Welcome to The Midnight Garden’s January Discussion Post!
Here we go. This is one area where all readers come together and present a united front…for we all agree that there are many, oh so many, grievous acts of bad writing committed in too many YA novels. And it must stop for our brains and hearts can’t take them anymore. Is the leading female protagonist described as “normal” yet mysteriously attracts the attention of all guys? Is her potential beau a touch abusive? Don’t tell me the parents are on vacation, working too much so they’re never home, or dead. You can probably list an endless number of books where one, two, or all three of these crimes are present. So often do they occur, it’s become predictable — and where is the joy in that? Doesn’t that fact that we can foresee the plot’s plan defeat the very purpose of reading a book?
So this month, we present to you a list of what we consider to be the most overused tropes and stylistic choices in YA. These are our own personal bookish pet peeves. Don’t forget to comment and tell us yours!
This may very well be what you call a petition…or a cry for help.
The Peevish List
- “Bookish” heroines who don’t actually read or show no signs of being…well, smart
- Heroines who protest too much. “I’m not REALLY pretty (but everyone else says so)”
- Overuse of physical descriptions, especially if this substitutes for real character traits
- Constantly describing characters as “hot”
- Trend: siblings that die as driving plot device
- Trend: absent parent syndrome
- Characters that never apologize properly when they’ve committed a grievous wrong
- Any time a male character exclaims, “You’re not like other girls”
- When a love interest’s smile is “crooked”; or when when a love interest smiles “from the corner of his/her mouth”
- Characters that do too much whispering or screaming, especially boys
- Characters with too-similar names
- Overusing cutesy nicknames
- When a female character is described as very normal and ordinary looking, yet attracts guys from all corners and becomes Ms. Popular
- POC characters whose skin is described as a food/beverage item aka The Starbucks Skin Scale. N.K. Jemisin offers great examples on ways to avoid this trope.
- When secondary characters (or the best friend) is turned into a caricature to add humor
- Unmemorable secondary characters
- Similar looking characters: so many female protagonists have red hair and so many male protagonists have fair hair…just why?
- Failure to ever show positive interactions between female characters (shopping for prom dresses doesn’t count if it’s the only one). C’mon, take the Bechdel test, authors.
- Pointless love triangles, particularly if there’s clearly a “good” and “bad” choice
- Controlling, abusive actions excused as romantic behavior
- When precious time or text space is taken up by couple unnecessarily repeatedly declaring their love
- Various themes when they’re done problematically/without balance: virginity, soul mate fetishizing, love solving everything
Oh-So-Convenient Plot Devices
- Major emotional dilemmas miraculously solved by death or magic
- Surprise sub-plot introduced in the end that has no relevance to the major storyline
- Plot elements that hinge on a character behaving out of character
- Problems always being solved because adults are too dumb to see what the teenagers can easily deduce
- Disabilities cured by book’s end
Style, Content, and Themes
- Words that grate: “smirk,” “whine,” “chaff”
- Overuse of “whatever” to shut down a conversation, or too many one-word sentences for dramatic effect (Loses. Its. Effect.)
- Anachronisms in historical novels: too many characters given modern-day PC attitudes, too many girls sneaking into breeches
- Long, boring journal entries or letters
- Poorly researched subjects
- Extraneous POVs that don’t add any significant interest to the story, especially if they have similar voices
- Excessive descriptions about pointless things like what a character is wearing or what a room looks like (we don’t need to know EVERYTHING)
- Characters freezing in place for dramatic effect when the situation really doesn’t warrant it
- Freaking txtspk
- The repeated calling-out of the title of the book
- Books that are too long
- Surprise sequels
- Series that would be better as standalones or companion novels. Too many stories are dragged out interminably.
Additional Commentary (because we just have a lot to say):
Kim’s Bookish Pet Peeves
Whenever a male character informs a girl that she’s “not like other girls,” I perform an eye roll worthy of Liz Lemon. Right, because we know being considered an exception to one’s gender is a compliment. Obviously, most girls are, by default, superficial, catty, and awful. It’s great to find that rare girl who can rise above such weakness. I absolutely loathe this false dichotomy. It encourages girls to “other” other girls and I can’t stand it.
Wendy’s Bookish Pet Peeves
I’m capable of overlooking a lot of things if I’m enjoying a book, but I’ll admit it–if I’m not, there are a lot of things that start chafing at my patience. The joint list we came up with is a pretty comprehensive list of many things that can drive me crazy, and if I weren’t reigning it in, I could probably spend a good paragraph or so ranting about each item. Doesn’t mean that there aren’t exceptions to some of these themes working in books, and of course, reactions to stylistic choices are always a matter of taste. But seriously, there’s entirely too much smirking that goes on in YA books. And it is annoying.
Ah, what say you? Did we get everything? We’re sure we didn’t. What are some of the things you read in YA that personally irritate you? Feel free to add your own complaints to our ever growing list!