Things I Want to See in YA

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:

Chronic Pain

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.

Bad Boys

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?

Tosca

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.

No Romance

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.

cliches

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?

32 comments

  1. Book Blather

    Hmmm interesting rant, I like it! RE no2 why not try Stephanie Perkins’ Lola and the Boy Next Door? In terms of characters I’d love to read about more characters with disabilities eg blindness. Catherine Anderson, one of my favourite adult romance authors (sorry I’m one of those terrible people who are total suckers for a great happy ending love story), has written some amazing, informative stories with disabled heroines that I love so much.

    • Carrie Slager

      Thanks for the recommendations! But I was more talking of chronic pain/disease in which the character is constantly in pain or ill, like I am with my chronic pain. It would be incredibly difficult to write about for an author, but if it was done well I think there are a lot of young people out there that would seek empathy from a book like that.

  2. lipsyy

    I really enjoyed this post, thanks! I generally agree with you, especially on number 4. I’m a sucker for a YA romance but there definitely should be more variety, especially for girls. You get a lot of boy-centered books without the romance but very rarely any for girls. I don’t like how it makes it seem like love is the be all and end all of life from such an early age, when there’s so many other things to discover as well! And as for #2 only one instantly sprang to mind: Peeta (Hunger Games). He’s nice…and boring. 😛

    • Carrie Slager

      Peeta as a nice love interest wasn’t written very well as a character, so I don’t really count him. Katniss was a complete jerk to him throughout the books anyway, so there’s that too.

      Like you, I don’t understand why there’s male-centered YA fiction without romance, but it’s the be all end all for girls. Somehow I don’t think that every teenage girl wants to find love, just like not all teenage boys want to find love.

  3. Spectacles

    I thought of one for #2 as well: Will, Kissed by an Angel. He isn’t really focused on and he is nice and completely not a bad boy (without much interest on his background). I think there should be more books written from the third person omniscient perspective and more with a guy as the narrator in romance YA books.

    • Carrie Slager

      Definitely! A little variety like that would be nice. It would be interesting to see an author attempt a YA romance novel from the guy’s perspective, that’s for sure. It’s certainly not something most authors want to try, though.

  4. Thomas

    Intriguing post, especially for me, as I tend to read a lot of YA. I think most teenagers enjoy romance which is why authors include it in their stories – but there are some books out there that don’t have that much of a romantic element within them. As for the chronic pain wish, sick-lit is becoming more and more prevalent in YA lit so perhaps that topic will be touched upon too. As for me, I’m a huge fan of the bittersweet ending; one that isn’t a complete win-win situation but one that’s realistic in its depiction of how things in life usually turn out. Great post!

    • Carrie Slager

      Ugh, just reading the word ‘sick lit’ made me cringe. It’s such a derogatory term for fiction that actually deals with things teens may face: cancer, disease, depression, self-harm, etc. It seems that some people object that real issues are being dealt with in YA (not that you’re one of those people, obviously).

      Yes, teenagers on the whole do like romance, but it would be nice for a change to read something uplifting without the main character falling in love. I mean, you’re not constantly falling in love, are you? Me neither. It’s just not realistic to have someone in love all of the time. As for bittersweet endings, I love those when they’re done well.

  5. Kelley

    I could not agree more! I would also like to see some characters with chronic illnesses. I keep thinking there needs to be a book where the protagonist has narcolepsy, but then I think it would be really hard to portray. Other illnesses, though, not as much.

    I also agree about the bad boys! SO sick of them. Every time I encounter one in a book I just get so disappointed. Also, yes to books with NO romantic subplot! I do find it very refreshing when I come across one of those (although it seems pretty rare – at least in YA).

    • Carrie Slager

      I would love to see a character with narcolepsy! It would be nice to be represented in fiction, wouldn’t it? (Obviously I don’t have narcolepsy, but I’m quite sympathetic in my current condition.) I honestly don’t think narcolepsy would be any more difficult than portraying say, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, what with the constant ache of your joints, the medications, the trips to hospitals, etc. It would be kind of depressing, but it would certainly be realistic.

  6. theairtwit

    It’s difficult to find YA books with either a) no romantic sublpot or b) no love triangle. I’d rather have some romance over a love triangle, though — the latter seriously tests my nerves. If authors insist on adding romance into their YA books, I’d at least like to see more committed relationships over the ‘Look at these two pretty boys I can’t choose between!’ conundrum. (On that note, it does feel like love triangle almost always consist of two guys and girl… Eh.)

    I read that Katya’s World by Jonathan L. Howard has no love interest for the main character, so an already interesting book just became more interesting. (I hope to read it soon!) The Knife of Never Letting Go and How to Say Goodbye In Robot are both good examples of a boy and girl character maintaining friendship with no romantic interest — I suggest both books if you haven’t read them yet.

    • Carrie Slager

      I haven’t read any of those! Thank you so much for the suggestions, Raya! Like you, I am one of the biggest haters of love triangles. They’re usually a warning sign for me in books of worse things yet to come.

