Things I Would Love to See More of in YA

I’ve been talking a lot this summer about how I get kind of burnt out on Young Adult books. While I think some of this may have to do with no longer being a young adult (what IS this life???), I think it also has a lot to do with how similar YA books can be.

Even when you pick up a very diverse set of YA books, there still seems to be a distinct pattern that they follow. There are certain themes, characterizations, even tropes that you can count on seeing in just about anything, regardless of what the book is about. This annoys me as a reader, because I like variety. But it REALLY annoys me as a mother and educator.

Kids aren’t cookie cutter, and so their books shouldn’t be. So here are some of the things I would personally like to see more of in YA.

(Note that I’m avoiding all discussion of “rep”. Whether LGPTQ, POC, classes, or whatever, that discussion is already raging. This is all other stuff.)

Ugly Main Characters

Or even main characters that are just plain. Why do they all have to be beautiful, or hot, or whatever? Even worse, so many of them think they’re ugly and then discover they’ve been beautiful all along. What are we telling our girls? That they’ll discover they’re beautiful and then learn to love themselves? Heck no! I want to see some ladies loving themselves regardless of their appearance. I’m thinking Jane Eyre style here!

Stories Without Romance

I get that romance is important to teens (and adults!), so we naturally include it in our books and movies. And I don’t think we need to get rid of ALL romance in books. That’s ridiculous. But I also don’t want teens thinking that romance is the end-all-be-all of life. I want them to know that they can pursue other things and still be normal! Plus, sometimes you’re heart-broken and just want a break from all that.

Family Relationships

YA books are notorious for leaving parents out of the picture completely. Whether they’re suburban teens whose parents just never seem to make an appearance, or a fantasy where the parents were conveniently killed off, it’s definitely a YA stereotype. As a teenager it’s difficult to know how to have healthy relationships with your parents and siblings. Heck, I still struggle with that as an adult! Giving them a healthy example to look up to can be so important.

Magical Realism

And I’m not talking about “It’s set in our world, but there are secretly monsters living in it, and the MC is destined to kill/fall in love with them.” That’s not magical realism, that’s urban fantasy.

Magical realism is one of my all-time favorite fantasy sub-genres! I just want to see more magical realism in general, but it’s especially scant in YA.

Slower Paced Stories

I don’t know what it is about YA that authors and/or publishers feel the need to have everything be so break-neck. It’s like they think if kids can’t put it down they won’t pick it back up! Unfortunately I think the readership completely backs that up by complaining every time they read a slower book. Well you know what? Book bloggers and publishers need to get over it, because kids lives aren’t fast-paced, and their books should reflect that sometimes.

Extracurricular Activities

There are so many kids out there for whom extra-curriculars are life. From band nerds and choir geeks to jocks, theater freaks to AcaDeca, for teens who are involved with extra-curriculars it can become a way of life. But when you read YA books set in high school they just … don’t DO anything! The closest I’ve seen was in Paper Towns when Q’s friends are band nerds and they all hang out in the band hall every day. Or maybe I just to make my way back over to the marching band section on FanFiction and see what’s going on there these days…

Intentional Waiting for Sex

YA main characters are almost always either open about exploring their sexuality, or the book avoids the topic completely. Don’t get me wrong, both of those are appropriate and can be done well. But it’s not often enough that the main character CHOOSES to wait for sex. This could be because they’re not ready, or because they have a moral conviction.

So many teens are not ready for sex yet! I think it’s very important for books to empower them to wait until they are ready, because they can be apt to rush into it because they feel pressured or unsure. The Hate U Give did a FANTASTIC job with this, and I think people don’t talk about that aspect of the book enough.

On the other hand, as unhealthy as so many people think it is, there are a lot of religious teens who are choosing not to have sex. I think it’s only fair for them to see that reflected from time to time as well.

Stories for Boys

GUYS.

The YA genre as a whole is so blatantly being written for girls. Maybe LGBTQ boys. Maybe sensitive guys. But let me tell you as a teacher, the average teenage boy has zero interest in books. And if they are interested, it’s definitely not in the YA genre.

Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely some good books out there that teen boys can enjoy. Maximum Ride, Eragon, the Vladimir Tod series, The 5th Wave, and I Am Number Four are all excellent examples. But you have to admit, the genre as a whole is marketed primarily at girls and women. I think the publishing industry needs to do a better job at publishing books that young men will be interested in and then at marketing them as heavily as they market Sarah J. Maas or Cassandra Clare.

Is there anything you would like to see more of in YA? Let me know in the comments!

 

37 thoughts on “Things I Would Love to See More of in YA

      1. For one, more girls whose current boyfriend isn’t the only one they’ve ever had. It’s so unrealistic and gives expectations that can’t be delivered. Also make it clear that toxic behaviour is unacceptable, not romantic. Boys who stalk their love interest or are controlling, and a variety of other habits that YA novels romanticise really leads to girls who settle for narcissists.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Deeper stories. So many YA books I’ve come across just don’t have a lot to say. They’re surface level messages that speak more about trendy topics and fail to dig much deeper. Teens are questioning everything, and they deserve books that talk about meaningful things.

    I hope that made sense…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It does! I don’t know that I 100% agree, though. There are some great YA books that do go very deep. The Hate U Give immediately comes to mind. But you’re right that surface level stuff tends to be more popular. People are so critical of John Green, for example, because they say his books are too philisophical.

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  2. Amazing post and i agree with so much of this! I am always screaming out for more parents in YA even if they are not model parents if it’s for the progression of the story, it’s just so annoying when parents are either completely absent or completely incompetent for literally no reason other than to let the protagonist do what they want without question! Also, totally with you on the extracurricular activities front and this was actually something i really enjoyed in simon vs the homo sapiens agenda how it actually gave time to things like a school play and bands and things (plus it had great parents too so win win!). And romance is a huge one for me too, especially as someone who didn’t really have boyfriends during my teens and who wasn’t bothered at all about that it can get so boring when literally no ya books address this. I actually really appreciated this recently in Radio Silence by Alice Oseman because although there is romance featured in the novel it’s not central at all and it isn’t presented as superior to friendship at all which is another pet peeve of mine when it comes to ya! Fabulous post!! 😊😊

    Liked by 1 person

  3. These are great!

    I haven’t read much in the magical realism genre, but I’ve read some. Have you read Bone Gap by Laura Ruby? It’s young adult and pretty good from what I remember.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow I love this post. You are so right about all of these points. As an adult who reads YA, I am sometimes impatient with this genre as well. There absolutely has to be more characters in YA books who are not conventionally beautiful. The truth is that the average person looks… well, average! I think it is an unhealthy message to send to YA readers that one has to be exceptionally beautiful to be loved. I also agree about non-romantic relationships. There is so much more to life than romance! And there are also so many more important relationships other than the one that we share with our significant other!

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