Young Adult novels walk that line between children’s and adult books (although the boundaries seem to keep shifting) and it’s a hard balance to perfect.
As they walk the edge between “enough sex/violence” and “way too much, parents are going to complain!” YA authors are caught in a tricky position, and the solution has been tropes. Lots and lots of tropes. Here are some we are tired of seeing in YA, with recommendations for books that avoid treading the well-used path.
1.Young and Sweet Only Seventeen.
Nothing says battle-hardened Dystopian leadership experience like a pre-teen who has literally never even been in a fistfight.
It’s a terrible, brutal fact of life but one day after hitting age 25ish you will re-read your beloved YA novels. When the protagonists talk about how they are definitely old enough to go through all of these deaths, betrayals, love triangles, wrangling magic powers into submission and/or paranormal creature butt-kicking at the ripe old age of fourteen . . . your older self will think, “Sit on down small child. You are so not ready.” The day you start agreeing with the parents in the Disney movies really is the day it’s all over.
Book recommendation: The Circle of Magic Quartet by Tamora Pierce. Try 13 for a good age to be bombarded with magic that would kill off full grown adults, and not only does Pierce get you to believe it she makes it sound just as hard as it should be. In her books, magic has a price.
2. Insta – Love
Our main characters have never met before. So obviously the correct thing for them to do here is to lock eyes once and proceed to forget they had a life before this person. Insta-love means giving up anything and everything for them before you’ve actually found out anything about them like, say, their name.
I mean they’re totally ordinary but somehow at the same time super special, they have that secretly attractive unattractiveness that you crave, they can trip walking across a flat floor and they’re the only person around who is the exact age and gender of the missing prince/princess/heir/secret weapon. What else do you need to know?
Book recommendation: Delirium by Lauren Oliver. A book about love, with no insta-love or a love triangle.
3. First Person. First Person Everywhere.
One book does it successfully and all of a sudden every YA book is told in first person. Every. Single. One.
Yes, it is gripping and makes the action that much more personal for the reader . . . but I can’t even tell you how much I don’t stand there contemplating my eye color, hair and body type in the mirror every morning just in case a reader needs a visual from my point of view. Characterization and descriptions definitely suffer in the first person.
Just to switch it up, I’m just throwing this out there: A novel about YA Bigfoot who agonises about his Destiny to save the forest told in the second person. Bigfoot is seriously under-represented in the paranormal boyfriend niche. Just saying.
4. All Your Plots Is Belong To Us
Combine plenty of internal monologue about how totally ordinary the protagonist is with some half-human, magic, or unsuspected alien powers that are about to go *POW* right through their life and you have your YA plot.
Throw in a couple geeky friend side characters, make sure there’s at least one love interest, insert thinly-veiled mythology from the author’s culture of choice, be sure to check the diversity box with the comic relief best friend, and you’re golden. Sit back and get ready to field offers from movie producers for your book.
Book recommendation: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. Jacob’s power (his peculiarity) is like nothing you’ve read before and although it does go POW through his life you won’t see the twists coming.
5. Irresponsible Parents
When their kid is off risking death the parents in a YA novel are definitely the last to know.
The author has two choices to make this plausible.
- First; parents who are so terrible (neglectful, abusive, selfish) that they don’t care what their teen is up to.
- Second; parents who are out of the equation for one reason or another and therefore can’t care what their kid is doing (i.e. dead. They’re dead. If you’re a parent in a YA novel and you kid is The Chosen One you have the life expectancy of your average fruit fly.)
Book recommendation: Stranger by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith. Although one of the MCs is parent-less, the parents that do appear for other characters are not only there, they are good and involved.
6. The Love Triangle
What do we want? No more love triangles! When do we want it? NOW.
It’s a cheap way to drive tension in your novel. Authors, stop it. *smacks fingers away from keyboard* Consider this a public service announcement: It has officially been used too much. Find other ways to add conflict. If things seem to be getting boring, throw in some Aliens. Tentacles are never out of place in a plot.
Book recommendation: Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder. Unfortunately no tentacles in this plot. Snyder keeps it interesting with a condemned criminal who becomes a food taster with a slow-acting poison in her veins to keep her loyal. It only gets more complicated from there.