Top 3 Common Tropes in YA Fiction… POTATONIZED!

More often than not, you’ll find yourselves noticing certain trends and tropes being used over and over again in your Young Adult reads. I, for one, have said several times, “Whoo, boy. I’ve seen this before.” It seems to me that most books follow a certain kind of formula that they think is popular with the intended audience, but for me, most of them are just lame and lazy attempts to escape/avoid certain parts/difficulties in the story. You’re probably thinking, “Escape?! Whadafaq, woman?! What the hell are you talking about?!”

I’ll explain that in a bit. For now, take a seat, grab some popcorn or a glass of soda, and allow me to entertain (or not… I’m not really a funny person) you with my top 3 common tropes in YA fiction featuring… POTATOES!

Trope #1: Absent/workaholic parents

Guilty books:
Obsidian (Lux series) by Jennifer Armentrout
Twilight (Twilight Saga) by Stephanie Meyer
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
…and many others…

You’ve probably seen the following scenarios before amongst your Young Adult reads. One probably has workaholic parents who are almost always never home; the other probably has a parent or two out of town on a honeymoon or whatever affairs; and this other book probably has an alcoholic mom and an abusive, I-don’t-care dad. Whatever the situation may be, it only means one thing – FREEDOM FOR THE HEROINE!  Convenience. The character can go wherever she wants, do whatever she wants, say whatever she wants, anytime, anywhere. I mean, there’s nothing stopping her, right?! Where’s mom and dad to question her actions, right?!

I’m not sure about you guys, but the absence of figures of authority seems to me a lame and lazy attempt to escape writing about children-parent relationships. I’ve seen it too often in Young Adult books that I just can’t help but think, “Why not write about it? Why not include it in the story? Why is it that they have to be out of the picture?” They’re not even in the background or by the sidelines, they completely have no influence or impact in the story whatsoever.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty sure not all YA books are this way. There are a couple out there where family plays a huge part, and I appreciated reading those (case-in-point: If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch) since they were such a breath of fresh air. But… there are just too many books with such situations. It would be nice to see some elders also put into the picture.

Aside from that, has anyone noticed that most young adult heros/heroines are the only kid in their family? I’ve only read a handful of YA lit that include sibling love/bonding… it would be really interesting how it would work out, though. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Cynthia Hand’s Unearthly and the relationships between the heroine and her brother, Jeffrey. I need to find more books like this.

Trope #2: Insta-LOVE!

It should be IRRESISTIBLE, moron! Male potato is stupid.

Guilty books:
…pretty much 75% of the YA books out there…

This is one of those tropes I am seriously tired of. I’ve read a lot of this kind of books, where the heroine/hero and the love interest pretty much go head-over-heels with each other the very moment their eyes have crossed each other (and honestly, the only valid instalove out there is the instalove between Marius and Cosette from Les Misérables. It’s still awfully cheesy, but hey, yay French Revolution!). There’s Twilight, there’s Obsidian, there’s Significance by Shelly Crane, and so many more to count, and trust me, there will be many more to come.

There’s really nothing wrong with it per se… it’s just that it’s so tiring and so… unnatural. I could be attracted to someone’s good looks the first moment I meet them, sure… that’s valid. What’s a little crush, right? All of us have gone through that at least once or twice. But love? How can I love someone after 2-3 days? It seems so superficial that way. You haven’t really gotten to know that person that much, haven’t seen the real him/her hidden within, so how can they actually be in love with each other already? I think this is my main problem with this trope. I feel that it degrades the meaning of love, something so deep, genuine, and meaningful, into something that can easily be thrown around and said to just anyone.

Some of you may be thinking that I’m making a big deal out of this, and maybe I am… but when it seems like there’s an air of monotony, predictability, and dullness in the genre you love so much, you just can’t help but desire a change or a book that provides something new or a novel that shows you how love really develops between two people and the significance it carries.

Books out there that have really good and well-developed romances are Unearthly, Earth Girl, Shadows on The Moon, Pushing The Limits, Easy, and Speechless. There are others out there, among the swarms of insta-love books, but I can’t remember them right now…

Trope #3: Heroine thinks she’s plain but she’s actually (gasp!) beautiful…

Yes… he simply… glows…

Guilty books:
… also a lot…

 The first one to guess what book the picture above is based on, you get a free cookie. As in a big chocolate chip cookie with caramel and oreos and… and… chocolate fondue. And I will not be responsible for the possible diabetes that you may likely acquire from it.

