Young Adult or YA books are essential to book culture. It is the genre that most significantly shaped me as I was reading throughout my school-age years and I know YA books shape the lives of many other people too. One of the best things about the YA genre that keeps me, and many others, coming back for more are the tropes. Literary tropes keep people coming back to their favorite stories or turn them off of others and YA books have some of the most insane tropes. While many of the tropes are harmless, some of the more problematic tropes may have too much influence over the minds of younger readers.
One of the tropes seen a lot in the YA genre is a guy being overprotective or having to save a girl. We are looking at this through a heteronormative lens, however, the trope can also appear in queer stories. Currently, most YA romantic stories (especially some of the most popular) are centered around heterosexual relationships, however, luckily that is changing and we are seeing more queer stories. So, the “overprotective guy” trope can often be really damaging. We see it in many stories and I think one of the most popular examples of this would be the Twilight series. In the series, there are plenty of times where Bella, the main character, is incapable of helping herself and her love interests, Edward or Jacob, have to save her. We also see instances of Edward stalking her and sometimes being controlling, telling her what she can and can’t do for “her safety”. This trope is seen a lot and while it can be innocent at times, on the other hand, it can romanticize creepy and unhealthy behavior.
Another trope that is a girl’s life is changed because of a boy. Many of the romantic tropes in YA novels are especially harmful to young women and this is one of them. Just like Twilight, these “romantic stories” will perpetuate unhealthy behaviors in romantic relationships and expectations for those relationships as well. This trope centers around a girl who usually has a boring and unfortunate life and then suddenly her life is changed because she meets a boy that changes everything. This happens in the Twilight series and other books such as After by Anna Todd. This trope perpetuates the idea to young girls and women that meeting a boy will be a life-altering experience and while it is not the most harmful, it can be a bit unrealistic.
Speaking of After, another harmful trope is the bad boy trope. The bad boy trope is seen in many stories and it is and has been one of my least favorites, even when I was a young adult. The bad boy trope involves a guy treating a girl horribly and then justifying it because he “loves her”. It shows toxic relationships and romanticizes abusive behavior. For example, since we are talking about After, the story centers around a young college couple, Tessa and Hardin. Hardin often manipulates Tessa and emotionally abuses her throughout the story but because he is “broken” and had an f*cked up childhood, the behavior is excused. Absolutely not. This story should not be one that is seen as romantic as a YA novel that has an influence over the minds of young readers. It teaches young men it’s okay to treat women this way and it teaches young women it’s okay to be treated this way. This trope is worn out and dangerous and it needs to go.
The last trope I want to talk about is mental illness as a personality trait or quirk. Now, while there are many YA novels that paint mental illness in a more accurate light, many use it as a personality trait. Other than the total misrepresentation of mental illnesses, the worse thing about this trope is when it is “fixed” as the result of a girl or guy coming into the protagonist’s life. This is not and will never be how mental illness works. This often shows mental illness in an ingenuine light as well as it often being a “flaw” of the character. This also romanticizes mental illness as it makes the protagonist “different”. This is harmful because it can create unhealthy stigmas around mental illnesses as well as making young readers seen mental illness as a “cool trait” to have.
These tropes are problematic and can be harmful because of the ideas and stereotypes they perpetuate. However, there are many other tropes are there that are also damaging. So, what are some of the problematic tropes you’d like to see die?