The meet cute is a quintessential trope, a scene in which two seemingly random characters meet for the first time, marking the beginning of an upcoming romance. The crucial detail of this trope is the cute part, derived from the circumstances under which the couple meet, ranging from gut-bustingly funny to swoon-worthy, tied together with an adorable bow. The meet cute is one of the most memorable parts of any romantic production, without which there might not be romance at all.
American Romance author Jennifer Armentrout collected a series of literary meet cutes into a single anthology named after the trope, unsurprisingly titled Meet Cute, in which 14 popular YA authors, including herself, expand upon their invention of the "how they first met" story, weaving tales of chance encounters and twists of fate.
The stories collected here showcase writers who clearly know the genre and are at the top of their game in YA lit. Award-winning authors like Nina LaCour and Meredith Russo deliver tales of queer lady love in their short stories "Print Shop" and "Somewhere That's Green." The majority of these stories focus on young women, from teens to early 20s, and their separate first-time encounters with potential partners. In "Oomph" by Emery Lord, two young women met in an airport and flirt by role-playing as Secret Agents (Agent Peggy Carter and Agent Natasha Romanov, which in hindsight sounds like a pretty cool AU fanfiction piece). In "Click" by Katherine McGee, features a young scientist who tries a new high tech dating app that will supposedly guarantee her a 99% perfect match, and finds that data doesn't necessarily correlate with romance. In another standout, "The Department of Dead Love" author Nicola Yoon, crafts her story with poetic, philosophical world-building, pondering if there's an actually establishment dedicated to autopsying the cause of death in love, wondering if it can or should be revived.
In terms of representation, there could have been more diversity over all. Out of 14 authors, Meet Cute features only three people of color (though that could be attributed to the current levels of whiteness in mainstream YA publishing in general). In terms of the stories, LGBTQ to straight, ratio-wise, the numbers are 4 : 14, featuring only one non-cis protagonist—not necessarily bad statistics, but not the most even. However, the majority of the writers are female, creating a feminine-dominated voice in a popular genre that is derided exactly for that reason, a field that is produced by and for a female majority. Though the romance genre carries several stigmas, boften diminished as shallow or sappy, this genre is specifically designed to celebrate the emotions and desires of women of all ages, a reality that is often not presented in the real world. An article in Time magazine the author Christina Lauren writes about the revolutionary power of this genre:
The truth is that the stories we write create no conflict with our feminism. Sex and free agency are empowering. Deciding what you do with your own body, and with whom, is liberating. Falling in love with men does not make our heroines weak. Women’s strength comes in a million different forms, one of which is the ability to forge a connection with another person. We can find power in our sexuality, or by withholding it. We can be direct and pursue what we want, or enjoy the chase. The best romance writing portrays characters who are as varied and nuanced as real women and allows us to celebrate emotional connection.
As a demisexual person myself, emotional connection is a strong facet of my sexuality, meaning that without time and trust I cannot experience attraction to another person. This also applies to the type of fiction I prefer, because I like to see romance develop over time between characters, based on mutual interests and sense of connection. This preference often rules out stories which feature tropes like Insta-Love or Love at First Sight, because I couldn't really comprehend how a person could fall in love so quickly based on only one meeting. However, the key word that describes the stories in Meet Cute is potential, demonstrating the capacity in the interactions between couples to turn into something more. One of the best ways to sum this up is in passage in "Print Shop" by Nina LaCour:
It's early, I know. We've only just met. But this might be a love story, so I want to tell it the right way.
The world can be a dark, aggressive place, but fiction has the ability to momentarily pull us out of the dark and away from the aggressiveness into a vicarious dream, imagining a world different than the one we currently live in, or re-imagining our world with a more hopeful perspective. Collections like this one allow us to recharge our emotions by tapping into simple, sweet stories of people finding genuine human connection with each another, even in dark times. If you're looking to spend an afternoon with a warm, light read, or simply take reading breaks during the rush of the day, Meet Cute is highly recommended.