5 Pet Peeves in YA fiction

More often than not nowadays, I do a lot of book-browsing online. With Book Reviews Blogs and Goodreads at my fingertips, the need to brows the bookstore shelves for what limited options are available to me just aren’t necessary.

But sometimes it just feels good to walk into a bookstore, doesn’t it?

Last weekend I decided to drop by our local book shop and take a browse at what they had to offer. As usual I was drawn to the YA section, particular the Fantasy/Sci Fi. I was excited to see a few titles I recognized from online in person, and was hopeful to add a few more to my collection.

Instead, I was left in utter disappointment. Maybe I’m just out of touch, as it’s been awhile since I’ve walked into a physical bookstore, but boy howdy, were my options limited!

So, like any normal human being, I decided to rant about it. After all, who doesn’t love a good pet peeves list? Shall we get to it?

5 Pet Peeves in Young Adult Fiction

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1. Quasimodo Effect

Do we all remember The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Disney version, people)? Quasimodo, the lead character, is considered a “monster”, and referred to as deformed and hideous. Yet he’s the gentlest soul in the entire film, taking care of baby birds and relentlessly loyal.

That’s all well and good for Quasimodo, and don’t get me wrong, he’s an amazing film character. But he’s a perfect example for what I refer to as ‘The Quasimodo Effect’. That is, if a character is deemed physically ugly or not in line without how they are expected to look, then they must have a sweet, pure and kind personality in order to make up for their flaws.

NO.

Beautiful characters and people are allowed to act like humans do. They make mistakes. Sometimes they say or do the wrong thing. They get messy or angry and have to learn to grow from it. These people can mess up, and still be the hero.

The same type of forgiveness is not granted to “ugly” characters. Instead, these characters are villains. They aren’t given a chance to explain themselves or be sympathized with. If they dare be an ugly person, they’d best be gentle and saintly to make up for it, or be a villain. Any villain redemption arcs are under strict policy they become decent looking in the process. Quite frankly, I am so sick of this double standard.

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2. First Person

Did I miss some sort of memo that all YA fiction must be written in first person nowadays? Without exaggeration, I probably picked up over half the books offered in the Fantasy/Sci Fi section and gave them a quick skim, and yet of those half, I can only recall 2 that were written in third person.

I understand the benefits of first person-it’s easier to get inside the mind of the protagonist, younger readers might find it more relatable and understand what they’re going through. Readers want to feel connected to the hero of the story. Who doesn’t?

But for some people, like me, first person is completely and utterly distracting! I’ve yet to read a story in first person that didn’t strike me as awkward, and the influx of first person narrative is starting to become infuriating! I’m not saying we have to get rid of it altogether, but maybe even the odds a bit for readers like me? Maybe? Please?

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3. Snarky & Sarcastic Heroine

I get it. Readers are sick of the damsel-in-distress. They’re sick of weak, overly polite girls with no will of their own. We want heroines with minds of their own. Heroines with strength! Heroines with gumption!

So…why does that have to translate to snark and sarcasm? I know, humor is good, and I’m not discounting that. But it’s more than simple humor. Snark, by definition, is rude. It’s scornful and irritable. Coupled with sarcasm, it’s often belittling and on the verge of insulting.

Maybe I’m just showing my age. Snark in particular seems to be very popular among the younger crowd, and perhaps I’m just too old for it to really “click” for me. But when a main character (and it’s almost always the female lead) is constantly snapping at the people around them in what I can only assume is supposed to be humorous quips, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

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4. No Fat Heroes

There’s been a rise in diversity in YA fiction as of late, and honestly, it’s absolutely wonderful. New cultures are being explored. Different genders and identities and life experiences are slowly getting their stories told. Of course it’s not perfect yet, there’s still a long way to go but progress is definitely being made. Still, despite this recent rise in unique voices I can’t help but notice there is still a major lack of fat characters.

I can count more fingers on my hands than I can count fat characters in fiction novels. Chummy best friends and minor characters do not count. And the few characters I can think of? Almost always exclusively female, and in contemporary, high school settings. Additionally, these stories are almost always centered around their weight in some way.

I’ve heard the arguement that it doesn’t make sense for a fat person to be in a setting with dragons or alien planets and constant action, as they’d be running around and getting so much action it wouldn’t make sense for them to stay fat. To that, I say this: if you can make me believe there’s a world with dragons or alien planets, then you should also be able to make me believe that fat people still exist.

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5. Fantasy = Girls, Sci-Fi = Boys

First of all-where did all the sci-fi go!? I’m not even a huge fan of sci-fi, yet I still notice just how absent it was from the shelves. Imagine how the sci-fi fans must feel!

Browsing the Fantasy/Sci-Fi section of the store, it became increasingly obvious there were about 20 fantasy novels to 1 sci-fi novel. Even more interesting? Every single sci-fi novel I picked up had a male protagonist, and about 90% of the fantasy novels had female protagonists.

Come on people, are we really still feeding into that stereotype?

So there we have it, my (top?) 5 pet peeves in YA fiction. I know I’m not perfect in my own writing, but let’s hope I can do better than this! I also know the traditional publishing world is only a small fraction of the many amazing books being published, and that my bookstore is an even tinier fraction at that.

I know it does no good to dwell on the negatives, so let’s turn this list around! I know what I don’t like, and I know what the book world DOESN’T need more of. So I’m getting to take that and use it to make my own fiction even stronger!

What are your pet peeves in YA fiction? Do you relate to any of mine? Why do you think they’re still so prevalent in modern fiction?

2 Comments

  1. All your pet peeves are understandable, I especially relate to what you said about first person POV – it’s rarely done well and can easily come of as self-centered, as well as kinda dry. “I did this, then that happened, and now here’s how I feel about it.”

    One of my pet peeves are stock characters in general. Be it the main character, the love interest or the mom, I can’t stand it when they only show, like, three main traits (for an heroine : shy, introverted and nerdy ; or rebellious, sarcastic and tough). You can do so much with your characters and you limit yourself to that ? It’s even more obvious with secondary characters that are there only to fulfill a role, but it’s still grating when you’re seeing things from the POV of a rather flat main character.

    1. Author

      Yes! I’m so glad I’m not alone in this! I know first person is very popular right now, but whenever I read it I simply can’t stop thinking I’m being “told” everything instead of “shown” it. Drives me nuts.

      And I totally understand what you mean about stock characters. Sometimes I wonder if authors even realize they’re doing it because everything is so obvious for them, while the readers are stuck with boring, flat personalities and dialogue. Definitely something to be aware of as a writer in any case!

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