Two Problems I Have with (Some) YA Fiction
Posted by Alan Edwards
I’m gonna get the disclaimers out of the way first. I don’t have it out for Young Adult fiction. I respect the work that goes into it, because writing anything is hard. This post does NOT say anywhere that YA fiction sucks (except the three words before this parenthetical aside) or that it’s all terrible or anything like that. Some is terrible, certainly. But I am not attacking ALL YA fiction. I have some problems with every genre, from fantasy (chainmail bikinis! Dual-wielding rangers!) to science fiction (convoluted science-like mumbo-jumbo! Space-suit bikinis!) to zombie stuff (zombies with a twist! Survivors in bikinis!) and on and on. So just so we’re clear: I do not hate ALL YA fiction. Just some. Here’s why.
I’ve written a lot of shit in my day. Some would argue that it’s pretty much all I write, and to that I say, meh, okay, solid point. I’ve written training manuals, software help files, fantasy, horror, fantasy horror, fantasy training manuals of horror, exercise DVD reviews, football articles, farm tour memoirs, restaurant reviews – you get the point. I feel like I can write in pretty much any genre if I get inspired, from romance to fanfic to tourist guides and so forth. There is, however, one genre I could never write:
Young Adult fiction.
I can’t do it. I can’t imagine doing it. It would be impossible for me to have the perspective necessary to pull it off well. However, like any critic, I sure know how to bitch about something I can’t do.
I get the fact that I am far from the target audience intended for most YA fiction. I am certainly not young (less than 3 shopping weeks before my birthday! Hurry!). I’m not sure I qualify for adulthood, either, considering how much time I devote to video games (why are there 2 TVs in the living room? His and hers Xboxes, of course. The 5 desktop computers are downstairs) and my basic level of maturity. So I am clearly not in the coveted demographic for high-school romance serials.
However, I’ve been exposed to enough of it to realize that some of it is pure and utter annoying-ass shit. And I’m not talking about the hastily-written clones of the popular stuff, either. I’m talking major-league big-buck cash cows that get splashed hither and yon all across our great culture. Some of it is good, as accessible to adults as things targeted intentionally for them. Some of it makes me want to find the nearest crematorium and just get it all over with. There are what I consider two major flaws in approach that some YA fiction writers take. And here they are.
Let’s just call this one Harry Fucking Potter Syndrome
Harry Potter is a beloved series of novels that I’ve seen grown men and women shove each other in long lines to get their hands on. It is also the name of the main character of the series, the most annoying little entitled asswipe I’ve read who was supposed to be the hero. Seriously, if Harry Potter was in an 80′s movie, he’d have been the privileged douchebag that the Poor Kid (every 80′s movie had one) would have needed to out-ski or out-lacrosse or out-handball to win the affection of the Token Blond (or Nerdy Girl) and save the day. Harry Potter was the kid who got everything handed to him, the one everyone broke the rules for, and he still spent half the books moping about what a horrible fucking life he had as the Most Famousest Wizard Evar.
They might as well have named every single one of the books Harry Potter and the Deus Ex Machina. Everything he ever needed to have was handed over to him. “Oh, look, my dead dad had an invisibility cloak. How wonderful for me!” Maps, swords, brooms, whatever would come falling out of the sky for him (sometimes literally) and oh, look, Harry Fucking Potter saves the day again! WHAT A HERO! Every fucking book had some ridiculous fucking pod race, err Quidditch Match, that took 55 fucking pages to describe and always came down to whoever found the goddamn Lemony Snicket or whatever, no matter what was actually happening during the stupid game. Breathless accounts of who scored what and did this and did that, oh my god the PuffnStuffs are going to beat the Griffindorians by 30 points or baskets or shekels or whatever the hell it was…oh, wait, nevermind, Harry got the golden ticket and all is well. Actually, that rant was just about how fucking stupid that game was, and is actually off topic.
But how did Harry get to be the great big fucking hero? Oh yeah, the most expensive fucking broom in the world was handed to him. He didn’t have to work for it, or do anything, or earn a goddamn thing. Just came in the mail. Boom. Then, when another kid gets a broom just like it and is suddenly the Bestest, hey, look, mail call, experimental Broom of Awesomeness delivered, and Harry is back to being Champeen of the World once more. Everything he had was literally handed to him.
See, that’s the problem. Most stories with heroes are about growth, in some way. Coming of age, rising above, training montages set to wicked awesome Survivor tracks. Overcoming. Learning. GROWING. Harry Potter didn’t need to do any of that. He just had to wait until someone handed him whatever the fuck he needed to do whatever the fuck needed to be done. It was a cop-out.
So here is today’s first bit of Shitty Advice: if you write YA fiction, make sure the Hero earns his shit. Make him grow and accomplish things with only what he has on the inside and can muster from his Rag-Tag Group of Ethnically Diverse Friends. Don’t make him the Golden Child who can do no wrong and has everyone working their ass off to cover for him. That’s annoying as fuck. Also, try to curb the whining some, too. Harry Potter was a bitch. I wanted Voldemort to tear his spine out halfway through the first book. Ron was the fucking hero. Harry was the entitled shitmouth who got the glory.
Let’s Just Call This Sparkly Fucking Vampire Syndrome
High school was tough. I get that. Or maybe you’re still there, and in that case it IS tough. Peer pressure, bullshit fashion ideals (I grew up when wearing the right Swatch was more important than hygiene. I wasn’t popular.), hormones, asshole boys, bitchy girls, all of it. It’s a stage of most people’s life that needs to be endured and survived before getting a chance to shine or blossom or whatever huggy-feely fucking term there is for it. Of course, for some people, high school was the pinnacle of their achievements, looks, popularity, and success. Poor fuckers.
However, just because you had some shitty high school years doesn’t mean you should try to rewrite your fucking past by launching into novels about this character who just so happens to be JUST LIKE YOU AT THAT AGE, only this time, some off-beat, shady, dangerous-cool guy shows up and ignores all of the other people in the school who are smarter and nicer and prettier and falls madly in love with that shy girl. And of course, he’s a fucking vampire or werewolf or shape-shifting wildebeest or some shit, and despite the fact that he’s a thousand years old, he thinks trawling the high schools for some trim is where it’s at like he’s Matthew McGoneawhatever in Dazed and Confused. It’s the literary equivalent of the nerd’s Canadian Girlfriend. Oh yeah, in high school MY boyfriend was a totally older guy, like 100 times older than yours, and he was super-strong and handsome and loved ONLY ME and then there was this other werewolf dude who totally ALSO fell for me, and it was awesome and cool and they fought over me and I was all like “I can’t make up my mind, they’re both so dreamy,” and the one guy sparkled in the light and farted unicorns and the other guy was all buff and you could tell he was a monster in the sack but he wouldn’t do that with me because I was so special and stuff, and they TOTALLY respected me too because I was like all mature for my age and stuff. High school rocked.
So here is my second piece of Shitty Advice: Don’t try to relive your miserable high school life by making yourself, I mean, your main character, the awesomely special love interest of every paranormal fucking being that can still possibly engage in heavy petting sessions and take you, errr, your main character to the Prom and all that horseshit. Sure, Buffy had a lot of that shit going for her, but Joss Whedon wasn’t a thin blond girl in high school (as far as I know, but Wikipedia is the beginning and end of my research materials and it didn’t say it in his bio) and not everything turned out AOK and Hunky Dorry with her vampire boyfriend. So, for the love of god, if you must do it, aim closer towards Buffy than Twilight, please. Because undead statutory rape is pretty fucking disgusting, honestly.