if i stay (2014)
I’d like to conduct a totally informal and wouldn’t-stand-up-to-scientific-scrutiny poll about romance in YA novels.
Serious inquiry: if you are a person who’s bothered by “too much” romance in YA stories that aren’t specifically marketed as “YA Romance,” then:
1) What is “too much” to you? Do you have a qualifier? Any? More than 10% of the story? More than 50%? You’re not sure, it’s just whatever feels like too much?
2) What is it about the romantic subplots or storylines that bothers you, specifically?
3) Can you name a story that you feel suffered due to the romantic subplot?
4) Any other thoughts, like “I don’t mind some romance, I’m just tired of so much of it being hetero/utilizing the same tropes/etc.?”
Compiling opinions on this topic. Answer all or just whatever you feel like answering. For the purposes of this poll, I’m mostly interested the opinions of those who actually read in the YA category with some regularity, as opposed to “I skimmed Twilight and The Hunger Games and didn’t like them so I don’t read YA.”
If you’re not answering or don’t share this opinion, I would love a reblog, thank you!
I couldn’t get into the Maze Runner. Dunno why but I didnt like it.
I do, it’s because the fake swear “klunk” was unnecessary and distracting.
And it’s used incorrectly at least 40% of the time. If you’re going to use fake words to replace cuss words, you should make sure the fake word has the same suffix as the cuss word it’s replacing.
"In my mind, I write YA novels. That’s what I’ve called them since my first was published, in 1996.” — Sarah Dessen, a veritable queen of YA literature. Emphasis mine because hello.
It is a goddamn shame the way perennial bestseller Dessen seems so, so, so very often overlooked in YA lit. This woman is like a fucking powerhouse. I hope I can write as many books that are so loved and embraced by readers. Maybe she doesn’t want a tourbus wrapped with her book’s creative but I still think someone should make her one just in case.
Basically, her books have taught me that in the end, you don’t need a man, but if you meet a really nice guy you should by no means push him out of your life because hey, nice guys are few and in between sometimes and they make great friends when you’re in need.
This makes me want to take another shot at her books, because I’ve always passed over them because I assumed (from covers and others things) that they were just more romance- girl falls madly in love with boy and that’s her whole life- stories
This is why every time I write about girls and YA or women who write YA, I can’t ignore Sarah Dessen. She is a queen, and it SUCKS how the industry categorizes her as one thing when she is so much more than that.
Real Talk: No one gives Sarah Dessen the credit she deserves for THE MOON AND MORE. Both in the context of her genre and in the context of her previous books. Some of her very early books end with the protagonists alone and happy, but this is the first book in quite a while where the girl is presented with two love interests and chooses to be on her own. Neither dudebro is particularly appealing, so Emaline doesn’t settle for either of them. There’s even third male character who, in another book, would definitely have fulfilled the friend-to-lover trope, but that doesn’t happen.
Also, I really love how she writes friendships and family dynamics and Real Teenage Issues without seeming preachy. Sarah Dessen’s books have been it for me since I picked up the HOW TO DEAL movie tie-in, and I haven’t gotten enough since then. They feel like home and summer and comfort. Like, if books could be a baby blanket, THE TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER, my first Dessen hardcover, would be faded and full of holes, the way any loved baby blanket is.
Dessen just did a hangout with Megan McCafferty for Ask! Authors! Anything! where she talked about YA as a genre and how when she first got published, the YA section didn’t exist. I don’t know if teenagers right now really understand that, but bookstores in the late 90s/early 00s very rarely had more than a couple shelves next to chapter books. Before authors like Sarah Dessen and Laurie Halse Anderson and Meg Rosoff and JK Rowling and everyone else writing in the early 2000s, we would still be stuck reading mass market paperbacks with puns for titles and clipart for covers. To hide these books in the back of the YA section is an insult.