  7. Diantha Jones (@DianthaJones)

    Carrie, this might be the only time we ever disagree! LOL. I love bad boys, romantic subplots, and happy endings, though there’s nothing better than a good shocker at the end of a book or series that leaves your mouth hanging wide open! LOL (Thanks for the shout-out, BTW :D)

    • Carrie Slager

      Haha, maybe! Bad boys are okay, like how you did with Strafford, but sometimes I just get absolutely sick of them. Happy endings are okay as well, but they can be overdone. I like a little variety in my life! 😉

  8. Carla J. Hanna

    I think it is a question of “can a teen reader relate?” traditional publishers ask. All of my editors asked me this question as they hemmed and hawed nervously. My character suffers from chronic, intense, daily headaches and nausea in Starlet’s Web. Every editor told me to play that down – even though it is a crucial fact to the story. I still put it in there but the character deals with it and is no whiner – as is typical of every Hollywood actor – they all live in a state of physical pain/exhaustion/recovery. Even though, all editors recommended I use an illness that lurked without symptoms – cancer was #1 recommended. I actually tried to find an illness that fit the editor’s requirement, but couldn’t find one that made any sense to me. Suffering is part of being competitive as an actor and professional athlete. I think it is daily life for most of us. Why we can’t talk about it makes no sense to me, either.

    • Carrie Slager

      I sort of noticed that Lia’s illness was downplayed, when from personal experience I know that it would really be at the forefront of her thoughts and would control her behaviors. Although in Starlet’s Light you did such an excellent job of portraying her suffering without going overboard.

      As for why we can’t talk about suffering, it seems strange to me to. I try to talk to someone like my best friend about my pain and she suddenly gets uncomfortable and wants to change the topic. I think the main problem is that it makes people uncomfortable to know that someone else is in pain (even if it’s a fictional character) and that they can’t do anything about it.

  9. greencat365

    As for #2 and #4, absolutely! I’m royally sick of bad boys.

    #3 made me think. When I think of a sad ending, I think of the ending to Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. Earth’s biosphere is completely destroyed, all the surviving women are too old to reproduce, and the characters can do nothing except mark time and wait for humanity to go extinct out of old age. I hated it.

    But on the other hand, I liked Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Lots of characters die and Harry never got the chance to have a normal childhood, but the survivors get the chance to rebuild their lives. Maybe bittersweet is the kind of ending I’m looking for.

    • Carrie Slager

      Cat’s Cradle does sound rather depressing, but I’d still like to give it a go in the future. Maybe I’m just weird in that I don’t mind sad endings.

      Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was excellent, but I really hated the way Rowling tied EVERYTHING up in the end perfectly. Everyone married the person of their dreams, had children named after characters who died and even the ‘villain’ was forgiven by the main character. It felt a little too perfect, but in a way it was nice to see characters I connected with finally get their happy endings.

  10. L. Palmer

    I like a good, bittersweet ending, rather than a completely tragic piece. A good story needs just enough loss to make the good things which happen have weight and value.

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  12. Mel@thedailyprophecy

    From all the things you’ve mentioned, no romance subplots and no bad boys! I’m so tired of those Dystopian books with only romance. That’s not what I’m looking for! I’ve read some books with bittersweet endings and I like to read them once in a while, but I still prefer happily-ever-after. Life can be sad enough :p

    • Carrie Slager

      True. A little romance is fine, but romance in every single book is a little tiring after a while. Especially in dystopia, as you said! Happily ever after is nice, but once in a while where the tone of the book is sad overall I’d like to see the ending stay consistent with the tone.

  13. Cayce (@Cayce_23)

    Great post! I agree with many of your suggestions. I especially would love to see more interesting, non-bad boy love interests. And yes, there should be more diverse/GLBTQ+/PoC characters in YA.
    Characters with chronic diseases/pain is not really my thing, but you should check out Secret for a Song by SK Falls. I think you’d “enjoy” it.

    • Carrie Slager

      I think we’re going to see a lot more diversity in YA as time goes on. With more representation of diversity in authors, there will definitely be a shift in what kinds of characters are represented. Anyway, thanks for the comment and the suggestion! 🙂

  14. alicejane011

    YES! I’m so tired of the MC falling for the bad boy. UGH.

    I like a good bittersweet ending (Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro) but I feel that the bittersweet-ness needs to fit into the story. For Never Let Me Go, I don’t think there was a way to have a happy ending, with the way the world was in that novel and that’s what made the ending so poignant.

    Definitely more YA novels that don’t have romance. I’m a sucker for YA romance but it’ll be nice to read something that doesn’t have it. YA novels marketed towards boys might not necessarily have it but apparently YA novels directed towards girls always needs to have romance? Sexism! Not every girl wants to read a story with romance in it.

    • Carrie Slager

      You’re so right about the bittersweet tone having to be throughout the whole book. That’s the only time a bittersweet ending really does work. Although it’s still nice to have a happy ending every once in a while.

      Again, so true! Romance is awesome at times, but sometimes it gets to be too much. I know that male-targeted YA seems to have less romance, but there’s still so few male-targeted YA novels!

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  16. James Kennedy

    A book that meets all five of these criteria probably wouldn’t be classified as “young adult fiction” but as a new genre entirely.

    I think The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo fulfills all five of these criteria, more or less. However, it’s not a YA novel and I’d never recommend that book to my students or to my own children (I don’t yet have any children but I think you see my point!)

    • Carrie Slager

      You’re right about that, but I was talking more of general elements I’d like to see, not necessarily all in the same book. Too many things like that would change the genre completely, but it would be nice to see a little more diversified plot and characters in YA.

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