The terrible tropes of YA fiction

Standing legs crossed

What are some of your pet peeves in YA fiction? The kind of things that make you groan aloud? If you’re an author, which of these have you been guilty of, or used with the intention of subverting it? If you’re a reader, which one do you secretly loooove? Or do you have an example of a book that turns a trope on its head?

I’ll start!

Instalove: Yes, I know, this one is apparently a teen favourite, and a staple in the romance genre for all ages, but this idea that you see someone and fall in love instantly, that too the kind of love that you risk life, limb, kingdom, planet, and universe for? Um, no, sorry, not buying it. “Love” is a complex emotion; cannot happen instantly. What is really going on is “instalust”. Now that is very much possible and I would buy it, particularly because adolescents are very prone to instalust. Not guilty for this one, thank heavens.

Letting out a breath you didn’t know you were holding: It is well known in the world of teen fiction that protagonists are given to holding their breath without knowing, at least not until they exhale (or die, I imagine, though I’ve never come across any such example). Anyway, I can’t get too sniffy about this one. We’ve all done it, and I plead guilty. But I promise, NEVER AGAIN! Deep breaths everyone.

Adolescents who talk like grown-ups: No, scratch that, adolescents who talk like annoying, know-it-all grown-ups, the kind that use a multisyllable word where a hmm will do. If you want to know what I mean, read any book of John Green’s. Keep all those deep, philosophical conversations out of my entertainment, please! Not guilty—bloody well hope not, at least, since I’m way too shallow for all that nonsense.

Adolescents who talk like what adults think they talk like: This is actually a spectrum, and depends on where the author stands. On the one hand you have the extremely prim, holier-than-thou, Blyton-esque types who mind their P and Qs, and never utter a four-letter word. This is possibly what parents hope their children talk like. On the other is the whole dude-bro, like, yo, whassup, CU L8r speech, usually done an author who hasn’t been a teen in a very long time. (Extra points if you’re an Indian writer who’s used “swag” to mean “swagger”). I really, really hope NOT guilty for this one! (If I am, please tell me, somebody!)

The bad boy who takes control: Colin Firth is delicious (yes, I know, I know, but I’m not blind); Mr Darcy, however, is not. (Unless he is Colin Firth in a wet, white shirt.) The brooding, angry, misunderstood man/boy who women/girls secretly find irrestible is a trope that is inexplicable to me. What’s worse is when this is in the form of a smirky boy who “takes control” by undermining a capable girl, and she completely falls for it (and him). Where’s the vomit emoji when you need it? (For more insights, do check out @broodingYAhero.) Not guilty, mainly because cishet romance is yawn (and mostly baffling to me).

Love triangles: If you’re sensing a theme here, congratulations, you’re not completely off the mark. Romance in YA has usually been very badly done, rife with tropes like instalove, enemies to lovers, impossible love triangles, and so on. Unsure if I’m guilty or not, as one of my works-in-progress has a love triangle that I’m hoping subverts the trope.

Adolescents saving the universe: This is a funny one. I completely believe that young people can and do change worlds. It’s when they do it in impossible, improbable, and over-simplified ways that it gets my goat. Like, pivotal decisions based on “true love”. I just read a lovely book from NetGalley that is coming out in September that had this issue. The entire plot—which was in itself pretty good, with a magnificent twist—hinged on a couple of teenagers having the hots for each other. Other than that, teenagers mounting a rebellion and overthrowing tyrants by infiltrating the latters’ inner worlds or hacking something or the other—not buying it. But then, you’d probably say I’m guilty in this regard, so I’ll try to be less judge-y.

The queer best friend and other tokenisms: The les-bi-gay-trans best friend is becoming more and more of a thing these days, and I can recall at least one ghastly YA where a gay boy was toaster-oven-ed into falling for the girl protagonist. Oh. My. F-ing. Gawd. NO! But again, I’m guilty of at least one gay-best-friend story, I think I’ll just shut up now.


(Image credit: Image by PublicDomainArchive from Pixabay)

2 Replies to “The terrible tropes of YA fiction”

  1. Hahaa, I laughed out loud when I read the ‘letting out a breath you didn’t know you were holding’, extremely guilty of this.

    Also generally, the broody man being just so perfect. With just a hint of protectiveness. And the bad boy who will be good just for the protagonist girl, because, she’s – you guessed it – different.

    1. Ugh, yes, that bad boy trope. I *hate* it. Good to know you’re still writing though!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.