This is one of my most hated tropes out there, where the heroine keeps on whining about how plain she is compared to other girls, and how the love interest can’t possibly be attracted to an ugly, bland girl like her. Wow, fishing for compliments, much? They would then continue to describe their facial features, which actually spell G-O-R-G-E-O-U-S. And they become utterly surprised when someone praises their beauty! I just wish I could slit their throats whenever they say something like this:

But, but, but…! I am bland! I have wavy brown hair that looks just hideous when I wake up, and round, deep hazel eyes that could penetrate your soul and stab it with a dagger… and you know… I’m just not that pretty, so, why should you like me?!

This reminds me of those shoujo Japanese mangas where girls are portrayed as flat-chested and dull because the mangakas want these heroines to be more relatable to the common, average girls. And I understand that, I really do, and it kind of makes a bit of sense. But these YA novels really take it to the next level and really test my patience. Whenever I encounter something like this in a book, I immediately delete it from my Kindle and move on. I have no tolerance for such stupidity and obnoxiousness.

 

How about you? What do you think? Do you agree with my sentiments or do you disagree? What other annoying, common tropes found in YA literature that you can think of?

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Faye

Faye

A 21 years old Filipina who loves books, games, languages, and most especially, food. Secretly wishes to be an astronaut so she can explore the stars. Has a love-hate relationship with Philippine politics. To get in her good graces, offer her Foie Gras, Or shrimp. Or a JRPG. A YA sci-fi book works, too. You can follow her on twitter here: @kawaiileena

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  1. says

    I did a post on my blog about over-used YA tropes and insta-love was near the top of my list – behind love triangles! I hate insta-love for the same reasons as you do – it seems to devalue the development of a meaningful relationship based on more than just instant attraction! The insta-soul mates trope is even worse – I’ve been known to abandon books as soon as they introduce this element. I definitely think love triangles ought to be on the list, too!

    • says

      Haha! I think I’ll post a Top 3 Tropes Part 2! Still thinking of other ones I could include in it. I’ll post a Loe Triangle strip sometime next week… haha!

      Exactly. I really don’t see it in much of these romances anymore (I don’t even think they should be called romances). What happened to the kind of developments that Anne of Green Gables and Little Women were known for? I mean, they’re classics, but the development there was so real and full of meaning. I think Significance by Shelly Crane is an insta-soul one… god, that book was so cheesy and creepy crammed into one. :|

    • says

      Yeah, but it’d be a nice change to see how authors would incorporate these family relationships in their books. There’s too much of teens running around doing things on their own. Too convenient!

  2. says

    This is a great post. I think many of us have ranted about our pet peeves in fiction, but I like how you’ve described WHY these tropes are bad writing – the laziness or avoidance of writing about things like family relationships and the development of romance. (I’m afraid I rolled my eyes even at the Marius-Cosette romance in Les Mis, I loved the film but that plotline irritated me. I just wanted to throw popcorn at them. And I found the book- romance even worse. Maybe I just have no romance in my soul.)

    • says

      I know some people will say that without these tropes, the heroine/hero own’t be able to do much because there are people interfering. But I keep on thinking that while that may be true, I believe that incorporating it, making it work, and incorporating it in the storyline is a sign of a great writer and storyteller. Don’t escape it – work on it, write about it!

      Regarding the Marius-Cosette one, I’m afraid you’re right about that… there’s actually a lot of hate about it going around the internet, too, and sentiments saying he should’ve ended up with Eponine. I haven’t really read or watched it, though, so I can’t judge much, but my co-blogger, Cath, really loves it. Haha. I guess she’s just too much of a romantic girl at heart ^^;

  3. says

    I agree with your list and agree that there are books that can pull of these tropes and still be really good. Though, I don’t think The Hunger Games really falls under trope one. Katniss’s mom wasn’t a workaholic, she was just a failure as a mother who let depression grip her and ignored her children’s needs — plus, Katniss had Prim to think about/take care of. Not that Hunger Games is perfect or anything.

    I love my romance brewed before it turns into the I love you moments. Like with Under the Never Sky, at first they didn’t like each other much. But then they got to know each other, became friends (I consider this important in the development of a relationship) and then lovers.

    Sometimes I like the plain girl turns out to be beautiful one — but only if it’s done well. It resonates with readers because every girl wants to be pretty and loved. A good relationship can really make you feel like you’re beautiful. But then there are the chases where the plain girl is actually physically beautiful and no one noticed … which is silly.

