Two Problems I Have with (Some) YA Fiction

I’m gonna get the disclaimers out of the way first. I don’t have it out for Young Adult fiction. I respect the work that goes into it, because writing anything is hard. This post does NOT say anywhere that YA fiction sucks (except the three words before this parenthetical aside) or that it’s all terrible or anything like that. Some is terrible, certainly. But I am not attacking ALL YA fiction. I have some problems with every genre, from fantasy (chainmail bikinis! Dual-wielding rangers!) to science fiction (convoluted science-like mumbo-jumbo! Space-suit bikinis!) to zombie stuff (zombies with a twist! Survivors in bikinis!) and on and on. So just so we’re clear: I do not hate ALL YA fiction. Just some. Here’s why.

I’ve written a lot of shit in my day. Some would argue that it’s pretty much all I write, and to that I say, meh, okay, solid point. I’ve written training manuals, software help files, fantasy, horror, fantasy horror, fantasy training manuals of horror, exercise DVD reviews, football articles, farm tour memoirs, restaurant reviews – you get the point. I feel like I can write in pretty much any genre if I get inspired, from romance to fanfic to tourist guides and so forth. There is, however, one genre I could never write:

Young Adult fiction.

I can’t do it. I can’t imagine doing it. It would be impossible for me to have the perspective necessary to pull it off well. However, like any critic, I sure know how to bitch about something I can’t do.

I get the fact that I am far from the target audience intended for most YA fiction. I am certainly not young (less than 3 shopping weeks before my birthday! Hurry!). I’m not sure I qualify for adulthood, either, considering how much time I devote to video games (why are there 2 TVs in the living room? His and hers Xboxes, of course. The 5 desktop computers are downstairs) and my basic level of maturity. So I am clearly not in the coveted demographic for high-school romance serials.

However, I’ve been exposed to enough of it to realize that some of it is pure and utter annoying-ass shit. And I’m not talking about the hastily-written clones of the popular stuff, either. I’m talking major-league big-buck cash cows that get splashed hither and yon all across our great culture. Some of it is good, as accessible to adults as things targeted intentionally for them. Some of it makes me want to find the nearest crematorium and just get it all over with. There are what I consider two major flaws in approach that some YA fiction writers take. And here they are.

Let’s just call this one Harry Fucking Potter Syndrome

Harry Potter is a beloved series of novels that I’ve seen grown men and women shove each other in long lines to get their hands on. It is also the name of the main character of the series, the most annoying little entitled asswipe I’ve read who was supposed to be the hero. Seriously, if Harry Potter was in an 80’s movie, he’d have been the privileged douchebag that the Poor Kid (every 80’s movie had one) would have needed to out-ski or out-lacrosse or out-handball to win the affection of the Token Blond (or Nerdy Girl) and save the day. Harry Potter was the kid who got everything handed to him, the one everyone broke the rules for, and he still spent half the books moping about what a horrible fucking life he had as the Most Famousest Wizard Evar.

They might as well have named every single one of the books Harry Potter and the Deus Ex Machina. Everything he ever needed to have was handed over to him. “Oh, look, my dead dad had an invisibility cloak. How wonderful for me!” Maps, swords, brooms, whatever would come falling out of the sky for him (sometimes literally) and oh, look, Harry Fucking Potter saves the day again! WHAT A HERO! Every fucking book had some ridiculous fucking pod race, err Quidditch Match, that took 55 fucking pages to describe and always came down to whoever found the goddamn Lemony Snicket or whatever, no matter what was actually happening during the stupid game. Breathless accounts of who scored what and did this and did that, oh my god the PuffnStuffs are going to beat the Griffindorians by 30 points or baskets or shekels or whatever the hell it was…oh, wait, nevermind, Harry got the golden ticket and all is well. Actually, that rant was just about how fucking stupid that game was, and is actually off topic.

But how did Harry get to be the great big fucking hero? Oh yeah, the most expensive fucking broom in the world was handed to him. He didn’t have to work for it, or do anything, or earn a goddamn thing. Just came in the mail. Boom. Then, when another kid gets a broom just like it and is suddenly the Bestest, hey, look, mail call, experimental Broom of Awesomeness delivered, and Harry is back to being Champeen of the World once more. Everything he had was literally handed to him.

