It is entirely possible that we in the Booklist youth brigade read more YA books than anyone else in the freakin’ world. You can’t do this and not start to feel a pang of despair when you’ve seen the same plot device, character quirk, or theme for the tenth time in a single month. So here are seven things I’d like to see change or just plain go away in YA fiction in the coming year. Angry-letter writers, start cracking those knuckles.
I just coined this term — nifty, huh? What I mean are books that seem to exist in some alternate universe where all humans above the age of 17 have been shot into the depths of space, or stand like cut-outs with descriptors like “Tough English Teacher” or “My Quirky Grandma” taped to their cardboard chests. Yeah, I know teens see themselves as the center of the world. And yeah, I know they like to read about kids their own age. But those are some seriously weak excuses. Adults exist! They really do! So start giving a fig about them. The advertising world has already decided that nobody older than 29 exists in America–do YA books have to be just as shortsighted?
2. First-person, present tense.
“I pull back the cover and feel a dark black darkness crushing my soul: it is yet another book written in first-person, present tense. But I read on because, wow, look — the protagonist and I are the same person, and what is happening is happening right now.“
The obvious disclaimer here is that this is a totally legitimate way to write a book, and it can be done really, really, really well. But in most hands, it’s a gimmick. Quite simply, this is not the POV most books cry out for. And yet it has become the default position for YA authors who, I am afraid, fear fiction’s standard bearer: third-person, past tense. True, this cobwebby old soldier requires a bit more discipline than the plug-and-play thrills of first-person-present, but I’d love to see more authors up for the heavy lifting.
3. Prose poetry.
If there is no reason
to write your novel like a poem,
would you do it?
Other than the obvious –
taking up page space
beautiful, beautiful page space
and looking oh so serious –
but that can’t be it.
4. Male romantic leads.
I understand the satisfaction that comes from romance novels. I enjoy them. But we’re entering a weird phase here where two out of three YA novels — whether realistic, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, western, or disease-of-the-week — is really a costume dress (Victorian or flapper or ragged dystopian style, your choice) draped over a by-the-numbers romance. I’m willing to deal with this. But does every single male romantic lead have to be the same?
You know this guy. He’s rugged, well muscled, kind of tall, has green (or gray) eyes “like the sea,” is courageous, and tends to be prone to moody silences. But don’t worry, these moody silences are related to some self-sacrifice he is making on behalf of the girl’s safety, which basically means his only fault is that he loves too much. You read that right: He loves too much. Good lord. Please, somebody write me a few dozen books where the male lead is a loud, sex-crazed, motormouthed optimist. Such characters do exist (my current favorite is Carter from Brent Crawford’s Carter Finally Gets It and sequels), but they tend to show up only in comedies. Don’t they deserve love, too?
[Female flip-side: My favorite female character of the year was Very from Rachel Cohn's Very LeFreak, an unapologetically fun-loving sexpot. Notice how these traits are usually relegated to the wacky friend?]
5. Brave New Worlds
It’s obvious why YA authors latch on to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. His themes of identity and homogenization are perfect for kids coming out of the grinder of elementary, middle, and high school. No doubt teens like to imagine “Wouldn’t it be weird if we were all grouped by ____” or “What if, in the future, all the ____ people were put here and all the ____ people were put there?” and so on. And these books were fun to read, for a while. Honest they were.
But I believe it is time to move on. There are other authors besides Huxley who can provide the inspiration for your dystopian fantasy. Try Heinlein. Try Bradbury. It might not end up dystopian, or even fantasy, but, hey, that’s even better news, right? (Just whatever you do, don’t fall back on poor old Jane Austen.)
6. Vampires, Half-Vampires, Werewolves, Were-Anythings, Fallen Angels, Dark Angels, Fairies, Faeries, Faeiraes, and Fyeiryes.
I tried to avoid this one but couldn’t. If I see another black/red/white cover, or an emotional single-word title like Anguish, I’m gonna cry.
7. The Bowker’s Newsletter guy
Could Bowker’s Books in Print please get rid of this front-page ad? I’m on the verge on tracking down this model and strangling him and that’s not cool because he’s probably a very nice guy. Okay, this has nothing to do with YA books, but, look, I really feel strongly about this issue.
P.S. I plan to love a bunch of novels in 2011 that fly right in the face of all that I’ve written here. Therein lies the power of a good writer.
Things I’m Not Sick of . . . Yet
1. Zombies. You’re pushing it, zombie authors, but since zombies tend to be more of an abstract threat that acts as catalyst to plot, I’m going to give you a pass this year. Enjoy it.
2. Historical Cameos. When did this become such a thing? I can’t count on one hand the number of recent historical fiction novels that featured a surprise walk-on from Nikola Tesla. For the most part, I’m still amused by these, but easy does it now.
3. Long books. I know there has been a fair amount of complaining about the swelling page counts of YA fiction, but I’m a sucker for an epic — provided that those extra few hundred pages aren’t spent describing which powers of one teen block out the powers of another teen unless a third teen’s powers are . . . sorry, I just fell asleep in my drool.