Saturday, February 14, 2015

Pet peeves in young adult fiction

I recently read a post on the Teen Librarian Toolbox blog about pet peeves in young adult fiction, and I felt inspired to talk about my own, especially since I share some of the things mentioned in the post. Here are my (and two of my coworkers') top ten pet peeves in young adult books, in no particular order.

1. The phrase "I let out a breath I didn't know I was holding." I see this phrase all the time now, and the last time I saw it, I thought, "This isn't new and intriguing anymore! It's very quickly become a cliche, so writers should stop using it!" And then I wondered if it's possible to call it plagiarism, since so many authors have used it (for the record, I don't think it is; it's just a cliche, like so many other things). Every time I see it, it makes me cringe.

2. Alternating points of view. I'm actually okay with this depending on how it's used. I recently read I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios, which uses alternate perspectives, but the voices of the two characters are distinctly different, and the sections told from the male character are sparse and short, which helps with the flow of the story. I've read other novels that have three or more alternating perspectives, and that's where things get tricky. If there are too many narrators, it becomes hard for me to connect with or care about any of them, and it makes it that much harder to differentiate among the narrators.

3. Books that are all the same. This one needs a little explaining. I've noticed a trend in young adult fiction that when one book takes off, a ton of other books in the same genre will be published, and they may or may not be good. One example, of course, is Twilight: vampires were a huge trend after the Twilight books came out. This isn't limited to paranormal books, or science fiction, or mysteries. It's just a general trend with young adult books. Other trends I've noticed: characters who were in/knew someone in Afghanistan, Iraq, etc., fighting in the war; Jack the Ripper (not even just serial killers, but books specifically about Jack the Ripper); and characters living in poor towns/trailer parks/low income places. I'm not saying these trends are bad as a whole (I've loved some of the books that fall into these trends), but I would love to see more books that don't rely on trends. I understand why this happens, I just wish that it didn't.

4. Series. Okay, I get it. A series is going to make more money than a book that stands alone. But that doesn't mean I have to like them, and while there are many series that I adore, I really just wish this trend would stop. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I read a book and love it, and then find out that it just so happens to be the first book of a series. Sometimes, I just want to read a book that stands on its own!

5. Insufficient recovery time from an injury. This one actually a pet peeve of one of my colleagues. Here's what she said about it: "In books, the character is pain free too quickly, whatever the injury." I'm not sure if I've noticed this myself, but I think it's a good point. Injuries don't go away overnight, so if a character is injured, the book should accurately reflect recovery time for that injury, even if it's just a paper cut.

6. Extreme drug abuse by a parent. This is another one that my colleague brought up, and I think it's another good point. I just read two books where the mom is a single parent and has a substance abuse issue. While I know that this does accurately reflect some realities, it can border on being a cliche. With the two books I read, both narrators lived in trailer parks and were not financially stable. In these cases, writers should be very careful about how they portray the characters, especially if they give a character a substance abuse problem.

7. Giving characters a "problem" for the sake of the plot. This is something that really irks me. I read The Last Forever by Deb Caletti last year, and--spoiler alert--in the book we find out that a character is gay, not because it's who the character is and the character is represented that way throughout the book, but because its only function was to serve the plot. Any time a character is gay, or has a mental illness, or has some other characteristic and it's only for the plot, the author is doing it wrong. Characters should never have certain characteristics just to create conflict and push the plot along.

8. Characters who wear glasses because they're smart. One of my colleagues mentioned this one to me, too. Her point, which is a good one, is that not all intelligent people wear glasses, so for that to be a defining trait for an intelligent character in a young adult novel is not okay. I have to add to this and say that similarly, not all geeky or nerdy people wear glasses, and not all people who wear glasses are geeky or nerdy. These cliches in young adult novels need to stop.

9. Girls who like boys who have no appeal. Both of my colleagues and I agree with this. Frankly, we just don't get it. If there's a boy who isn't appealing (usually because he's not a good person), why do all the female characters love him? I'd also like to argue that the opposite can happen, though I don't think it's talked about nearly as much--boys can like girls who aren't appealing. I don't think I can say much about this except it baffles us.

10. When the romance aspect of a book takes over the novel. I just finished reading Miranda Kenneally's new book, Jesse's Girl, which is scheduled to come out this July, and I was so disappointed by it. I enjoyed the story to an extent, but where I had problems was with the romance. It overwhelmed the book, and became the main focus of the story, when I felt that the real story was about the narrator's journey toward becoming a professional musician. This book could have been amazing, but it went from being about the narrator as a musician to the narrator as the love interest of a super-famous country singer. Not all books need to be about the romance.

That's it for my list. What are your pet peeves in young adult books? Let me know in the comments!

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