See, that’s the problem. Most stories with heroes are about growth, in some way. Coming of age, rising above, training montages set to wicked awesome Survivor tracks. Overcoming. Learning. GROWING. Harry Potter didn’t need to do any of that. He just had to wait until someone handed him whatever the fuck he needed to do whatever the fuck needed to be done. It was a cop-out.

So here is today’s first bit of Shitty Advice: if you write YA fiction, make sure the Hero earns his shit. Make him grow and accomplish things with only what he has on the inside and can muster from his Rag-Tag Group of Ethnically Diverse Friends. Don’t make him the Golden Child who can do no wrong and has everyone working their ass off to cover for him. That’s annoying as fuck. Also, try to curb the whining some, too. Harry Potter was a bitch. I wanted Voldemort to tear his spine out halfway through the first book. Ron was the fucking hero. Harry was the entitled shitmouth who got the glory.

Let’s Just Call This Sparkly Fucking Vampire Syndrome

High school was tough. I get that. Or maybe you’re still there, and in that case it IS tough. Peer pressure, bullshit fashion ideals (I grew up when wearing the right Swatch was more important than hygiene. I wasn’t popular.), hormones, asshole boys, bitchy girls, all of it. It’s a stage of most people’s life that needs to be endured and survived before getting a chance to shine or blossom or whatever huggy-feely fucking term there is for it. Of course, for some people, high school was the pinnacle of their achievements, looks, popularity, and success. Poor fuckers.

However, just because you had some shitty high school years doesn’t mean you should try to rewrite your fucking past by launching into novels about this character who just so happens to be JUST LIKE YOU AT THAT AGE, only this time, some off-beat, shady, dangerous-cool guy shows up and ignores all of the other people in the school who are smarter and nicer and prettier and falls madly in love with that shy girl. And of course, he’s a fucking vampire or werewolf or shape-shifting wildebeest or some shit, and despite the fact that he’s a thousand years old, he thinks trawling the high schools for some trim is where it’s at like he’s Matthew McGoneawhatever in Dazed and Confused. It’s the literary equivalent of the nerd’s Canadian Girlfriend. Oh yeah, in high school MY boyfriend was a totally older guy, like 100 times older than yours, and he was super-strong and handsome and loved ONLY ME and then there was this other werewolf dude who totally ALSO fell for me, and it was awesome and cool and they fought over me and I was all like “I can’t make up my mind, they’re both so dreamy,” and the one guy sparkled in the light and farted unicorns and the other guy was all buff and you could tell he was a monster in the sack but he wouldn’t do that with me because I was so special and stuff, and they TOTALLY respected me too because I was like all mature for my age and stuff. High school rocked.

So here is my second piece of Shitty Advice: Don’t try to relive your miserable high school life by making yourself, I mean, your main character, the awesomely special love interest of every paranormal fucking being that can still possibly engage in heavy petting sessions and take you, errr, your main character to the Prom and all that horseshit. Sure, Buffy had a lot of that shit going for her, but Joss Whedon wasn’t a thin blond girl in high school (as far as I know, but Wikipedia is the beginning and end of my research materials and it didn’t say it in his bio) and not everything turned out AOK and Hunky Dorry with her vampire boyfriend. So, for the love of god, if you must do it, aim closer towards Buffy than Twilight, please. Because undead statutory rape is pretty fucking disgusting, honestly.

About Alan Edwards

An indie writer who does accounting full-time on the side.

Posted on June 9, 2011, in Rantin' and Bitchin' and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 36 Comments.

  1. Christ…I’m dying here…Alan, you rock. Period. End of story. Nuff said.

    If for some reason I ever suffered intense brain damage and decide I need to write a YA novel, I will return to this post. This should be bronzed, framed, and Wiki’ed. (“Wiki’ed”…added to Wikipedia…you know what I’m saying…)

  2. Oh this is beautiful šŸ™‚ I will admit I like HP, but I also had some issues with it. For one thing, if he was so abused and neglected by his aunt and uncle (seriously, a cupboard under the stairs to live in like a pet dog, and nothing but hand-me-down clothes his whole life while his pudgy cousin was lavished with everything under the sun? Kid should have needed trauma counseling. That aside, I see his ‘specialness’ (being handed everything) on a mythological level, wherein it’s the reason his story is worth telling. Would we have cared about Zeus and Athena if they hadn’t had superpowers? Probably not. Harry was like the eye of a storm: everything revolved around him but most of it was acted out by those who circled around him.

