Young Adult is now a firmly established genre and it’s not going away anytime soon, believe me. However, it’s also a fairly new genre, and as such has a little more growing up to do. There are possibilities that haven’t been explored yet, there are ways authors can still push the boundaries of the genre without creating an entirely new genre, etc.
Of course this means that I have to add in my two cents. (Or is it 5 cents now that we’ve gotten rid of the penny?) Anyway, here are some things I’d like to see more of or see done at all in YA:
1. Characters with chronic diseases/pain.
Yes, this is an incredibly uplifting way to start off an article, isn’t it? It’s still true: when was the last time you read a YA novel with a character that had a chronic disease and/or chronic pain. “But Carrie,” you say, “young people can’t be in pain!”
I and millions of others like me are a living contradiction to that statement and yet we hear it all the time. Young people suffer from things like Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, Fibromyalgia, Lupus, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Scoliosis and so much more. Yet I have not read nor heard of any Young Adult books where the main character experiences chronic diseases like these. Even when I did multiple searches with keywords like ‘YA chronic pain’ or ‘chronic pain fiction’, nothing came up in the YA genre. My question I posed to my Twitter followers similarly came up with nothing.
Diseases like cancer have been written about and there are authors who did it in a wonderful, truly sympathetic and touching manner. Yet there is not a single book out there in the mainstream that a young person in chronic pain can look to for advice or even a little empathy. Chronic pain is hard to write about (more on that in future articles), but it is out there and deserves proper representation.
2. Male love interests that aren’t bad boys.
I am sick to death of female main characters in YA falling for bad boys (more on that in future articles). I am sick of the idea that all bad boys have a dark past and deserve to be pitied when some of them are clearly psychopathic jerks with no conscience and a need to utterly control women. There are authors who do the reformed bad boy motif quite well, Diantha Jones being one of them in her Oracle of Delphi series. Others just throw in a bad boy love interest because it’s ‘sexy’ without giving them a believable backstory or anything.
Furthermore, I am sick of the idea that all women love a bad boy. Puh-lease. Can’t just one female main character fall for the sweet, caring best friend type of love interest that always gets the short end of the stick in the love triangle? What on Earth is wrong with a sweet, caring boy/man? I know it’s not ‘sexy’ by some standards, but just for once, can we not have a love interest with control issues?
3. Sad or melancholy endings.
I watch a lot of opera, as you guys have probably figured out by now. Some of my favourite operas are tragedies, not only because of the great music but also because of the messages the composers and librettists wrote into the operas. Would Aida, the story of an ill-fated love affair between an Egyptian general and an Ethiopian slave, be as touching if the lovers had waltzed along on their merry way at the end instead of being sealed alive in a tomb? No, of course not! Amneris, the jealous princess, wouldn’t have come across as such a strong, if flawed, character if she hadn’t inadvertently caused the death of the man she loved. Aida, the heroine, wouldn’t have been such a strong character if she hadn’t decided to die with her lover rather than move on and try to forget.
I’m not saying that the lovers have to die in the end or that everyone including the villain and the lovers have to die (**coughToscacough**), but it would be nice not to have a ridiculously happy ending all of the time. Something even a little sad where characters reflect on their losses or even experience serious losses would be nice. What about a story of unrequited love? One where the main character pursues someone they love, but eventually have to realize that they will never be able to be together because it’s one-sided. That happens in real life, guaranteed.
Yes, I know most readers want a happy ending. But once, just once, I’d like to see a publisher publish something that bucks the trend.
4. A book with no romantic subplots.
Love is incredibly important in the world and it’s understandable that most people would like to see love in fiction. Yet why does it seem like every single YA book features a teenager falling in love? Not everyone is in love constantly. Even teenagers, as shocking as that may be to some writers.
Why is it that when a hero must go out on an adventure to defeat the Evil Overlord, that they always find a love interest along the way? I mean, really, can’t they focus on the task at hand? Saving the world is a little more important than finding that perfect guy/girl to most heroes, so why put yourself in jeopardy by having a love interest that can be used against you?
Okay, sorry that was way too many rhetorical questions, even for me. However, I like to think that I have a point. There is nothing wrong with a protagonist that doesn’t fall in love throughout the course of the story. It wouldn’t bother me at all, personally. But then there’s the whole “we need to sell books” angle from a publisher’s perspective and I’m sure lots of studies have shown that books with romance (love triangles especially) sell better than books with no romance.
These are just some of the things I want to see in YA (either at all or more of!). But now it’s your turn: what do you want to see in YA? A better representation of LGBT characters? ‘Ugly’ characters? More diverse character casts? Less quasi-Medieval European fantasy worlds?