YA Books Need to Stop

I don’t mean stop entirely. There are some perfectly good (awesome, in fact) young adult novels out there. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find them amid the piles of clichés and tropes and covers of pretty girls in prettier dresses. (For the record, there is nothing wrong with pretty girls or pretty dresses. I’m a fan of both. I do, however, think a little more cover originality among the YA genre would be good.) A lot of Young Adult authors (who, by the way, are hardly ever young adults) tend to make the same mistakes over and over again.

Time to spring clean. Which YA tropes should be chucked out a high window?

  • Insta-Love, Exhibit A

Girl: [sees cute boy]

Boy: [sees cute girl]

Girl: MARRY ME.

Boy: POSTHASTE. I WOULD DIE FOR YOU.

Please. Please, please, please, for the love of frozen yogurt, stop this. You are sixteen, and you do not have love at first sight. Lust, maybe. Attraction, maybe. Love? No. It does not happen with the first glance. If you could stop reducing love to something that involves the way a person’s hair swoops across their forehead and not their character, that would be great.

  • Girl Takes On Dystopian Society, Falls in Love With Not One, But Five! Boys, And Saves the World While Focusing Almost Entirely On Her Own Feelings. I’m not going to name any names here, but I think we can all think of an example (or nine, or ten).
  • Who Is Speaking? I do not want the three main characters – two of whom are boys, one of whom is a girl – to sound exactly the same. It’s confusing, it’s boring, and it’s unrealistic. Give them some personality, for Pete’s sake.
  • The Different One. There’s nothing wrong with this trope – except how overdone it is. How about something different for a change? What if The Different One was actually hailed as someone awesome, and not some Evil Thing to be Hunted Down and Destroyed At Earliest Convenience?
  • The Plain One. Okay, Bella Swan, I’m tired of you. There’s nothing wrong with having fantastical characters with grave disfigurements or glorious beauty. Please, have some fins, or red eyes, or no eyes, or blue hair, or gold skin, or something, because not every teenage girl in the world is average height, brown-haired, brown-eyed, plain, and clumsy. Sure, you want to make a character relatable – but relating to a character’s appearance is the most shallow kind of relatability, and YA authors should stop getting hung up on making their main characters “so plain, I don’t know why anyone would love me.”
  • Pretention. I may or may not be glancing at John Green and Maggie Stiefvater. Are they both talented? Yep. Can John Green make me laugh and entertain me? Yep. Can Maggie Steifvater rip my guts out with her bewitching prose? Yes, yes, and yes. However, could YA authors maybe stop attempting to make seventeen-year-olds Fountains of All Earthly Wisdom? Seventeen is seventeen. I’ve never known a kid in high school to spout platitudes like Socrates. And coming up with a clever sentence doesn’t make it smart, okay? (Also – looking at you, Maggie – could we maybe stop referring to a snort/grunt as a sound of ‘glorious disdain?’ It is a grunt/snort.)
  • Stereotypes. Pick up your average YA novel, and you will find the following assembled crew:

○ The Bubblegum Girl. Cheerful, Upbeat, Kind, and a Little Bit Airheady.

(example: Honey Lemon)

○ The Emo/Goth/Sullen One. Spends most of their time shooting down plans and saying how stupid everything is.

(example: I can’t come up with one at the moment but THEY’RE THERE)

(p.s. my mother just pointed out that Johannah from the Hunger Games is a good example of this)

○ The Angsty One with a Heart of Gold.

(example: Jeb from ‘Splintered’)

○ The Bad Boy With a Soft Heart Which He Covers Up With Leather and Cigarette Smoke.

(granted, I usually like these ones, but still. TROOPPPEEE)

○ The Philosopher

(example: Augustus Waters)

○ The Socially Awkward Smart One

(example: Colin from ‘An Abundance of Katherines’)

None of these characters are bad in their own right, but they are also overused and ubiquitous.
  • Nonexistent Parents. Where do the parents go? Do they even exist? Would your mom approve? What about your dad? Why is every single YA parent uninvolved in their child’s lives? Take a page from Teen Wolf – parents are awesome. When parents are involved, it can be awesome. PARENTS ARE PEOPLE, TOO.
  • Look!!! At Me!!! I’m!! Different!!!!!!! I saw someone on Tumblr describe this process (specifically, John Green’s process). It went something like this –

boy meets girl who *rolls dice* collects old journals and *tosses coin* has an albino friend and they *throws dart* go on a cruise to a foreign island!

One thing I’ve noticed is that YA novels are trying so!!! Hard!!!! To be!!! UNIQUE!!! That they tend to become a bit unbelievable and even predictable in their ‘uniqueness.’ I know this might sound like an odd beef to have – I love quirky, unusual books and weird characters and unexpected events – but the dice-rolling, dart-throwing, coin-tossing randomosity thing is very close to becoming a cliché in and of itself.

What about you? What do YOU think YA books need to stop (or start) doing? Can you recommend a unique Young Adult book for me? Let me know!

[ also, notice that I did not condemn love triangles. granted, they are ubiquitous, but I'm a sucker for a good love triangle. I know. sad. especially since the right boy never gets the girl. like ever. ]
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35 thoughts on “YA Books Need to Stop

  1. *a choir of YA angels sing a glorious hymn as they lay these stereotypes to rest and eat some fluffy cake drowning in icing*
    Thank you for this! Everyone needs to read it.