    Great post :)

    • says

      re: Hunger Games, for some odd reason, I have even more of a problem with depressed parents who let their children do all the work. As always, there’s no substantial children-parent relationship to write about. All I see is simply “All I need to take care of is Prim, who cares about mom?”

      Exactly. Those stories where there is good and natural character development AND romance are the best. It really lets you see the whys and hows they started loving each other, and it makes the relationship even more meaningful. Strangely, I never liked Under the Never Sky, though. Nothing to do with the romance, I think it was the writing overall that irked me.

      Ugly duckling turns beautiful swans are pretty coo, I really don’t have a problem with it. Or relationships making you feel beautiful, too, for the matter. It’s just there where they the heroines are “plain” and then thanks to the love interest’s arrival, they’re actually beautiful after all and other people start noticing. x_x I smell bullshitry, I’m afraid.

    • says

      I agree the depressed parent thing bothers me more than the work-a-holic parent. I like either when it’s an emotional point for a character and something they try to overcome … but with Hunger Games Katniss didn’t care and it was never something her and her mom worked out.

      I only really like the plain girl turned into something beautiful is an emotional experience for the girl — not a physical. Like her love interest makes her feel pretty, even if she’s not exactly. Example: Bad Taste In Boys, the MC, Kate, is a nerd and not very pretty but her love interest makes her feel pretty anyway. When a buch of other guys suddenly notice that the MC is beautiful it’s just weird. When she realizes she’s beautiful the way she is, that’s cool. If she has to get a make-over or something … that’s not so cool.

    • says

      Exactly. No children-parent relationship to write about because Katniss was made to not to care anyway. What’s there to work out? I really love the Hunger Games, but I think I would have appreciated it better if the author didn’t have to put Katniss’ mom out of the picture giving here YAY! freedom to go about, to be “feisty” because she’s “forced” to look food for the three of them… For me, it’s the same as a character being a dick because he has abusive parents.

      I LOVE those kind of stories, but unfortunately, they’re not many (or is it? I’m relatively new to the YA genre as I started a year ago, so I’m not sure if there are actually a lot of them pre-Hunger Games). That’s why those books that feature physical changes feel so shallow… :/

  4. LillyLilac says

    I totally agree that the whole absent parent thing is such a cop out because when you’re a teenager your parents are a huge part of your life whether you like it or not and I really think that’s something that should be included in YA books since most teens can better relate to having parents be around then having them conveniently absent. What brothers me even more about this trope is that the parents are usually not consider bad parents for never being around or never noticing their kids strange behavior which makes it easy to tell that the author only have the parents in the story because of the characters age which leads me to wonder why not just send the main character to boarding school where there are no parents and it makes sense that the authority figures aren’t super concern with the main character because they have tons of other kids to think about as well and they don’t have an emotional attachment to the main character unlike a parent.

    Another thing about the absent character trope that brothers me is that the main character rarely seems to act their age with them considering parents more like housemates or just someone who may get in their way if they are around which seems especially odd to me because when your a teenager you may not always get along with your parent but you still need them for more than just paying the bills. I find it especially weird that in supernatural series when the main character first discovers the existence monsters or realizes how dangerous their lives have become yet they never seem to have the childish urge to go their parent for comfort because you know when you were little your parents where the ones that use to scare away the monsters from under your bed so I don’t understand why when the main character is filled with a childlike fear that they don’t have the urge to seek comfort in their parent.

    I think that the absent parent trope is incredibly lazy writing because there’s a lot of missed chances for conflict which is what all stories are built on and since most YA stories seem to relay on love triangles wouldn’t it be great to see parent-child instead because that’s actually different. I would really love that the teens would have to work around their parents to go do what they have to do, I want the kids to get caught being out when their not suppose to me and being punished for it, I want the kids to have to lie about their double lives so much so that their parents don’t believe a word they say to them anymore and that making the teen feel awful but they also find telling their parent the truth far to terrifying to really tell them. I want the main character to want to tell their parent the truth so badly because they need them to make it better but instead just telling them their fine and no I didn’t almost die again a half an hour ago. I just feel like their is so much character conflict to be have with parent-child relationships especially in supernatural based YA series because the kids are way over their heads usually dealing with live or death situations and they don’t have a clue what their doing.

    Oddly the two teen based series that I actually think handle parents well are the shows Teen Wolf and The OC which is something that’s really unexpected for those types of shows but I adore these series even more because of that.

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