Recently on Twitter, the hashtag YANeedsMore was trending. I made a post that wound up receiving a handful of likes and responses from other readers and writers. The tweet said:
#YANeedsMore characters that grow up or change not because of love or love triangles, but because it was their choice.
I read a lot of YA books and rather often than not, I go through binges. I’ll read zero books one week and next week, read two or three. What I’ve been noticing is love is being used as a plot device – repeatedly. There’s a main character that has some struggle to overcome and enter the handsome/beautiful/mysterious (insert whatever adjective you want here, they all work), stranger to help them figure out what they need to do. Not only will the main character be awed by their presence, but they’ll feel a magnetic pull to them. Some authors try the immediate hate approach, but as a reader, it’s easy to see that the initial disgust will wear off and become a blossoming romance. I’m not saying this doesn’t happen in real life. Sometimes it takes a while for people to get used to each other or figure each other out. Once this happens, some feelings can emerge. What has become an issue for me is why does an overwhelming amount of books have to follow this trend?
A lot of my personal growth came from spending time on my own. To be frank, being involved in any type of serious relationship would have probably made me worse off. It’s rare for me, while reading Young Adult literature, to see characters following this trend or even turning to a friend for answers. When a romance is involved as a major plot, a lot of friendships get pushed to the side, or the relationship with friends becomes centered around talking about the main relationship.
Being a teenager/young adult is a difficult time for anybody. There are expectations put on one’s shoulders. There’s an emerging identity to figure out, a career. One has to ride the roller-coaster of drama caused by friends who may not really be your friends. A lot happens in these years and yes, relationships may happen, but they’re not the only influences on teenagers or young adults. Not to mention, not every person who sees someone ridiculously attractive or intriguing actually approaches them. It may just be a ‘oh they’re pretty’ and no words are ever exchanged.
I feel as if YA literature can be sending the wrong message, or perhaps, repeating a message that cannot encompass everyone. Love will not solve problems, nor will love always be the catalyst of deciding to take initiative or deciphering who one is as a person. Some may not even feel love or attraction to another person. There needs to be a broader spectrum of outlets for characters and especially the readers. What if the main character grows up after a traumatic event, through a solid relationship with their parents or best friend, by transitioning from high school to college, from realizing one summer that they are not where they want to be in their life? It’s not always about the hunky new kid that shows up in town and suddenly has all the answers.
Don’t get me wrong, I support relationships in YA – assuming they’re healthy and well written. I merely feel that a plot can be progressed by devices that don’t involve falling in love. There could be a platonic relationship between strangers, one that is simply for business, one with so much hate a reader is concerned that the main characters may not make it through the book at all. There could be a myriad of triggers and I’m curious as to why love is the overused option. Do we as a society value that more? Do we believe that our readers will connect better with characters that fall in love as opposed to those who don’t? I know shipping is a huge thing in fandoms of all kinds, but I think YA literature could use some variety. Personal growth sometimes needs to be personal.
Leave your thoughts in the comments below if you have an opinion on this matter. I’d be interested in hearing what other fellow writers/readers have to say about this.