EDIT! ALSO! Since I saw it mentioned in the notes. I counted the first 400-ish books in BN’s Romance section and stopped once it got to the Bookseller Marketplace. 365 titles were written by women. 48 titles were written by men.
The trailer for The Maze Runner is out! Stiles from Teen Wolf! Amnesia and moving walls! Based on the best-selling YA novel by James Dashner! Exclamation!
I didn’t want to tack my comments onto this post because it’s a thing of beauty all on its own and I totally agree, but I have a lot of thoughts on this and despite the fact that I’ve barely had coffee, I’m going to try and tackle them.
I haven’t read The Impossible Knife of Memory yet, but I did recently read Wintergirls by the same author, which is about a girl who suffers from a serious eating disorder. She’s been in and out of treatment and still lies to her family and friends about how much she’s eating, how much she weighs, how cured she is, while she gets up at 2 am to climb a hundred stories on a stairmaster and is constantly tallying calories in her head.
It’s such an accurate depiction of the thought process of someone in the midst of a disease like that. I don’t know if the protagonist is called unlikable by readers, but I can see why she would be: It’s easy to see someone in the midst of a disease like anorexia as selfish and deceitful, needlessly hurting themselves and making people’s lives around them miserable.
Obviously, this is because their motivations are mental illness and don’t make sense. She’s sick. Starving yourself to death is not a logical, pragmatic thing to do, but when you’re there, your brain is telling you that is it the only course of action.
It’s easy to go, “Ugh, she’s lying, she’s selfish, she doesn’t care… too unlikable for me.” But stories like these are so important, both for the people who have lived them and the people who can’t understand what it’s like to live them until they can get a glimpse into a character’s head like this.
1.) In this case, the point of the story is that she’s sick and trapped inside her mind, which is telling her wrong things. The point is that this is bad place to be stuck. It is a girl’s struggle against herself.
2.) Even if a character is selfish and deceitful, it doesn’t mean they don’t deserve happiness or are terrible people or shouldn’t have friends or love, and it certainly doesn’t mean their story isn’t worth telling. Substitute those two traits for any other two on your Unlikable Female Character Bingo Card (whiny, emotional, too proactive, not proactive enough, impulsive, stubborn, smart, not book smart) and the sentiment remains the same.
3.) Often these traits or wrong ideas are what the story is about or how the story happens.
3a.) Sometimes the wrong ideas the characters cling to are the whole point (which goes back to point 1). The story is about how those ideas are wrong. Like the protagonist in Looking for Alaska by John Green who wants Alaska—the girl—to be his salvation and adventure, are wrong and that is the point. It’s a deconstruction of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl myth. Ironically, in this case, I don’t see Miles/Pudge (the male MC) being called unlikable. The book is criticized for many reasons, and John Green is criticized for “promoting” this MPDG myth, but our starry-eyed dreamy male protagonist is not. Weird, huh? (Sorry, John Green, I love you and I’m not trying to pick on you. It’s just a good example.)
3b.) Sometimes the story can’t move forward without characters making stupid decisions. The key to determining if those stupid decisions work for you, as a reader, lies in asking yourself is the decisions feel true to the characters and situation up to that point. Not whether the characters making them identify as female. A male character can fling himself in front of a bullet, dive off a cliff, and stop at nothing to get what he wants/believes he has to do/win the quest/etc. But a girl who does the same things is restless, selfish, impatient, stupid, impulsive, deserves any repercussions she gets, etc.
Honestly, characters have to screw up and believe wrong things or all novels would be about people sitting in a room complimenting each other and figuring out World Peace and eating sustainable kale*. And while that’s all well and good, it would get old after a while.
I did a panel on Strong Female Characters in YA at Geek Girl Con last year, in the midst of the “no, no, no, no stop with this STRONG thing” outcry. It was a smart outcry and it had a very good point! But I think the problem is people conflate the idea of strong female characters with only one type of strength and that is incorrect. When I say “Strong” female characters I mean written so they’re real. So maybe that’s not the right term.