    Can I recommend a good YA book? Well… Monster. But I think you’re familiar with it. And Paper Hearts has the quirkiest and best characters but, ah, I believe you wrote it so… :/ And if you want a sparkling (not literally, thank Mirriam-almight) transformed stereotypical cast with purpose, try Dark is the Night! Oh, wait. You wrote that too. *rubs chin*

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  2. Granted all the things mentioned which I myself hate as well, I am mostly sick of stories about teenagers…doing things no teenager would have the ability to do. And also how the adults for some reason find a teenager a threat and also that adults decide to follow said teenager as if they are some magical god, and that all the adults do about nothing except, well, be the villain…(Also I can’t be the only one who thinks all of these would be so much more interesting if they were from the villains perspective..?) My question is, is it so hard to write a book that involves all the dystopic stuff we all love and all the things that go into these YA novels and realistically put adults into the situations instead??

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  3. *screams this post from the heavens because PARENTS* YES YES YES, I love seeing parents in MG and YA novels!!! One of the reasons I love “Teen Wolf” is from that in particular. I love the relationship between Stiles and his father, but all of the parents are well-written in different ways. I try to make more of an effort to have parents around in my stories, because all too often we get the “orphaned child,” even though I love those stories, too.

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  4. There is also the cliche of “We know everything and adults are soooo stoopid!” It drives me nuts. As an adult in particular. Yes, adults are pretty clueless – but geez, does every young adult think adults are that dense? It falls in line of the “Where the heck are the parents” line.

    I also think authors need to stop hammering out book after book of the same genre. How many vampire books/series do we really need!?

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  5. I think there are a lot of reused tropes out there that, yes, are tiring my brain out. But then sometimes I think books aren’t always written to be mass-eaten. Like said book IS for teens who read like 5 books a year. So they won’t notice how many books sound the same. You know?? Also, I’m not a fan of insta-love ’cause it’s lazy writing (character development FTW!) but I can’t deny it’s actually real. >_< I've known a stack of people who fell to this IRL. Aghhh. SO UM. YEAH. I agree tropes are irritating, but I definitely don't think YA is like this as a whole. x) HAVE YOU READ SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT? BECAUSE YOU NEED TO. Witty, sarcastic, magical, AND unique.

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  6. I know you like love triangles, but I’m going to add “useless love triangle where the heroine is forced to choose between a. Two shirtless guys or b. The hot dude and weird emo kid”.
    Love triangles like that are useless and only distract from the plot, and seem like a ploy to get teenage girls interested.
    I will admit, even though I don’t care for love triangles, I have seen one or two where the two guys in the love triangle symbolized different aspects to the society/way of life, and thus, her having to choose.

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  7. A resounding “AMEN!” I don’t read YA unless, well. . . you know what? I like *some* YA in the inspirational Christian market. Take Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s novels, or Rachel Coker, or Patrick W. Carr, or Chuck Black. . . though really I often forget the dividing line between Adult fiction and YA sometimes.

    But I totally squirm at most of mainstream YA genre these days. They’re just. . . meh. I also hate how “dumbed” down many of these books are, . . . not in the wholesomeness of content, but simply in the issues and writing style and even in the plot; I think I would easily tire of reading of 16 year old kids in a story. Why not 14 or 15 for a change, or 19 or 20 or 23? :D

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  8. Have you ever read the queen’s Theif series? It is my favorite ya thing EVER. Also the Luner chronicles are really good. They have some of these problems like the ” main character is wanted becuase she is the bad thing” thing but there is no love triangle (yay) and the protagonist is a cyborg who can use mind control. It’s awesome. However content warning for some graphic violence in the second book.

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    1. The Lunar chronicles bored me almost to death. I tried the first AND second. I also started the queen’s thief but never finished it – I’ll have to look into it again!

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  9. YESSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!! Finally somebody wrote this post! Can more people start using dice or something? And parents? And stop using sixteen year olds? I will probably never write a sixteen year old as my main character again after reading three dozen YA books with sixteen year old characters. XD

    Liked by 1 person

  10. YES YES YES to so many of these. Insta-love, all those stereotypes, non-existent parents… Blegh. Love is so often not at first sight, we’re all so much more complicated than those flat character tropes, and for goodness’ sake, our parents would have something to say if we marched off to singlehandedly save the world!

    By the way, not sure if you do tags, but I tagged you over at my blog. It seemed like something up your alley, so… http://traceydyck.blogspot.ca/2015/04/favorite-screen-characters-tag.html

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  11. Thank you for allll this truth! You go, girl!
    And have you ever read ‘Viral Nation’ by … oh, gosh, I can’t even remember. It has the typical boring dystopia ‘the world is falling apart we must save it’ thing going on, but the protagonists are a brother and sister, and the sister is autistic. The author did a great job representing that. (Plus the book takes place in my hometown of Reno, sooo….)

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    1. Though I have to say, I and my ambitious literary friends solved the whole parents thing back when we were, like, 9. We always just killed the parents off before the story started.

      We had a wide cast of characters, and they were all orphans. 😉

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  12. Yes yes yes! Give me personality! Give me characters that I can love! Give me relatable character and morals and depth! This post comes straight from YA Heaven I’m convinced.

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  13. Thank you! Although I would say love triangles need to go, as does reducing all love to eros. We need good friendships and stories. I would try reading Atlantia by Allie Condie. While it does suffer from one or two tropes, the characters are strong, and the writing is amazing so that it feels more like a nitpick if you make all the focus be on a love story that is in the background. The Lunar Chronicles are also very good if you haven’t read those yet.

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      1. Chime is well worth the read. I’m not usually a fan of Condie myself, but Atlantica surprised me. What was your take away from the Lunar Chronicles, out of curiosity?

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          1. I found it the exact opposite, but to each her own. Though at some points the romance did get a bit annoying. You’re much kinder to those books than I was to The Inheritance Cycle.

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