This is something I’ve been musing over for a while. There are all these events and ideas and people that have been put in my head from YA books. There’s a lot of things that have frankly disappointed me because I read about them being life-changing and magical and utterly spectacular. There’s going to be some opportunity or change happening in a character’s life. But there are a lot of days where nothing happens whatsoever. I think YA should deal with this more. This is brought to mind because I went to Homecoming this weekend (Homecoming was amazing! It wasn’t one of these events; it just made me think of them!) and that’s something that’s been written about in YA books for a while.
I don’t necessarily mean unrealistic expectations in a book are bad, because I actually really enjoy them. It’s just that they’re so DIFFERENT from everyday experiences.
Expectations for YA books and expectations in real life are two entirely different things, but they shouldn’t be all the time. If you’re writing for teens, wouldn’t it make sense to try to stick as realistically to it as possible? A person can’t never do homework and still be the smartest person in the class. It simply doesn’t make sense. And yet these characters are created – these beautiful, flawed characters – and they have conflicts but they don’t often deal with the monotony of life.
Things go wrong, but they’re perfectly calculated wrongs. They don’t screw with your perceptions of your experiences and there is no mention of the thoughts that press in on your brain because you can’t stop thinking of everything you have to do and everything that’s going on. There’s no mention of that because it isn’t relevant to the plot.
We have these expectations for YA books. There will be an instant connection between the protagonist and the love interest, kisses that sweep them off their feet. I personally don’t mind instalove that much. It’s one of those staples of YA that occurs in many books. The problem with those things is that I end up having ridiculous expectations.
I expect that life and homework and being social won’t be the problem. It won’t be a struggle every day to try to scrounge up a blog post and study for my math test. Those things are hardly ever mentioned in YA. YA focuses on the romance, on the action, and of the experiences that I won’t ever get to have because I’m stuck doing work for a good portion of my day. I expect that I can actually go out and change the world while still balancing homework and a blog. Really, how often do you read of heroines doing homework? The only example that I can pull to mind at the moment is Angelfire by Courtney Allison Moulton.
When I had my first kiss, I cried. I got in the car and cried. It wasn’t bad or anything, but it just caught me by surprise and was with a guy that I had only known for about a month. I had been building it up. I wasn’t expecting it to be amazing – I was expecting it to feel right and all it made me do was realize exactly how little I knew this person. Then I turned around and handled it badly on top of that. YA books had made it seem normal and didn’t mention how comfortable you had to be with a person to kiss, or to talk to them about something you think about all the time, or even just to go through those teenage milestones.
I personally know some girls who kiss guys because they should – because people are saying they should get together or because he’s attractive. But heroines in YA novels? The shy ones, unsure and awkward ones? They should have been unsure about it at least. At the very least, confused, and not just in an I-don’t-know-which-attractive-boy-to-choose way. I don’t think that this is a requirement for all YA novels, but I wish there were more mentions of the confusion and awkwardness of couples in teenage years. That’s one experience that YA didn’t prepare me for having.
I try to look at this from a writer’s perspective. In all of the writing books that I’ve read, it’s mentioned to leave out unnecessary details. It’s a general rule of writing. While I understand this, it also leaves out a lot of really important little details that really make the story.
I was actually talking about this with Leah Clifford, author of A Touch Mortal, and I just love books that really emphasize the little details. It’s the little things that make you like a person. It’s the little things that really make your day and make you feel like you’re doing something. Something so insignificant can have a huge impact on you, and it’s strange that YA can forget about this sometimes. It’s all perfectly streamlined to make sense to the plot and for the individual story arc, but sometimes the story arc isn’t everything.
There are a few reflective books that deal with this well. There are books that simply deal with coming-of-age and aren’t all plot related. The boy and girl don’t have to get together for the book to work; not everything has to fall into place. There are plenty of character-driven books that still have a plot but don’t focus on this. I’m not saying that the characters are better or any more complex or anything. I’m just saying that these books DO focus on the little things. They do incorporate the everyday struggles of being a teen. They show the ugly sides of things. Their first kisses aren’t perfect; they make mistakes and screw up in ways that aren’t necessary to the plot.
I’m just saying that a lot of what I came to high school expecting to find didn’t happen. I thought that I would be sure of my friend group because even though the heroines end up with new friends, they’re certain about them. I have so many questions about it – if you’re unsure about something, is that okay? Should you walk away or should you keep fighting for it? How do you KNOW if something is right? There’s always a conflict but how do you know if you’re supposed to go for it? How do you know if something is right? Is it supposed to feel right? All these questions weren’t dealt with in many YA books because it feels right to them then. There aren’t the little insecurities pricking at them like mosquitoes at every second about everything. They aren’t trying to escape their thoughts. There’s always something going on. None of this has happened in my life. Maybe it’s different for y’all, but this post is coming completely from personal experience.
I expected things to feel different. I expected to be sure of myself, or at least to be on the way to that happening. Something is supposed to happen in situations like this; something always happens in YA books. But the truth is, what if nothing happens? What if the insecurities stay? What if my friend group doesn’t settle? What if I don’t end up falling for somebody? What if nothing happens for four years? I just wish for once that a book would deal with these imperfections in all the little parts of life and create a more realistic perception of this confusion. I keep expecting for something to happen but what if it doesn’t? YA doesn’t cover this part of being a teenager.
What do y’all think?