I never knew the meaning of stress until I began studying for my A Levels. Sometimes you don’t even feel human, but more like a robot programmed to analyse poems, learn dates and conjugate verbs. When the exams arrive, it gets even worse- there are tears, tantrums and ‘I can’t do it!’ breakdowns. So in the midst of my exam-related panic, I decided that the thing to do would be to read something nice and easy for a bit of an escape and naturally turned towards the Young Adult genre. I bought and read a book that I actually enjoyed, but I had some issues with it and thought about it quite a lot and eventually decided to put my problems with Young Adult fiction into words.
Oh God, the stereotypes. For me, they are the worst thing about Y/A fiction. I’m sick of it. In virtually every teenage novel you can find one or more of the following:
– the outwardly tough, sarcastic and tomboyish girl who is secretly vulnerable.
– the shy, clever girl who loves either literature or mathematics, plans on going to college and doesn’t know how achingly pretty she is.
– the rich, beautiful and bitchy Queen B who is at the centre of all scandal and runs the school.
– the clever, funny, mysterious boy who the girl isn’t quite sure she can trust.
– the cute but not to be taken seriously male friend, who harbours unrequited feelings of undying love for the heroine.
Teenagers are supposed to be able to relate to these books, aren’t they? So why can’t it be more like the real world, where not everyone is beautiful and clever? I understand that the ‘Queen B’ stereotype is supposed to be something that everyone can identify with, but in Y/A novels there’s a certain kind of comfort that can be drawn from the fact that the decent people don’t associate with her, when in real life that’s not the case, and in my experience this false illusion only makes the truth all the worse to handle. Stereotypes are much too regimented in Y/A novels- yes, there are some similarities with high school cliques but it’s not really like that, because in my experience cliques are not so firmly regimented. I also take issue with the stereotype of the shy, pretty girl that always breaks out in the end and reveals her bravery and brilliance- for most people that never happens and they leave secondary school feeling as though they never even left a mark on the place.
Lack of plot originality.
Ever since Twilight was released it seems that you can’t escape stories about timid girls who meet mysterious and gorgeous strangers. And more often than not, he’s not human and there’s some terrible reason that they can’t be together but they fall in love quickly and can’t bear to be apart. It’s a nice bit of escapism and appeals hugely to 13 year old girls (I couldn’t get enough of Twilight when I was 13, although I never went so far as to put posters on my walls and name my cat Edward) but I don’t think it really reflects traditional teenage romances. And what about unrequited love? When that does crop up in Y/A books it seems that it comes from a cute male friend rather than the protagonists themselves, yet I feel that unrequited love and its effects is something that should really be further explored- I know people who were driven to some very unpleasant things because they loved someone that didn’t return the sentiment. And, I’ll admit it, I also had very strong feelings for a boy who forgot I existed when he became more popular and that really hurt me, and I was very unhappy for a while because of it. Romantic escapism is fine, but I think there also needs to be something more realistic out there that lovesick teenagers can relate to, rather than encouraging them to wait around for a romance that, realistically, is never going to happen. (Oh my, I sound cynical).
But aside from romances, there are also the stories about the scandal and betrayal rooted deep in the heart of the world of the popular girls. I enjoy a scandal as much as the next girl- I love plot twists and shocking secrets, but why is it only the popular girls who get to have them? They’re not the only ones who have secrets!
Everyone is impossibly good looking.
Kate Brian’s Private series is one of the worst for this- every Billings girl is jaw-droppingly gorgeous and every boy dashingly handsome. That’s not how it is in real life! What about the acne, the braces, and the greasy hair? Suffering from one out of three- braces in case you were wondering- was bad enough! But it seems that nowadays in most Y/A fiction the girls, at least, are all drop dead gorgeous, even if they don’t know they’re drop dead gorgeous. Another thing that annoys me is it seem as though every heroine who finds a boyfriend is skinny, which doesn’t do much to help teenagers’ weight issues.
Sometimes the language in Y/A novels drives me insane, hence the reason I don’t read many. Far from appealing to me, the constant use of “like” and “whatever” put me off- it just makes the adults who write the books seem as though they’re trying too hard. I also find that there’s often an excessive use of description in Y/A novels- do we really need to know that Ms. X tapped her blue plastic ice watch with a manicured fingernail?
Having just written a pretty scathing report on Young Adult novels, I must include a disclaimer: by no means am I talking about all Y/A novels. Even Y/A novels that include many of the above elements can be really enjoyable (if slightly annoying), and I do think that it’s only as you grow out of this genre that you begin to see its flaws. Some Y/A novels are great but they don’t challenge us! Yes, they deal with serious issues, often very sensitively, but I don’t feel that there were many I could actually relate to when I was 15, hence the reason I began venturing into adult fiction. If novels like Twilight and Fallen get teenagers reading then great, but they need to challenge us more. Believe it or not, teenagers are capable of seeing past high school stereotypes.