A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on why I read YA even though it often stinks. Today I want to talk about a few ways I think it could stink less. ;) Obviously, considering my previous post, I read YA even though I personally find it less-than-ideal, but here are a few things I’d like to see more or less often in the YA category to sort of balance out the not-so-great YA books.
Display Healthy Relationships
There are two parts to this one. First off, romantic relationships. So many relationships in YA are either shallow or outright abusive, and these relationships are romanticized and shown to last. That’s… not how life works. It’s providing a poor example to teens and shaping their thinking in a negative direction. I would love to see more healthy relationships based on solid friendship and common values, relationships that face hurdles and overcome them in healthy ways, and relationships that could believably last.
But I’d also love to see more healthy friendships and family relationships. Friends who aren’t just there when the MC needs advice, and who don’t disappear in favor of a boyfriend or girlfriend. Parents who are present, supportive, and have strong relationships with their kids. Siblings who love each other, even when they do realistically bicker and fight, and who are always there for each other when it matters. So few YA novels have healthy family relationships, in particular, which makes me super sad. Not only do portrayals of healthy (and realistic) family relationships totally make my day, but I wish more YA gave hope that healthy families do exist, and I wish that they weren’t such a rarity.
If you’re looking for a YA novel with good, healthy relationships (romantic, familial, and friendly), you should check out 100 Days of Sunlight by Abbie Emmons.*
*I reviewed this book last year. You can read my thoughts here.
Cut Down on the Romance
I’m a sucker for a good love story. I’m totally a hopeless romantic. However, I wish YA authors didn’t feel the need to put romance in a story where it doesn’t make sense, and I wish that more YA authors would remind their readers that you don’t always meet “the one” in your teen years and you don’t have to. Harry Potter immediately comes to mind as an example of a series where I felt the romance was completely unnecessary (and even potentially unhealthy), but there are so many more examples, and it’s extremely rare to see a YA book without a romantic subplot (whether the romance included fits the story or not).
I’d love to see more YA without romance, or where the MC is attracted to someone they know isn’t right for them and doesn’t act on it because they know it would be unhealthy, or where the MC doesn’t meet the love interest until the end, or where an MC comes to terms with their singleness and learns to enjoy the time they have, or… I could go on. There are so many stories that could be told without romance (whether the MC’s singleness is a core feature or not), and I just would love to see those explored more.
And dear dystopian/fantasy/etc. authors: Please stop having your MC spend 60%+ of their attention on a love interest when they’re supposed to be saving the world. Let’s just see them be awesome and save the world, please?
Show Real-World Growth
A lot, though not all, of YA fiction features teen characters who… never really feel like they grow up. One of the great things about the YA category is that it allows for exploration of what it means to grow up and become an adult, but I don’t really see that explored much. Even if characters mature (and in too many books, I think, they don’t even seem to do that), their development into adulthood isn’t really shown? They don’t really learn what it is that they need to know to operate in the world at large, they don’t seem to shape their worldview or anything like that, they just… start out without responsibilities and finish without responsibilities. I’d love to see more stories where teens start to realize that they’re nearly adults, where they realize they’ll have to be responsible for themselves soon, where they’re intentional about shaping their worldview and start to take some agency to speak up about the world in which they live.
Now, to some degree this is dependent on genre. You see a lot more characters stand up and take responsibility in fantasy and dystopian, for instance, than in contemporary (as a general rule). But even in those cases… it’s not usually normal responsibilities; they’re usually thrust into unusual circumstances where they’re forced to take responsibility. So… it’s a little different, in my opinion.
A Time to Die by Nadine Brandes is a great example of a character really coming of age and stepping into adulthood and taking responsibility for herself.
Don’t Write Down to Teens
YA has a tendency to use fairly simple language and be kind of bland in its writing style. It’s very straightforward. While this isn’t always a bad thing, and I still definitely enjoy reading (good) YA, I do wish that there was a more of a mix in YA writing style and there were books with stronger prose. More description, more subtext, more advanced language, that kind of thing.
Include Conservative and Counter-Cultural Representation
I’m not one of those people who’s super upset about never being exactly represented in fiction. I enjoy reading books from viewpoints other than mine (though I don’t read from other viewpoints as often as I should), and I’m always at least somewhat represented because… I’m white and female. Which is extremely common in YA. But it does still make my day when I see a character who shares similar values or experiences to mine, because it happens so rarely. Homeschooled characters who are still normal? Few and far between (although perhaps growing more common?). Christian characters who 1) take their faith seriously and 2) don’t shove it down people’s throats? Ha. Characters with lots of siblings? More common than the others, but still not a huge thing at this point. I’d love to see more of these characters shown (realistically) in YA fiction.
I loved the homeschooled side character Iris in The Center of the Universe by Ria Voros.* While she’s almost on the idealized end of the homeschooled characters spectrum, she was still really fun to read about and it was encouraging to see homeschooling shown in a positive light and see a homeschooled character who was so self-motivated and entrepreneurial.
*Content Warning: There is one brief, fade-to-black love scene in this book, and I think there’s also mild language used
Bonus: Christian Writers, Please Write About What Teens Struggle With
Please write about romantic relationships. Write about sibling conflict. Write about secular culture and peer pressure from a Christian perspective. Write about friendships. Write about LGBTQ+ issues and about interacting graciously with members of that community while still standing firm in biblical truth. Write about taking a stand for important issues. Write about abortion. Write about struggling with faith. Write characters who are serious about their faith and want it to color their whole lives, but make them real people. Write about conflicts in worldview between characters who are both Christians.
We need to have more Christian perspectives on real-world issues. We can’t let secular culture be the only one talking. Even if we only reach already-Christian teens, those teens still need to hear that their worldview is acknowledged, that they’re not alone, that others are also fighting for those values, and they need to be encouraged to keep holding fast to the Word. Entertainment plays a bigger factor than we realize in the formation of worldview, and we need to acknowledge that and not neglect the youth of the Church, or the youth of the world.
Let’s do better.
Let’s chat. What are some things you’d like to see more (or less) in YA fiction? What are some of your favorite YA books? What would you love to see Christian authors, in particular, explore more in YA fiction? Leave your thoughts in the comments!