The Art of Mirriam Neal

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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