I love young adult literature.
Yes, I’m 24, and no, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that! YA lit is an incredibly broad genre and there are so many different types of stories that fall underneath this category, whether you want romance, fantasy, sci-fi, or anything in between. I think there’s a certain amount of freedom that YA authors get to have when writing about and for teens that authors of more “adult” fiction just don’t get to-or won’t-take. Why that is, exactly, is a post for another day.
Despite the variety of of topics covered in Young adult literature, there is still a whole lot of room within the genre to grow. I’ve listed just a few of the places where I think there is particular room for improvement, especially within the books put out by the big publishing houses. Click below to read my list of 5 things we need to see more of in young adult literature.
While I think there is more diversity theses days in YA as a whole than there ever has been before, there is still room for more. It would be especially great to read more books where the protagonist and main characters belong to the LGBT+ community without that being the sole focus of the book. Stories of coming out and coming to terms with one’s identity are important, but it’s also important to show LGBT+ characters in a variety of roles and stories.
Not only is this important because it allows LGBT+ kids and teens to see themselves reflected in literature, but also because increased representation will hopefully allow for more acceptance and understanding of the LGBT+ community. Studies have shown that reading leads to an increased ability to feel empathy for other people. Including characters with diverse life experiences in YA lit is one way that we can try to create a more loving, tolerant, and accepting culture.
Books that are already doing this: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, the Wicked Lovely series by Melissa Marr.
Along the same line as #1, I think it would be awesome if YA authors started including more racially and culturally diverse characters in their work. Unfortunately, a lot of YA protagonists, at least in the mainstream lit, come from similar backgrounds. Quite often they are white and middle class, and religious backgrounds are either non-existent or play no significant role in the character’s life. Real-life teens come from all different kinds of backgrounds, and these backgrounds should be acknowledged in YA.
Especially strong female friendships that don’t revolve around unnecessary drama, jealousy, and girl-hate. Female friendships can be really beneficial and positive things, but all too often in YA these sorts of friendships are either toxic, nonexistent, or come in second behind the romantic story line.
I know that romance sells, but I think that female readers would respond well to novels in which friendships play a powerful, even central, role. Plus, including positive female friendships in YA could help fight against the negativity towards women that is prevalent in much of our media.
While I love a good YA romance as much as the next person, I can’t deny the fact that a lot of romantic relationships in young adult books are eerily similar, and many are downright problematic. You get those couples who have only just met but “OMG we love each other so much we will BURN DOWN THE WORLD to be together.” Or those couples with the seemingly perfect relationship that is actually dysfunctional and fraught with abusive undertones.
Being a teen and navigating your way through love and romance is hard enough. There’s no need to make it harder by holding up destructive/abusive/unrealistic relationships as the gold standard. I would like to see more YA books with healthy and realistic relationships, or problematic relationships where the characters are actually aware of and deal with the issues.
*Yes, okay, I KNOW, this one is pretty fluffy and has that Happily Ever After ending. But it’s way less problematic than a lot a YA romance story lines I’ve seen, and the way the two main characters get to the ending feels a lot more true to to life.
I can’t tell you how many times I have been reading a YA book and thought to myself, How do none of these kids have to work? No one ever says, Sorry, I can’t go on that road trip/to that party/help save the wold from vampires tonight, I have to work the closing shift at McDonald’s. Somehow in many YA books teens magically have the money to do whatever crazy things they want. Very rarely do I see a character from a poor family who has to either work for whatever money they need or has to work to help out their family. Even more rarely is there a poor kid who’s parents aren’t wildly dysfunctional.
I grew up in a family that had very little money, and I constantly felt as if I was missing out on a lot of the things my friends got to do or have. Having little to no money and needing to work are very pressing realities for many teens, especially since the economy has not been doing well these last several years. This subject should be addressed more in YA.
Books that are already doing this: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, All the Rage by Courtney Summers, Such a Rush by Jennifer Echols.
Obviously, there are plenty of YA books out there that break these stereotypes, and I admit that I am not as well-read in recent additions to the genre as I would like to be. (My goal is to change this!) Still, I would love it if we could see these topics covered more, or find a way to better promote those books that are already doing these things.
What would you like to see more of in YA? Are there any books that you think do a good job of displaying some of the characteristics that I talked about? Let me know in the comments, and if you liked this post, please share it by clicking the buttons below!
A quick note: The links I use in this post that go to The Book Depository are affiliate links.