YA Stereotypes

YA Stereotypes

Ever since I discovered YA fiction, I’ve loved both reading and writing it. But after immersing myself in it for a while, I noticed something (something that I’m sure hasn’t escaped your attention either!). There are certain themes that crop up pretty often in YA literature. So often, in fact, that I now expect to come across at least one whenever I read a new YA book.

  • The Love Triangle 
Usually a girl and two guys. Usually a nice guy (kind and sensitive, possibly a best friend for years) and a bad boy (the kind your parents most certainly wouldn’t approve of). There’s a lot of emotional back-and-forth while the heroine tries to figure out who she really wants to be with, and you, the reader, can usually tell from the beginning who it will be. And neither boy ever seems to think, You know what? This girl is messing me around. I’m off to find someone else.
  • Love At First Sight 
I can understand attraction at first sight. That makes sense to me. You see a guy (or girl) for the first time, he’s really good-looking, and you feel attracted to him. But love? And that instant “connection” you often read about? Hmm. I have a hard time buying that. I think love and a connection can only come once you know a person.
  • The Bad Boy Love Interest
Rude, obnoxious, sarcastic, dark-and-brooding, has a troubled past, pushes the heroine away, no one else has ever been able to change him, but for THIS HEROINE he will turn his life around and become a better person. Secretly, I like this one (if I have to pick a vertex on the love triangle, I’m usually Team Bad Boy). And I’d like to believe it’s possible. I’m sure in some cases it is. But surely in other cases, the guy who’s a jerk will always be just that – a jerk. And the heroine should tell him to get lost and instead find an awesome good guy (like Cricket from Lola and the Boy Next Door!)

I’m not saying these themes are wrong. There are, of course, instances where they work really well. For example, the love triangles in The Hunger Games series (Katniss, Peeta, Gale) and The Infernal Devices series (Tessa, Will, Jem) are cleverly pulled off and add much to the storyline. And sometimes the Bad Boy has a really good reason for acting like such a jerk (again, Will from The Infernal Devices series).

After thinking about it for a little while, I realized that none of these three stereotypes show up in Guardian:

  • there’s only one main guy, Nate, so no love triangle
  • Vi thinks Nate is kinda cute, but once he ruins her perfect assignment record by following her into the fae realm, love-at-first-sight is the last thing on her mind
  • and Nate is certainly not a “bad boy”. In fact, the only bad boy here is Ryn (the faerie who reports Vi’s assignment screw-up), and Vi’s feelings for him extend more toward shoving him out of a tree than love. 

But you may have noticed there’s a stereotype I haven’t mentioned yet . . .

  • Forbidden Love 
And that’s because, well, there may, kinda, possibly be a bit of this in Guardian! I mean, Violet’s a faerie, Nate’s a human, it’s against Guild Law for him to know she exists, so of course any feelings Vi may, kinda, possibly develop toward Nate would be forbidden! 

Okay, so I couldn’t steer completely clear of stereotypes!

A question for readers and writers: How do feel about these YA “stereotypes”?

~  ~  ~

Rachel Morgan is the author of Guardian, the first novelette in the Creepy Hollow series. She was born in South Africa and spent a large portion of her childhood living in a fantasy land of her own making. These days, in between teaching mathematics to high school children, she writes fiction for young adults.

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30 thoughts on “YA Stereotypes

  1. Jennifer, I think it's the characters that make just about any story. The same basic plot lines have been repeated over and over, but when you get characters you can connect with, you love the story! (Well, that's the way it works for me!)

  2. I think stereotypes are acceptable in moderation. Most people are comfortable with them and so a few won't hurt a story, but if the whole thing is a giant stereotype, watch out!

  3. It's hard to avoid stereotypes: how many human stories are there, really? The trick is somehow to put a new gloss on it. The same problem exists in other genres, for example, mystery-thriller, which I write.

  4. Hi Misha and Rachel! Excellent post, Rachel.

    The top three sterotypes you mentioned are right on the money. I do like the “forbidden love” theme. I agree with Steven W. – the trick is somehow to put a new gloss on it.

  5. Wonderful posts about stereotypes in YA. I think it is very tricky to rid your manuscript of all of them. After all, the stereotypes are often a bit fun, especially love triangles, bad boys, and forbidden love. *grins*

  6. If it is about love than there is no way around stereotypes no matter what age you are. Any kind of love story as long as it is written or told well is a good love story. Nice post!

  7. You described those stereotypes perfectly!
    Personally, I like the “Love Triangle” for the moments when you are not sure if the story will end the way you predicted and for the happy ending.
    I can believe in “Love At First Sight”, but the characters usually have to suffer a lot until they can enjoy it.
    The best about the “Bad Boys” is the drama and how the heroine makes a better man out of him, despite him still being cool in the end.
    “Forbidden Love” is a bit like Bad Boys, but usually with more drama and troubles and romance, I think 🙂

  8. I say young adults don't get tired of reading it, as they talk about it to death…as I recall. I think old themes can work with new twists, or something about them that makes them fresh.

  9. I have to admit I'm sick to death of them. 🙂
    I think love triangles are icky. I certainly wouldn't want to be in one of them. I never liked bad boys. I don't think they're hot and sexy. Don't see the appeal. I don't believe in love at first sight, not true love, especially for teenagers, lol.

    While my friends and I talked about boys ALL THE TIME, the above never happened, nor did we long for it. Finding a guy who loved you and treated you right was what we angsted on.

    As for forbidden love. That's fine. I don't have a problem with that in books, as long as it's written smart. 🙂

  10. Thanks, Siv! I guess if you're going to tell a love story and NOT use ANY of these themes, it's either going to be quite boring, or you have to come up with an incredible new angle!

  11. Jennifer, thanks for the comment. I'm glad you're okay with the one stereotype I have used!

    It's interesting. When I think about what I personally want in real life and what I want to read about in a book romance, they're completely different! In real life I want a decent good-guy who gives me no angst(!), but in fiction I find it way more interesting to read about bad boys and obstacles to relationships!

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