So I think the outcry should be, as people rightly pointed out, for “realistic but varied” female characters. More females who are good, bad, big, small, differently-abled, female characters of color, female characters of all sexualities and gender identities. More of everyone. Let’s see everyone on the page, and everyone on the screen. But we also want different personalities and situations. I love seeing female characters who cry, who feel deeply, who don’t let themselves feel, who never cry, who mouth-off, who would never mouth-off, who would burn down the world to get what they want or who would find it in the library or in another way. All the facets of human existence. Because women are all of those things.
If we try to limit female characters into a narrow scope of likability—which isn’t possible anyway, because the “unlikable” traits contradict each other and cover basically anyone who doesn’t stand in the corner like a Sexy Lamp—we all lose.
Meanwhile, we don’t just let male characters do all of the things that make female “unlikable,” we celebrate and applaud them for it.
So when you’re reading and you start to go “Ugh this girl is so whiny/bratty/selfish/self-concious/bitchy/confident/bossy/impulsive/idiotic/romantic/unfeeling/cold/dark/too happy/cheerful/loud/controlling/egotistical/powerful/etc.” Maybe take a minute to examine if that’s really making her unlikable, or just making her flawed or human or reacting in a way that makes sense for her, even if it wouldn’t for you.
Or at least, ‘Why do I have this gut reaction?’ And ‘Would I feel this way if this character was male or male-identifying?’
You don’t have to change your mind, obviously, or even keep reading. But it’s just a good thing to consider.
*If that is your definition of good. Which is totally subjective and brings things back to the first point, that good is not a specific thing and can be embodied in dozens of different ways.
Wow! I didn’t say to myself “I will wake up tomorrow and write an essay before I go to work” but there you go.
When we talk about Unlikable Characters, we tend to conflate truly abhorrent behavior that violates societal norms and decision making that we don’t like. When I think of Unlikable Characters, my mind immediately goes to characters who are violent or deceitful or cruel and…
These are excellent points. I often think this comes from the ladder effect of self-worth where if you can judge a character harshly, it gives a person a sense that they are elevated above that character. I’m not sure why we do that with the male characters and just let the situation be, and why we feel we must be vocally expressive about putting ourselves above the female characters. Everyone knows Hannibal is a terrifying psycho, so we put that aside and explore the other elements of his character. With female characters it seems like the knee-jerk reaction is “See! I’m not at all like that, because I condemn it!” So, how do we compartmentalize one, but not the other?
It’s a mystery to me.
I’ve been thinking about this specific aspect of the discussion more, especially after seeing some responses to the effect of “But I like Gale!” or Draco or Snape or whoever. Which is, I guess, one of the points I was trying to make and maybe it wasn’t clear enough to come through the first time around. We often look past the awful traits of men in literature (or film or television or real life) and love them anyway, but so many people will dismiss media focused on flawed women because they don’t like the characters enough to zoom out and see the story as a whole. Which sends the message that we don’t care enough about these types of women to read about their struggles because these women are worthless.
I love seeing flawed women in media. I want to see more women who are arrogant and selfish and mean and cold. What I want to see less of is criticism of women who are reacting realistically to their situations.
I think kbaileybooks is right when she says that we reinforce ideas about ourselves when we condemn certain characters. No one really wants to think poorly of themselves, and we all have traits we’re sensitive about, so we try to distance ourselves from those traits. But wouldn’t it be more helpful to address why we’re sensitive about those traits or why we behave in a certain way than to deny certain parts of ourselves? Men don’t apologize for their personalities. Women shouldn’t either.
underground kings - drake | help i’m alive - metric | the times they are a’changing - bob dylan | i’m going down - vampire weekend | flume - bon iver | wake up - the arcade fire | i saw the sign - ace of base | should i stay or should i go - the clash | xo - beyonce | she moves in her own way - the kooks | i don’t wanna break - christina perri | national anthem - lana del rey | halycon - ellie goulding | sigh no more - mumford and sons |