I love reading Young Adult genre books and have a few story ideas of my own that perhaps I will write one day. Lately I have immersed myself once again in the genre in order to see what the market is like and I am surprised to find that there is, at least in my opinion, a formula to the more popular books and a general tone to them that I find troubling.
Here is what I've noticed:
(1) They all seem to have protagonists with a very special power that they are simply born with, comes naturally, they don't need to work at keeping or improving, and yet they consider it a curse
(2) The protagonist is often widely admired by everyone. If the protagonist is female, all boys will be in love with them.
(3) There is really no obstacle too difficult that the protagonist cannot truly overcome. Generally the protagonist can do anything and sacrifice very little.
(4) If things really do look impossible, there will be a 'deus ex machina' thrown in that will help the protagonist achieve his/her goals and defeat the villain
I find this "formula" disturbing because it really teaches absolutely nothing. I don't think YA books should be preachy, but I do believe that they should offer some sort of insight about growing up. What also troubles me is that the "formula" whitewashes life lessons, like the Disneyfication of fairy tales.
Also, in many of them I find the prose truly lacking. Often I find grammatical and structural mistakes, as well as awkward sentences with wrong word usage. They often feel like first drafts instead of a refined manuscript.
Any thoughts? Have others noticed this trend in YA books? Am I being too critical?
The ones I've read don't all have a deus ex machina but sometimes they do have scenes that I felt contrived in order to explain something away and in order to make the protagonist that much cooler of a hero instead of just making them work harder for it.
I really don't want seem like I'm insulting anybody's favorite book so I do apologize in advance if I appear to be overly critical.
Books that I found had elements of the formula I listed above: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Graceling, Golden Compass, Twilight, Eragon, Beastly.
Generally they had a really interesting concept, but often I felt they truly lacked in their execution or suffered from internal logic problems.
quote:Books that I found had elements of the formula I listed above: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Graceling, Golden Compass, Twilight, Eragon, Beastly.
HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE (on this side of the Atlantic) is MG, not YA.
I'm not even going to touch ERAGON or TWILIGHT.
I haven't read THE GOLDEN COMPASS or BEASTLY. (Are these MG or YA?)
Although I'll admit it had a few rough spots that annoyed me, I enjoyed GRACELING. I did feel that the character grew through the course of the book--not in her power, but in her own ability to deal with her power and what it means. There were certainly some challenges that were difficult for her and that caused her to grow and revise her view of the world.
One thing about YA, the readers do tend to have a "comfort zone". They like wonder and mystery, but they also like some familiar framework to set it in. Maybe that's what your reacting to.
[This message has been edited by Meredith (edited October 29, 2010).]
I read almost exclusively in the YA/Middle Grade age range. Know why? Because I've found in mainstream/aka "adult" fiction the following happens:
1. We are sloooooowly introduced to either (mainstream) a small cast of characters or (genre, epic fantasy in particular) an extremely large cast of characters. In the case of the small cast, each character will be imbued with some sort of character flaw that repulses me. In the case of the large cast, none will be obviously "the main character." 2. In genre, a ponderous prologue will introduce me to events that make no sense whatsoever even after I've read 6 chapters, which is about 283 pages into the novel with another six hundred left to read. 3. In mainstream, the repulsive characters will moan about their life station, while bad things happen to them and/or their repulsive natures cause bad things to happen to them. 4. four hundred more pages will transpire, during which a total of three action sequences are shown, and possibly as many as a dozen new characters are introduced. Nothing else happens. 5. A month will pass. I will find that I procrastinate reading "my book" for enjoyment because there's just no joy left in life. 6. Around page 800 I'll just start skimming (I don't skim fiction, it offends my fiction sensibilities.) 7. Within fifty pages of the end of the book, every single character that didn't repulse me will end up dead in some manner or another, usually gory. 8. I will finish the book and find myself slumped into a deep depression that lasts weeks and weeks... until... I pick up a YA or Middle-Grade book, finish it in 3-6 days, and all is right with the world. The sun comes out, the girl gets the guy, the bad guys are vanquished, at least for this book, and there are reasons for living yet again.
But I'll admit, I could be just a teensy wee bit biased.
I'm thinking using any one of the four points would be bad plotting...I haven't read a lot of YA books lately, but I recall few that shared all these problems. (Lotsa bad writing, and maybe one or two of the points would pop up, but not all four.)
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Okay, first off, know I'm no psychologist, but this is my opinion.
quote: (1) They all seem to have protagonists with a very special power that they are simply born with, comes naturally, they don't need to work at keeping or improving, and yet they consider it a curse
I think this is because most adolescence believe that they are special. They believe in their own potential, but DONT UNDERSTAND what it is about them that is special. Also, most young people don't want to work hard. It's obnoxious, but true.
quote: (2) The protagonist is often widely admired by everyone. If the protagonist is female, all boys will be in love with them.
