What’s Wrong with YA Literature

by Lucy Zhang, US East Blogger & Artwork Assistant jaBlog!

Artwork by Lucy Zhang


What's Wrong with YA Fiction jaBlog!I just finished reading Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, a book that I picked up after reading this jaBlog! article by Jillian Hermoso and seeing the appealing cover image. And I can only say that I have been sorely disappointed by what the book has attempted to convey. It follows a very Mary-Sue structured plot, with the girl who starts out as some type of underdog and manages to become the love interest of a prince—extra bonus: it’s actually two princes, making a nice love triangle. The main character also needs some sort of special trait as well, whether it is a supernatural ability or unwavering moral, or better yet, both.

Now I am in no way against a strong female protagonist with side love interests that become a main plot point. After all, I am guilty of finding both of these things entertaining—why else would I read Red Queen all the way until the end? My problem with the book is how unrealistically characters respond to emotionally traumatizing circumstances. For example, the protagonist seems to get over her sister’s injury almost immediately despite the supposed guilt she feels for leaving her sister behind at the mercy of the enemy. Also, some of the convenient plot events remain glaring in my head–had things truly gone as the book’s world appears, the protagonist would be dead within the first few pages.

But it is not just Red Queen that is guilty of this. So is The Hunger Games trilogy, the Selection series, the Divergent series, and the list goes on. These types of books have come to define Young Adult fiction. There are certainly some “deep” themes that come through from the dystopian realms, symbolism, or love tetrahedrals, but it is not as though we haven’t seen those themes before (repeated so many, many times, with cliché after cliché). Even the plot twists and betrayals are expected.

The most aggravating thing about most YA novels that proliferate Goodreads is the lack of world building. If you are going to create a dystopia, go for it, after all, no matter how many dystopian novels exist, there are still many more ways to imagine how our world could go wrong. However, the fictional world needs to be developed and logical to a certain extent (a world where women and girls are captured and used to breed for an underpopulated country is very rarely well-reasoned). Our world alone has so much culture, history, politics, art, and social nuances, so why spend so much time on a girl’s anxiety over marrying a prince when there is so much more to explore and develop? (Please see Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings as examples. Note: novels do not have to mimic the lengths as well).

I feel as though authors build a world around the character rather than first establish a world they want their character to survive in. As a result, they leave out anything and everything irrelevant to the character’s Mary-Sueness, leaving readers unsatisfied. Granted this is partly the readers’ fault, as we can get caught up in the romantic thread. Thus authors attempt to resolve the romance, but not the world’s political or social problem. Of course, not all books leave the problem unresolved, but many do lack in the world-building department.

Dystopia is entertaining, as is romance. But the same formula is applied to most YA literature, and I am tired of it.



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