YA Romance Tropes That Need To Stop, Part 2
Updated: Jul 12, 2021
It's been a hot minute since I ranted about bad YA tropes (see previous installments Bad YA Tropes to Avoid and YA Romance Tropes That Need to Stop, Part 1), but I return to you today with more overused tropes that, at best, make readers roll their eyes and at worst cause us to chuck the book against the wall.
Onward we go.
*I'll be referring to the main character as "she" because my experience has largely been with female protagonists and male love interests. That doesn't exclude these issues cropping up in other types of romances, however, no matter the genders.
You know the one. The nerdy/goth/grunge girl pines after the popular, unattainable guy who never looks twice at her. Oh, if only some trendy fairy godmother could show her the art of contouring!
Long story short, someone gets her into a slinky dress or skinny jeans, slathers her face in makeup, makes her take off her glasses and let down her hair, and BAM! Now she's a hot commodity her crush follows around like a puppy.
How many things can you spot wrong with this scenario?
First of all, that sends the message that only girls who adhere to traditional beauty standards are desirable. It would be one thing if they suggested she try a new hairstyle, maybe upgrade sweatpants to whatever else she's into/comfortable with, but to make her ditch her entire identity for whatever's "in"?
What are we trying to say here? Girls should change how they dress and act for a guy who never pays them any mind? Him chasing her tail only after she drastically alters herself should be a red flag. She shouldn't have to force herself to be someone's "type." Readers lose respect for the character for not having respect for herself, and we lose respect for the love interest for his shallow behavior.
It's a crappy decision all the way around.
ALTERNATIVE: Her crush doesn't notice her because they don't fly in the same circles, not because she isn't "pretty" enough. Give them a chance to hang out and talk, and maybe their personalities click without her needing to change anything about herself.
Or maybe she picks another crush. Just sayin'.
ENEMIES TO LOVERS (FOR NO REASON)
I'll admit I enjoy a good enemies to lovers . . . when it's well-characterized. The snarky bickering and emotionally-charged "we have to work together even if we don't want to" can be tons of fun to play with—as long as the entertaining back-and-forth doesn't step into bullying or abusive territory.
However, since it is such a popular and fun trope, it's often misused or simply not plotted well. The focus is so much on getting the characters together that the book fails to explain . . . why they're together. No lead-up, no emotional bonding, no character growth—just two characters who hated each other five pages ago and now want to live happily ever after.
There's also, of course, the aforementioned "abuse disguised as love" trope that is not okay. There's a fine line between characters who are at odds because they're on opposing sides of a war/ feud/ what have you . . . and two characters who despise and bully each other for no other purpose than to make each other miserable. Even with proper plotting, that beginning will always leave a sour taste in my mouth.
ALTERNATIVE: Just . . . careful plotting, please, and no dumb reasons to hate each other. Also, basing their "hatred" on misunderstandings is so much more forgivable than making the love interest an awful person.
Why is possession so romanticized in YA? It's like we decided a healthy amount of jealousy and protectiveness wasn't enough. If the love interest isn't controlling the main character's decisions, exploding in rage over any potential rival who's near her, and dictating where she's allowed to be and with whom, then it's not dramatic enough.
I mean . . . it nails dramatic. But emotional abuse is like that. Exaggerated jealousy that gets them in a rage or, worse, causes them to blame the main character for being near another person shows a severe lack of trust and respect—as does telling the main character how to go about her life.
ALTERNATIVE: A little jealousy and playful possessiveness can be cute and show the love interest cares. There should be no blaming, shaming, or outlandish reaction attached. A casual arm around the shoulder and a "back off" stare more than accomplishes that adorable protectiveness without overstepping boundaries. There should be utter respect for her decisions and, if the love interest is concerned, he can make suggestions or offer to go with her.
SEXUAL TENSION WITHOUT EMOTIONAL ATTACHMENT
Look, I'm all for characters going about their business if they're just looking for a hookup. Is it my ideal read? Nah, but at least they're honest about what they're after. However, painting a romance as something profound and intimate when there only seems to be physical attraction . . . I don't buy it.
Readers need to see the characters talking, sharing secrets and dreams, being emotionally vulnerable and open with one another. If all they ever do is talk about how hot the other is or what all they'd like to do to them, well . . . that's just lust. Don't paint it as anything else.
ALTERNATIVE: Either the characters are after a booty call and totally honest about it, or they emotionally bond through shared experiences and appreciation for one another's personalities on top of thinking they're cute. Pick one.
Enjoy this post? Let us know what YA tropes you're not a fan of in the comments below, or drop us a tweet @bookish_witches. Until next time!