This is where the escapism/ fantasy element comes in. Most adolescences are not widely admired, and most young girls want to know that every boy is in love with them. That's why so many girls NEED boyfriends to tell them they are attractive.
quote: (3) There is really no obstacle too difficult that the protagonist cannot truly overcome. Generally the protagonist can do anything and sacrifice very little.
Again this comes to the mindset of teenagers who think they are Superman and will never die. As a teen I remember being overwhelmed by the prospect of the future, of college, of finding a job... all those things. I did however see no issue in climbing impossibly high trees, or walking across busy roads in bare feet.
I think this also can fit into the escapism/ fanstasy need that people with big problems want to live in a world where problems are easily solved.
quote: (4) If things really do look impossible, there will be a 'deus ex machina' thrown in that will help the protagonist achieve his/her goals and defeat the villain
You know how in Enders game they had to teach Ender to know the teachers wouldn't come to save him. I think most children believe that if things get really bad, a good adult will come to save them.
I have read some badly written YA, but I have also read some badly written Adult fiction.
I think it is easy to say that there is bad books out there, but I think that is true of any genre. I LOVE YA Fiction. I love writing it, and I love reading it. I think that the path to a destination is more interesting than the destination. Teenagers, and children as character are interesting because you don't know who they will be at the end, they still believe in magic, and they don't know what will never happen to them.
They still have dreams and believe those dreams will come true. I find that inspiring.
I've been wondering about this myself. I like reading the YA genre. I've been finding it harder and harder to find books that I really enjoy reading lately though - I've been puzzling as to whether it's something that I'm going through as a reader, whether it's to do with the books I pick up or whether it's something to do with the changes in the actual genre.
One thing that annoys me is when the character doesn't display any complex emotions. Sure they can be angry or happy or sad but it feels shallow or lacking in substance - as if the author thinks that children or teenagers don't really experience deep emotion. It makes me think the author has forgotten what it felt like to be a kid.
I just searched for that because I thought there was some sort of saying about it floating around somewhere and found it was an OSC quote
quote:The only people who think children are carefree are the ones who've forgotten their own childhood.
Which is quite apt because I was going to go one and talk about Ender's Game and probably one of the reasons I love this book is because I can relate to Ender - not because I was a genius child who would have been picked to go to battle school if I was in the book but because I could relate to Ender's emotional side. If that makes any sense?
Anyway, thats one of the things that I think some YA books(AND some adult books, but for some reason I mostly notice it in YA books)are lacking at the moment (and there are probably some older books that lack this factor also but for some reason I have been noticing it more lately - it may just be me).
Delli - I think you're spot on. A lot of YA books I've come across the protagonists don't really seem to exhibit complex emotions. I know teenagers can sometimes seem moody to their parents, but they can be introspective and rational too.
Lately I've been wondering if what I am reacting to in YA books is merely a generational shift.
I'm on the tail end of the X-generation and growing up got bombarded with "if you work hard enough and go to college you'll succeed." The X-generation is marked by latch-key-kids and the grunge period. TV shows of the time and books really pushed that message. I recently re-read Tamora Pierce's Alanna: The First Adventure. Other than her gift of healing the protagonist had to work hard at being a fighter and suffers quite a bit for it. It did not come naturally.
Meanwhile, the Y-generation is supposedly marked by privilege, helicopter-parents, and told that they "are special no matter what." I think YA books are reflecting this shift. The book Graceling by Kristin Cashore seems to exemplify this. Basically the protagonist is born a perfect fighter. There is really nothing that she can't do or overcome.
It really just depends on your target audience. YA has stuff like that because that particular audience wants that sort of thing. YA readers generally aren't looking for something that reminds them of reality -- Rather, they're trying to escape reality, to someplace better.
What Kayti described as something she loathes, I actually find fantastic. Game of Thrones is my favorite book of all time. Why? It's dark, savage, and confirms my worldview: That people are often disgusting creatures; that in reality, you don't get everything you want just because you wish for it hard enough.
Indeed, I have a hard time with a lot of YA because it IS so focused on "Try hard enough, and you'll win." That being said, I don't despise YA authors or readers. They simply enjoy different things, which is fine. I'm not within the target audience, and so I can't begrudge the books for not appealing to me.
One of the great things David Wolverton taught me was that you simply can't please everyone. In appealing to one audience, you will most definitely alienate another one. A lot of YA authors have alienated me, just as George R.R. Martin has alienated plenty of them.