    As for Twilight, haven’t read it, don’t plan to.

    • You make an excellent point about the similarity to Greek heroes of mythology. Honestly, it was one of the problems I had “rooting for” some of those heroes like Perseus, who did everything he did because it was handed to him. Still, in many of those stories, the gifts are bestowed early, and it’s up to the hero to go from there. With Harry, it seemed like every time he turned around and faced a challenge, there was someone nearby to hand him The One Thing he needed to beat it. And my comments are not intended to mean I didn’t enjoy other parts of the book: I read 6 of them, after all. I just never liked Harry himself all that much.

      I never read Twilight either. This is all purely baseless conjecture. However, I still think I’m dead on.

      And thanks a ton for coming by and commenting. =)

  3. I can’t stop laughing…

  4. I’ve read quite a few YA novels, they aren’t any better or worse than other fiction in the long run. The ‘adult novel’ equivalent of High School just happens to be corporate, political, or religious.

    Really good YA that pay the debt for others: Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, Tamora Pierce’s Beka Cooper.

    I can’t complain much about HP. It got 12 year old boys to stand in line for a book release. That’s magic right there. Lemony Snicket’s series did the same thing, at least in this household where one of my teens are glued to a computer or game console at all times.

    Twilight I think was just “Introduction to Paranormal Romance 101: All the angst, none of the graphic erotica”. I’m slightly demented though, I like the thought that the half vampire child would have chewed it’s way out after kicking mom’s insides into something resembling tapioca if dear ole dad hadn’t used his teeth as a c-section scalpel. That’s quality gore there.

    I think both HP and Twilight get so much flak due to the fact that you can’t escape the rabid fans. Maybe we’ve finally learned what zombies really are! 1 part popularity, 2 parts advertising, pinch of sparkle, smidgen of creativity, and half a forest’s worth of paper. Voila, instant zombies. šŸ˜‰

    • I agree – there is great and mind-numbingly awful in every genre, so it certainly isn’t restricted to YA. In fact, I’m currently thinking of doing a series of posts about every genre I read, in order to beg the people who write them to stop doing bad things.

      I agree that HP did get young people excited about reading, and that’s a good thing. I hope they all go on to find and read more good and interesting things, and preferably not just the stuff that rests on the bestseller’s shelf.

      And I think you’re dead on about the zombies.

  5. Wow, just wow …

    Spot on, completely. I’ll echo that Achilles was a whiney little bitch, much like the young Mr. Potter. I’ll also throw out there that the last book, inadvertantly, does explain why Harry doesn’t get eated by a basilisk, immolated by a dragon, etc. with the whole phylactery invulnerability issue. Doesn’t make the storytelling any better, mind you. I also love that they need a permission slip to go to Hogsmeade, but not the clearly child-abusive tri-wizard tournament that is so dangerous it might just get people you know killed.

    I’ve been reading the Kane Chronicles, which is the Egyptian series parallel to Percy Jackson. These 11-13 year olds are acting like 17-18 year olds easily. The dialogue, vocabulary, emotional issues, and how dreamy they find Anubis, is just far too mature for their actual ages.

    • Heh – you know, I never even thought about the Hogsmeade permission slip shit until you mentioned it. Potentially fatal tournaments? Absolutely! Sipping root beer? Whoa, whoa, whoa, let’s not get crazy here.

      I’ve wondered if the trend would be to go younger and younger. I’m afraid that soon it’ll be pre-schoolers swooning over the new kid with the sharp teeth and the shiny red truck.

  6. So, you didn’t read the last twilight book, then?

    Their half-vampire daughter is like … 2? Speaks likes she’s 20 and Jacob the 20something werewolf falls in love with her through some sort of non-pedophilliac non-beastiality bond …

    • Holy shit. Holy shit in a streetcar. I’d accuse you of making that up if I didn’t immediately recognize that you aren’t lying. Holy shit-snacks.

      No, I didn’t read it.

      What the fuck? Is she laughing somewhere after she bet one of her friends that she could write any fucked-up thing and it would get lapped up? WHAT THE FUCK.

      I didn’t need to know that, but I’m glad you told me.

