From some people in the YA field (usually adults), I hear ongoing criticism of certain tropes in YA books. Enough love triangles. Enough falling in love with one person and then another. Enough characters falling in love instantly. Enough characters who can’t figure out what they want. Enough characters who discover they (or their crush) are changing, turning/can turn into a creature both more incredible and horrible than they ever imagined. Enough protagonist complaining/whining about his/her life (though let’s be honest, this criticism is usually directed at the “her” only). Enough conveniently absent parents so the protagonist can be free to have an adventure. Enough what we’ve already seen a hundred times.
But what I’m actually hearing is, enough teenagers.
These tropes in YA are tropes to begin with because they deal so directly and profoundly and metaphorically with the teenage experience. Which is what YA fiction is actually about. And when I hear them criticized so harshly and absolutely, I start to wonder if those critics are just tired of teenagers in general.
I’m not a parent of a teenager yet, so talk to me again in a few years, but I believe that teenagers need those years to get messy, to make mistakes, to fall in love all the time instantly and slowly with him/her, then him/her, to complain, to fight, to struggle for independence but then still need comfort and safety, to live an entire lifetime condensed into a few volatile, fascinating, difficult, beautiful years. That’s how their brains develop. That’s how they figure out who they will be. As adults, I think we need to respect the teenage years and help them live through the experience with as little permanent damage as possible, while still allowing them the experiences themselves. And as readers, I think we need to respect the stories that express those years. Sometimes demanding books that rid themselves of all teenage angst and tropes is like demanding that teens just grow up already and be adults.
To be clear, I think everyone has a right to not like any book for any reason. Reading is personal. And I think criticism is important and done right and received well, the voices can help challenge writers to write new and better things. So I’m not asking for the criticism to stop. I just think it’s worth adding these thoughts to the conversation.
The great thing about rules in writing is they can always be broken. What stopped working, what became hackneyed and overdone, can become fresh and exciting in the right story with the right author and the right reader. So let’s not close any doors on writers. And let’s not send the message to teens that the books they love and the stories that resonate with them have no value or worth. They get that enough from some adults about their very beings.
Sarah Rees Brennan:
*spraypaints in gold on Buckingham Palace*
These are some excellent thoughts on certain stuff that gets dismissed as OBVIOUSLY BAD in YA, and Shannon Hale is very right that a lot of it is teen behaviour—uncertainty and intensity about themselves and romance and life in general. ‘Stories that are meant for you or feature you are junk.’ it’s what people have told all women for centuries, and it says nothing about the stories themselves. When devaluing people, the world devalues and try to take away their stories—mirrors of themselves, promises that they are important, that they can change or escape or be loved or be heroes. It says nothing about the people devalued, and a lot about the world.
It also says that stories are vital, or the world wouldn’t be so afraid of them.”
I have a TRUST TEENAGE GIRLS post to dust off myself. This may give me the impetus to do it.