I’m feeling brave today, and discussing something a little bit controversial!
For many book bloggers, Young Adult books are a favourite genre. Personally, I wouldn’t go as far as to say this, but I must admit that I do read a lot of YA, both because it can be fun to review books that are interesting other teens, and because many YA books can be fun, light-hearted reads.
However, I’ve also often remarked that YA has a dark side, ranging from lazy poor writing to the use of some very harmful stereotypes. I’ve been meaning to write a post discussing some of these issues for a while, but I’d been put off by the thought of offending any followers who are huge fans of the genre. Yet, after rereading The Hunger Games series recently, I was inspired to finally take the plunge and just write the post! So, without further ado, let’s take a look at my problems with YA:
1. Ridiculous names!
We’ll start with a light-hearted one… the ridiculous names used in YA novels! Let’s also take a moment to blame The Hunger Games, because I’m pretty sure the trend started when the series managed to be incredibly successful in spite of names like ‘Katniss’, ‘Peeta’, ‘Cinna’ and ‘Plutarch’. Soon every author was at it, giving characters a wonderful array of either names that No-one Has Ever Been Called Ever (example: Renesmee in Twilight), or Names That Haven’t Been Used Since 1672 (example: Claudette in Another Place). Seriously, what’s wrong with Jane or John?! Although ludicrous names are most commonly found in fantasy and dystopian novels, the thing that annoys me most is when they’re found in everyday contemporaries… How can you expect me to find your book realistic when your main character is probably called Shimmer?!
2. The ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ trope
I get where this started, I really do. Luna Lovegood was a cool, quirky edition to the Harry Potter world, and loved by a lot of people.
But then she evolved into something different. All of a sudden, authors began to include such characters in their own books, but with a cunning twist. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl would have a love interest. But not just any love interest.
This potential boyfriend would be so painfully, awfully dull, that his entire existence would revolve around pursuing this quirky female, who he is, of course, madly in love with (example: any book written by John Green, although Quentin and Margo from Paper Towns may just be the best example out there).
That’s where the trope gets interesting… because things can go either way. The MPDG can either reciprocate our hero’s affection, queue scenes of her making his life interesting and meaningful, or scorn his advances, queue tragic brooding and soul-searching.
But that’s it. There are only two options and, quite frankly, it’s getting boring! Can someone please think of an alternate ending?! Or even better… I know it’s radical, but how about a MPDG free book?! Think of the possibilities…
3. Normalising controlling relationships
Funny memes aside, this one really does worry me. I’ve always felt that YA books written by adults present a unique insight into how teenagers appear to the rest of the world, given the author must try and put themselves in the position of a modern teen… So why are all teenage girls depicted as being incapable of recognising when a relationship is toxic?!
Why isn’t Bella concerned when Edward literally tells her that he likes watching her sleep in Twilight?! Why does Katniss even consider dating Gale after he corners her and kisses her in The Hunger Games (at least she makes the right choice in the end…)?! Why does it take her cheating to be exposed for Addie to break up with Jake, who literally controls what she wears and where she goes, in One of Us is Lying?! (Having said that, Karen M. McManus does at least redeem herself slightly by having Addie turn into a total badass by the end of the book!).
I think depicting strange, controlling relationships as normal in YA novels has two consequences. Firstly, it belittles real teenagers, insultingly betraying them as either the perpetrators of such behaviour, or the placid victim, too bland to stand up for themselves. Secondly, it sends awful messages to young people. It tells young boys that it’s acceptable to control their girlfriends, policing what they wear and who they see; it tells young girls that controlling behaviour is normal and to be expected within a relationship.
I’d say the following to authors: please, think about how the stereotypes you’re spreading might affect impressionable, young readers, and think about the good you could do by changing the way you portray relationships.
4. The dystopian frenzy
Let’s return to my favourite game- ‘blame The Hunger Games’! The series, which was based around an interesting, unique concept, took off. The next thing we knew, every new YA series was another dystopian, from Divergent to The Maze Runner. And as ever, the imitators just weren’t as good as the original. New ideas please, authors!
5. The obsession with love triangles
That most irritating of YA tropes… the love triangle! Look, I get it- twelve-year-old Twilight fans loved the opportunity to debate Edward VS Jacob and buy mugs and t-shirts advertising their ‘team’.
But this is another trope that seems to have started in one series, then spread through the YA universe like a particularly catchy cold. The Hunger Games. The Mortal Instruments. Throne of Glass. They’re all at it with the love triangles.
Yet, I’d struggle to think of one blogger who has ever told me a love triangle was the reason they read a book, or even that they actually like the trope. Because, let’s be honest, unless you’re twelve years old and in a school playground, they’re just not that interesting! As far as I’m concerned, a regular romance is perfectly acceptable, and has the advantage of avoiding the melodramatics.
6. Unrealistic expectations of boys
A lot has been said about how the media gives teenage boys unrealistic expectations about girls, but has anyone really thought about the troubles of female bookworms?! Because have you ever actually met a boy as sweet as Peeta from The Hunger Games? What about someone as drop-dead gorgeous as Four from Divergent? Or someone as all around charming as Ren from Love & Gelato?
Now picture the men you actually know… I rest my case! If a boy isn’t gorgeous, funny and intelligent all at once, then I’m afraid bookworms just aren’t interested.
7. There’s either no diversity… or everyone is diverse!
Basically, YA authors are either like this:
Or like this:
There is no inbetween. Either the whole book is a white-wash (example: The Fault in Our Stars– aside from their illnesses, nothing really marked out any of the characters as ‘different’ or ‘unique’), or there is so much diversity that individual characters don’t really stand out anymore. An example of the latter would be The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed- as much as I loved the book, and the fact it did show some seriously under-represented characters, I’m not sure that level of diversity is really realistic in a book set anywhere outside of London or New York, let alone a small town in Oregon!
I think the solution is for authors to aim for a happy medium. At the end of the day, I firmly believe literature would be boring if it were filled with straight, cis, white characters. However, it’s easy for a book to appear like its only intended audience is Social Justice Warriors, if every character is in some way diverse. It’d be nice to see an author get the balance right for once by actually bothering to include some unusual, diverse characters, but in a realistic manner, rather than simply throwing random, diverse characters in there in order to seem ‘Politically Correct’. Because, speaking as a teenager, I have LGBT friends, I have friends who are ethnic minorities, but I also have friends who are ‘average’ white teenagers. I’d love for a book’s characters to reflect the people we actually meet in our day-to-day lives!
8. Families that are either ridiculously dysfunctional, or just too damn nice!
This is another situation with two extremes. There’s this:
Fictional families are either so dysfunctional that it’s a wonder social services aren’t involved, like Katniss’s in the beginning of The Hunger Games series, or unrealistically perfect, like Bronwyn’s family in One of Us is Lying. What happened to normal, realistic families?! I’d like to see authors stop either using family fights as cheap drama for their characters, or creating families that belong on a Kellogg’s cereal box from 1952!
Well… rant over!
Did you like this post? Do you agree? Do you disagree? Do you have anything you hate about YA? Feel free to let me know in the comments!
Here’s to a happier, trope-free future for YA! (In my dreams…). On a serious note, for all it’s light-hearted, I hope this post has made some of you think about some of the things we see in YA!
See you next week… (unless you really were upset by this post!)