    • reconstructed

      i think part of my soul just wilted away….

  7. Well, I think that laughing is what took place when she got the publishers to approve that one book she didn’t finish. It was supposed to be twilight retold from Edward’s perspective. I really only thought David Eddings could get away with that.

    I do wonder, sometimes, if the publishers are taking novels like Riordans and saying “Wow, this is a good book, but we need it for a younger demographic … why don’t you just subtract 5 years from their ages by using find/replace?”

    • David Eddings. Man, I have a “Problems I Have With (Some) Fantasy” post brewing, and he’s gonna be prominent.

      Honestly, it would surprise me if a lot of writers are doing that now. “Hey I have a story to tell, but YA is hot right now, so I’ll sprinkle in some teen angst and wait for the movie deals to roll in.” And it seems to be working.

  8. Also how many hufflepuff suicides take place as they get robbed from winning the house cup each year, ’cause Harry Potter killed somebody and got his house awarded just enough points from that to beat them. It’s probably also a reason for so many evil kids coming out of slytherin.

    And to throw fuel to the fire, it wasn’t just that Harry’s dad happened to have an invisibility cloak, he had the d&d equivalent of an artifact. Just like you described with the brooms, he doesn’t just have “cool magic items for free” he always has the best magic item of its type.

    Ok, maybe I should be working.

    • I can only imagine how she would have written the Lord of the Rings. The One Ring would have made everyone’s problems just go away. YAY MAGIC!

      And yeah, having an entire school of Wizardry dedicated to the Second Runners-Up is like a permanent “I Was Picked Last in Kickball” support group. Are you jolly, good-natured, and non-athletic? Hufflepuff! Are you a goth? Ravenclaw! Are you potentially evil? Slytherin! Best to keep the malcontents together!”

      Working? We’re doing it right now!

  9. Random thought relating to some of my recent YA genre reads: What is up with the playlist interspersed with the story? Is that the newest creative writing hot thing to do? Is there any backlash if the artist you mention absolutely hates your work?

    If the trend of keeping with the times holds up I think we might soon see the advent of a novel written entirely in textese. That will make me put my own eyes out with a letter opener.

  10. reconstructed

    Alan: “one guy sparkled in the light and farted unicorns…” enough said… I’m fucking dying.

    Oh and Chris Simmons I didn’t need to know the end… I think part of my cerebral cortex just died!

    • That was my reaction too. I feel like there is a part of my soul that I’ve lost for good by reading that.

  11. Ha! Loved it.
    I completely agree with the earlier comment about writers jumping on board the YA bandwagon. I’ve seen it time and time again, and one writer even told me she was writing YA because it’s an easy market. Grrr. People should write for kids/teens because they’re passionate about them, they know how to write for them…not because it’s easy! Geez.
    Great article! Good stuff. šŸ™‚

    • I’m glad you liked it! It bothers me too when people think they can write a certain genre because they think it’s “easy” or a grab for a hot market. I don’t think anyone can write convincingly about young adults unless they really are passionate about them, like you said. It’s why I know I could never do it, because I had trouble being a teenager when I was one, heh.

  12. I’ll probably get kicked in the face if anyone I know reads this, but I can’t stand Harry Potter either. I tried reading the books and only got through the third one. They just didn’t engage me. I actually enjoy the movies much more than the books.

    As for Twilight, the only thing I’ll say is that people read fantasy for the fantasy. It’s all about escaping reality and rooting for the good guy. Yes, Twilight was hokey in a lot of ways, but for me, it brought back memories and some of the feelings I hadn’t experienced since high school. I enjoyed the books. I also see your point. But it’s not real life. It’s entertainment. I’m okay with it.

    Great post as always, my friend!

    • Well, the chances of anyone reading this are encouragingly slim, so I think you’ll be safe.

      I read the first 4 or 5 books for reasons I have no interest in discussing, but it wasn’t something I would have picked up on my own (for some reason, hearing about this Awesome Hot New Thing that everyone’s raving about makes me instantly dislike it. I guess I’m a contrarian. Or maybe just an asshole). I wasn’t a huge fan, but Harry and Quidditch in particular made me actively annoyed.

      Based on some of the garbage I read for pleasure, far be it from me to argue with your point about people reading fantasy for the fantasy. What I have a problem with isn’t necessarily something that anyone else would take issue with, and enjoying what you read is the most important thing.

