YA is one of the most popular and yet misunderstood categories of books.
Although the name of course stands for Young Adult, ½ of YA readers are actually adults. And it’s no surprise! YA fiction is complex and engaging, and often just as challenging as adult literature.
But such a popular genre doesn’t come without the negatives. YA is crammed with harmful stereotypes and overused cliches.
Here are some of my most hated tropes in the genre:
The Damsel in Distress
My #1 most hated trope has to be the (typically) fragile girl who needs rescuing. Think Edward saving Bella from a car in Twilight (or any of the other hundred times he saves her throughout the book).
The ‘damsel in distress’ is usually portrayed as pretty, shy and fragile enough to need saving from pretty much anything.
Not only is this trope completely sexist and utterly demeaning, it’s also overused and boring to read about. Give me a girl (or boy) who doesn’t need saving or who saves themselves throughout the book!
Bad boy (read: toxic masculinity)
Why does every fictional man seem to be tall, dark and brooding?
At best, this trope is unoriginal and a little cringey. But it becomes even more dangerous when you bring in toxic masculinity and emotional abuse (which is all too common amongst YA love interests).
I’m going to be coming out with a full post on the issue of toxic masculinity in YA fiction soon. For now, suffice it to say that extremely toxic relationships are much too common in YA (I’m thinking Sarah J Maas, Holly Black and of course, Stephanie Meyer).
Of course, toxic relationships are real life and books should be a slice of life. I’m all for complicated characters who undergo development or who are clearly playing the part of the villain. But portraying boys that are emotionally abusive and toxic as hot or ‘dark’ subtly romanticizes toxic masculinity, especially to vulnerable younger readers.
The name speaks for itself: falling head over heels at first sight. Insta love is overused and completely unrealistic (is falling in love at first sight really as common as it is in books?), but that hasn’t stopped author after author from using it.
Although this trope isn’t inherently negative, it’s repetitive and often boring. It also often makes for a story that is too fast-paced with little eventual payout for the reader.
‘Not like the other girls’
I’m sure you’ve seen this trope before: think Bella (Twilight), Tris (Divergent), Feyre (ACOTAR), even Katniss (Hunger Games).
There is certainly nothing wrong with original characters who have out-there interests or opinions. Where this trope becomes negative is when ‘being different to the other girls’ is shown as superior. These books play off the idea that being ‘other girls’ are silly/stupid/girly/unoriginal’.
The main character normally comes in the form of a girl who is plain but pretty; shy; very little personality. But they’re different’ because they don’t care about looks/ clothes/boys (insert any other typically ‘girly’ thing).
Confining a character’s personality solely to being ‘quirky’ allows no character development, and contributes towards a dangerous way of thinking. Over the years, girls have been conditioned to be ashamed of enjoying typically ‘girly’ things- being ‘different’ to other girls is celebrated. Tropes like ‘not like the other girls’ only perpetuates this in a really negative way.
I’d love to see girls who enjoy ‘typically girly’ things, whilst fighting or solving crimes or whatever the plot point involves. And that doesn’t mean being different shouldn’t be celebrated- it means shunning other girls and their interests shouldn’t be put on such a pedestal within YA fiction.
One of the most loved (and most hated) tropes is the girl stuck between two boys (or any other way round).
The love triangle comes up in a lot of YA books and it is rarely done well. There isn’t much to say about this one except that it’s just so old and overdone.
In Twilight, the love triangle (plus a toxic relationship) made up most of the plot. In Hunger Games, the love triangle almost overshadows the thrilling plot point of a televised fight to death. How much more interesting would these stories be if we could take out this needless cliché?
If one thing annoys me more than anything else, it’s plot lines based entirely off miscommunication. This trope often plays out as couples who don’t speak to each other, or end up randomly kissing to end an argument or conversation. It can also be present as family members who won’t just sit down for a simple chat (see: the rebellious, misunderstood teenager) or friends who get into complications because they can’t get across a simple point.
Some books play off this trope really well, but not using it properly or overusing it makes for a messy story that’s not fun to read. Readers end up spending the entire time wanting to scream at the characters for not just having one open conversation (that could literally solve every conflict and difficult plot point).
Token diversity (or none at all)
This is a bonus because it isn’t really a trope, it’s a complete flaw. Stories without diversity don’t reflect real life. But this is not a reason to throw in a few token characters with a few lines or stereotypical features/ personality traits.
Instead, spend time researching and writing in diverse characters with fleshed out backgrounds and real personalities (more than just being diverse).
How do you feel about these tropes? Which is your least favourite? Do you think any of them can be pulled off if written properly? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or you can connect with me directly on any of my social medias.