decides that she cannot bring a child into such a weird, product-driven world, and files her Exit Paperwork in order to leave. She is allowed to do so, but her transition to the harsh real world sends Jon into a tailspin and leaves some terrifying scars.
Skippy and Lori ( Skippy Dies , Paul Murray): Skippy dies
This novel, based around an eccentric boarding school in the British Isles, opens with 14-year-old Daniel Juster, known to his friends as Skippy, dying on the floor of a donut shop — but not before spelling out the name of his beloved in the spilled raspberry filling. The novel goes back to recount the events leading up to Skippy’s death — particularly his obsession with a girl named Lori — as well as his classmates’ attempts to contact him after the fact, and a complicated world filled with drugs, sex, power plays, and teenage longing builds up before your eyes.
The neighborhood boys and the Lisbon sisters ( The Virgin Suicides , Jeffrey Eugenides): Five virgin suicides
The deaths of the Lisbon sisters don’t come about because of the voyeuristic, mostly one-sided love affair their fascinated teenage neighbors have with them — or perhaps they do. After all, it could be argued that it is their very image, their world’s insistence on them as mysterious wonders to be marveled at, that dooms them.
David and Jade ( Endless Love , Scott Spencer): Arson and obsession
In this classic story of obsessive, all-consuming teenage love, David and Jade are in the midst of a passionate affair when Jade’s father banishes the boy from their home. Thinking to win back the family’s affections by saving them from peril, he sets fire to their house. Things progress madly from there.
Catherine and Heathcliff ( Wuthering Heights , Emily Brontë): Endless emotional torment
In the famous Gothic novel, Catherine and Heathcliff fall in love as children and then circle each other for years, supposedly still in love but, as far as we can tell, mostly spending their time being cruel to one another. Heathcliff is wild, brooding, and angry, Catherine blinded by money and status. In the end, as Heathcliff dies, he has visions of Catherine from beyond the grave, haunting him to the last.
Bella and Edward ( Twilight , Stephenie Meyer): He’s a vampire
First, Bella finds out the boy she has a crush on is a vampire. She decides that despite that, and despite all the evil that comes after her for putting herself in that situation, she should definitely bind herself to him. Later, they get married and she gives birth to a half-vampire-half-human daughter. Then, she becomes a vampire. We know it’s supposed to be a happy ending, but — yikes.
Nick and Sheeni ( Youth in Revolt , C.D. Payne): Multiple personality disorder
When Nick falls for Sheeni, he’ll do anything to make sure he wins her. That includes committing crimes, running from the police, and adopting not one but two alternative personalities, with the double purposes of hiding from the law and getting closer to his lady. Though we’re no stranger to the lengths teenage boys will go once they’ve got their, er, hearts set on something, we wonder if there’s some kind of limit out there. No? All right.
Romeo and Juliet ( Romeo and Juliet , William Shakespeare): Double Suicide
But of course, how could we leave out the most famous tragic teenage love affair of all time? About four days after they meet, Romeo and Juliet each kill themselves when faced with the prospect of being without the other. All we have to say is: what, what, what are you doing?