Young Adult Tropes I’m Actually Okay With

People like to bash on the YA genre, and for good reason. I mean, have you read Twilight? I haven’t, but I heard it’s awful.

There’s been a lot of criticisms of the genre that I agree with — the overemphasis on love triangles, the dark and brooding love interests, the Chosen One prophesies — but there are a couple common complaints that I can’t help but feel aren’t actually bad ideas. Such as:

Image result for why you little

1) The Bad/Absentee Parents Trope

“Why can’t we have good, normal, loving parents for once?” people say. “Parents who aren’t dead or abusive or mysteriously disappeared?”

To which I respond: “Now how is that interesting?”

When Harry Potter was battling dementors in The Order of Phoenix, not once did I think to myself, “Man, I really wish his parents were here to sort this all out for him.” Not once throughout Eleanor and Park did I think, “this would be so much more exciting if Eleanor’s stepdad was not an abusive, misogynist jerk.” And yes, I am simplifying the argument for the sake of comedy, but hear me out:

I don’t want to read about normal parents, especially in a fantasy/sci-fi novel. I mean, have you met most parents? They nag. They worry. When I tell them I’m going out in the middle of the night to investigate the nearby haunted house where that one girl was found murdered by a mysterious unnamed entity, they’re never okay with it. Whenever I read a story with normal parents, I always find those scenes — you know, the scenes where’s there’s that inevitable conflict between the parents’ concerns and what the main character knows is right — to be such a drag on the story. I just want to skip over it and get to the good stuff.

And there’s a reason this trope is so popular to begin with. Teenagers don’t like their parents. Sure, they love them, but only because they have to, and they certainly don’t want to spend more time with them than absolutely necessary. (Note: cases may vary.) And whether wrongly or not, by the time a kid gets into their teen years, they start to see their parents more as obstacles to get around, rather than the larger-than-life role models they used to be. When I was a young, angsty fifteen year old, (as opposed to the strong, knowledgeable eighteen year old I am now), I identified with stories where the parents were antagonists, because that’s how I saw myself.

2) Insta-Love

“Sup girl,” said Devin Devinsky, sitting on his totally bitchin’ leather motorcycle. “Wanna make out?”
Lisa felt a flutter in her chest. Was this love?

I used to hate this trope, but then it happened to me in real life, so now I’m more forgiving. The heart wants what it wants, people, and sometimes it wants a douchey guy on a motorcycle.

The key, in my humble-as-fuck opinion, is that the Insta-Love has to be forbidden in some way or another. Like if one of them is engaged to someone else, of if it’s an LGBT relationship in a non-LGBT+ friendly environment, or why not both?

Lisa was engaged to that douchey guy on the motorcycle when she met Ruth, a douchey girl on a motorcycle. “Sup,” said Ruth.

Lisa felt a flutter in her chest. Was this love? But … she had never felt that way about a girl before, and yet this was stronger and more passionate than anything she had felt for her fiance. But her wedding was next month! Did I mention this takes place in the 1950s? Plus she had a bomb strapped to her chest that would explode if she left Devin, so that’s another source of conflict right there.

I’d read this story. Presumably it ends with Lisa and Ruth shooting their way out of a courthouse and stabbing Devin Devinsky with the American flag, like this. (Just replace Mel Gibson with Lisa and Homer with Ruth, and it’ll be a perfect representation of how I imagine this story to end.)

3) School is Seemingly Nonexistent.

I feel like every time there’s a YA book set during the school year, people complain that none of the main characters ever have to study or deal with homework. This complaint has never resonated with me, for a few reasons:

First off, this complaint always seems to be made by straight A students, students who take AP classes and actually open the textbooks to study. And good for them and all, but this does not represent the majority of students, or at least those in the U.S. public school system. You know how many times I studied in high school for more than twenty minutes, outside of finals? Literally not once, and I was one of the good students. I was taking the hard classes. The normal students taking the normal classes always seemed to have free time, and they never seemed to be doing any work outside of school. And when I think back to my high school years, I rarely think about all the assignments I had to do, because those aren’t interesting. One of the big rules of writing is to skip the boring stuff, and Rosey Evergreen’s trigonometry homework is included in that category.

And secondly, if my love interest died in a car accident, or if I discovered I was the chosen one in a world that I never knew existed, I would immediately stop caring about high school. Compared to fighting the Dark Lord, or stopping a vampire from killing all your friends, or any of the other crazy plots from so many YA novels, high school does not matter

(But seriously, stay in school, kids.)

And that’s all for me. I could only think of three things, because my noggin’s been a bit wobbly as of late. If you agree, feel free to comment below, and if you disagree: get lost, you filthy commie!

But for real, comment below. I’d appreciate it.


13 thoughts on “Young Adult Tropes I’m Actually Okay With

  1. I 100% agree. Well… maybe not 100%. Maybe 95%. Or 90%. I’m feeling generous tonight, though. You can have 99.9%.

    From the standpoint of a writer, all three of these tropes are easy things to write. You don’t have to figure out how the parents are possibly okay with haunted houses if there are no parents.

    1. 99.9%, eh? I’ll take it. I do hope that .1% goes to a good cause, though. You should give it to the Charity for Red-haired Canadians, I hear they’re in desperate times.

  2. You have to write that story with Lisa and Ruth now.

    Alsooooo in my Literary Retelling & Impersonation class we had a super long discussion about absent parents in children’s lit… we’ve been reading a lot of fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm and the professor suggested that one of the reasons there are so many bad/dead/absent parents in YA and children’s lit is due to their influence. IDK, it was interesting to think about!

    1. Not to get anyone’s hopes up, but my current WIP does feature a lesbian named Lisa. Although there is a disappointing lack of motorcycle girls involved, so …

      You know, I really need to read some of these Brothers Grimm fairy-tales. I mean, I’m sure I know the basic story-line for most of them, but I feel like I’m missing out.

  3. I definitely agree with the parent one. I know I wouldn’t be able to get away with even a quarter of the crap those kids get away with.

    But I do like my parents… they are pretty fun when they aren’t “parenting”. But I’m 18 now so I don’t need to be “parented”.

    1. Yeah, my parents have gotten so much cooler over the past couple years, now that I’m technically an adult. Maybe not cool enough to let me go on a spontaneous road trip across the country, but I can’t complain.

  4. Haha I literally always think about how annoying the school trope is, but you pegged me pretty well. I always forget I live in an ultra competitive bubble and that outside of it teenagers actually have fun and free time.

  5. Where does a person draw a line between children’s, young adults’ and adults’ books? I mean, it seems if it’s a sci-fi it’s almost automatically YA but if it’s a crime fiction it’s adult. As well, there is such a large range of young adult books that I think it’s unfair to just lump them into one section. IMO books should be sorted by reading level.

    1. Personally, I’ve always considered YA books to simply be books where the main characters are teenagers. I know that’s not the best indicator, (like, I don’t think To Kill a Mockingbird would be considered children’s lit) but it’s the one I use. I agree with you regarding reading level; that sounds like the best way to go about things. (Also, sorry for the late reply.)

  6. I completely agree with all of this! Sure, sometimes I skip out on a book because of how repetitive it ends up being to other books. But things like “instant love” and “no school” aren’t part of those reasons. They usually deal with it the main character her/himself and how and their personality. It gets a little boring after while to find different characters of different books all thinking the same thing and reacting the same way.

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