What We Need More of in YA
YA is chock-full of so much stigma, pitfalls, and cringe-worthy tropes that us YA readers almost need to clarify we like different YA—books that don't adhere to that weary tale of wheat-bran girl meets hot, slightly abusive asshole and does nothing to gain his affection but now he's hers forever, THE END.
Sadly, it's not the easiest task to find different YA books. But if we did stumble across some, what might they contain?
In the quest to make aggressively normal characters—i.e. flat, stale-toast characters who "just want to be nOrmAl"—and in the quest to make the archetypal Strong Female Character ("I am woman, I punch brick wall"), we've lost sight of what makes a character a character. All those odd quirks and slip-ups, the relatable thoughts and actions (or . . . not-so-relatable ones).
You think no one wants weird characters? Tell me why everyone adores Lilo, Luna Lovegood, Wednesday Addams, The Mad Hatter, Angela from the Eragon books, Uncle Iroh from Avatar . . .
You know the sad part? Almost all of these are side characters we hardly ever see. And I had to pull from TV to get enough examples. Let's see more Leading Weirdos in fiction.
LESS SECRETS, MORE ACCEPTANCE
I'm not disparaging the importance of secrets in fiction. They keep things spicy and conflict high. Is the character a long-lost royal? Who's the real villain here? Can they tell them about the magic artifact if they're not sure they can trust them?
But the whole "I can't tell my supportive, loving friends and family who have known me for years that I have powers / a prophetic destiny / personal problems" becomes ridiculous after a certain point (looking at you, paranormal TV dramas).
Let's have more side characters who are like, "Cool, what else can you do?" Why does the main character's special ability always have to be a drawn-out conspiracy? Just tell them, dude.
Harry found out he was a wizard in the first few chapters, and Ron pretty much discovered Harry was the Chosen One before they were even friends. Everything was cool, man.
Failing is so utterly human and happens to all of us. We make mistakes. Part of why dramas are so appealing (even for people who don't normally do drama) is seeing characters screw up and then put everything on the line to make it right.
At least . . . in television they do. Maybe we can take a cue from film and have our characters mess up from time to time. I'm not talking "oh, the supervillain foiled me" failure—I mean "this is all my fault; I made a bad call / couldn't pull through / didn't know what to do" human fallacy.
Not only does it make a character more real, but it shows mistakes can be learned from and lead to growth. It sends the message that it's okay to fall, to not be perfect. With social media the way it is nowadays, we could definitely use more of this in our books for younger audiences.
MULTI-LAYERED LOVE INTERESTS
Look, there's more than two types of love interests in the world. It's not "dark antihero versus white knight" or "pure damsel versus sexy Wonder Woman." We need more than a tragic backstory and broody stare, more than sex appeal and snappy one-liners.
Sure, they can have these things if you like, but what if that's not what stands out? What if they're klutzy, or insanely intelligent, or talk to themselves, or they love food? What if they're confident in some areas but a total mess in others?
Basically, what if they're a whole person instead of a dreamy ideal?
Emporer Kaito AKA Kai, the white knight prince if he was kind've a dork
“I'm going to make it a law that the correct way to address your sovereign is my giving a high five." Kai's smiled brightened. - Winter, Marissa Meyer
Percy Jackson, powerful sea demigod and known for making crazy plans on the spot
“Hercules, huh?" Percy frowned. "That guy was like the Starbucks of Ancient Greece. Everywhere you turn—there he is.” - The Mark of Athena, Rick Riordan
Kaz Brekker, criminal "dark antihero" who's broken, ruthless, and not magically "fixed" by love
“You take things too personally, Brekker. You should be focused on the job, but you’re too busy holding a grudge.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” said Kaz. “I don’t hold a grudge. I cradle it. I coddle it. I feed it fine cuts of meat and send it to the best schools. I nurture my grudges, Rollins.” - Crooked Kingdom, Leigh Bardugo
What do you wish there was more of in YA? Drop your thoughts in the comments below, or join the conversation with us @bookish_witches on Twitter!