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.
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.
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.
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
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!