      Thanks for the blog-love, and you rock.

  13. its bad that the key takeaway I got from this article was: “Holy shit TWO TV’s in the living room! *click new window to bestbuy…*”

    I think there was some other stuff after that, but i was too busy jumping around the living singing my new “two tvs for me” song.

    • It’s the question we get most often from people looking to see the house (it’s for sale) – why 2 TVs? It’s also great for the Super Bowl, so the Puppy Bowl can be running at the same time as the game.

  14. You missed the hunger games. Just hakcneyed stream of consciousness, plagiarized bullsh, And the characters dont get me started, wooden, and named by syphilitic retards. Katniss? Peeta? Nambla? (ok that last one I made up, still)

    • After the Hunger Games was released, I feel as if I have successfully become a YA fiction hater.

      As a comment on the Rotten Tomatoes stated very well, “This is what I was afraid was going to happen. It’s a shame because this could have been so great. Instead it’s another book turned into a mindless movie for the masses that every screaming fan girl will love while bashing anyone who gives it a negative review.”

      Of course, the film adaptation of any book should never be expected to exceed the quality of the original book itself, but you can tell a lot about the book, its film, and their stories simply by its genre.

      How can you do that?

      A genre, to me, classifies the book for a targeted audience – and generally, individuals in the targeted audience share similar characteristics. Whenever I see the term “young adult”, I automatically default the phrase to “immature teenager” in most contexts.

      I can’t be bothered to read the book or watch the film. I’ve done enough research on various websites to understand the story and film. Those who argue that “you can’t judge a film (or book, in most cases) by its synopsis” are the same people that I find who enjoy enveloping themselves in their own fictional world. Like anything, of course, exceptions exist.

      The Hunger Games isn’t one of them.

      • You said it friend,

        YA today seems to mean “for screaming tweens only”. And you dont have to be 8-12 to be a tween anymore, just look at any of the twilight premiers and you’ll see that the 40+ crowd can be just as loud and irritating and facepalm inducing.

        Can you believe that Tolkien’s trilogy used to be considered YA? When I was in high school, almost no one I knew had ever recreationally read a book, let alone the holy trilogy. Intelligence continues to die in America.

        • Perhaps I should adjust my views then! I was not aware that LOTR was once considered YA – if what you say is true, perhaps I do not dislike the YA genre after all. I have not read any books or watched any films from the LOTR movies, but I’ve been exposed to enough “bits and pieces” of it from various sources to inevitably conclude that it actually IS as good of a story as people say it is.

          Absolute fiction and complete ridiculousness are acceptable for me (I elaborate in the next paragraph), so long as they are not just flashy effects, sexual innuendos (perhaps even the actual thing as well), mindless violence, or simply put, the things that people talk about after the movie ended.

          It’s not fair to ask the film industry to constantly produce something novel and satisfying for their audience, but I personally prefer a bit more substance. Hunger Games, if my research was correct, essentially revolved around a dystopia, but inaccurately captured the seriousness of true hunger. Films like Children of Men are true highlights of dystopias for myself.

          That’s probably enough digressing for me though; I think you really hit the nail on the point: Intelligence continues to die in America.

          However, let us not forget that modern movies, unfortunately, are mainly produced to satisfy the eyes and not the mind.

          Have hope, friend! The kind of hope that creative freedom is actually on a social pendulum that will swing so far to “less value” and “more eye candy” that it will some day swing back to a compromise between movie magic and true substance.

  15. LOL…I’m rolling. The sad thing is for awhile I was a YA librarian, but I hated the majority of YA fic for these reasons you’ve mentioned. Thank you!!!!

  16. Hehe! I decided to go looking for “young adult fiction sucks” which is how I found this article, and wow I haven’t had so much fun reading a blog entry and comments in a long time. I’ve reposted the whole schemer on my own site where I take on these odious fad fictions. You get a link back and my repost has the colourful lingo replaced but it really helps make the case for why Harry Potter and The Twilight Hunger Games are so freaking annoying and so are its fanatics. Thanks for ending my night on a hilarious note. Otaku and bronies send the irritatometer off the charts as well.

  17. Um, dear Autocorrect: That was ‘s c h m e e r’ not ‘schemer’ please, stop trying to tell me what to type.

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