I don’t read a lot of YA—I never have, really, simply because it doesn’t interest me. My recent foray into the genre has only served to redouble my aversion to “fluffy” romances and “meet-cutes.” (Because these things are never cute. They’re just annoying.) My YA expertise is pretty much limited to the eleven YA books I’ve read since the beginning of 2017: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, When It’s Real, And We Stay, Turtles All the Way Down, Eliza and Her Monsters, The Chocolate War, Stargirl, Lock and Key, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Paper Covers Rock and The Beginning of Everything (and then I read The Fault in Our Stars and a couple of YA fantasies and dystopians back in Middle School).
Some of you can probably read eleven YA books in a week, and so these eleven titles ultimately don’t mean much. They certainly don’t give me a lot of authority to critique YA as a genre (though I am quite familiar with the fluxes and external workings of the genre, simply because I follow and read a goodly number of YA book blogs *throws roses to blogger friends*). Honestly, though, I don’t read more YA simply because it bores me. Were a couple of the titles in the above list captivating? Yes—I admit I absolutely binge-read Paper Covers Rock and The Chocolate War (also because I like books set in boys’ boarding schools. It’s like reading a modern version of Lord of the Flies). But as for the rest—Turtles All the Way Down left me with this awful unsettled feeling inside. Lock and Key is one of the few books I’ve listened to as an audiobook and it was marginally engaging, but its romance was devoid of all chemistry and spark. Same with Eliza and Her Monsters…the romance felt absolutely forced (and Eliza wasn’t a great protagonist). Stargirl was weird. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl had enough profanity in it to last me through this lifetime and into the next (Clara does a dead-accurate review of it here). The Beginning of Everything was drenched in this weird maniac-pixie dream girl fixation thing. And We Stay was well-written but disjointed.
The most recent two YA on that list are When It’s Real and The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. Were they worth reading? Eh, they both ended up with two stars on Goodreads. Their romances are almost not even worth mentioning—both were somewhat contrived and rather subpar.
I had quite a hard time stomaching Vaughn of When It’s Real (long story short: she’s a poor-ish orphan who agrees to date a snobby rich popstar for the cash…and shockingly, he’s actually a really sweet guy who’s just crumbling under the pressures of stardom.) My first issue was with the names: I’m sorry, what is Vaughn? It sounds like a cat hacking up a spitball. To make matter’s worse, Vaughn’s love interest’s name was Oakley—and she called him Oak (pro tip: naming your male characters after trees does not make them more attractive. It just makes them ridiculous and weirdly pretentious). Vaughn had literally no personality, and her oh-so-struggling family (who somehow managed to take trips to Disney Land, even though they could barely afford their mortgage) was sort of shoved onto the backburner so the reader had more time to experience the “romance.” Not that it really was a legitimate romance, because Vaughn and Oakley went from hating each to other to kissing to having lots of sex. (I’m sorry, but can YA please stop cheapening sex? Sex is not recreational. It’s not supposed to be the big climax of an adolescent relationship. What’s even the point of getting married if you’re just going to sleep together anyway?). I have nothing against hate-to-love romances, or even the stereotypical pop-star falling in the love with the girl-next-door thing, because when done right, it’s fun to read. I read Catch a Falling Star a couple years ago (another book with the fake-romance-with-celebrity-becomes-real trope) and I actually really enjoyed it, to the point where I reread it several times. One of the better hate-to-love books I can think of off the top of my head is the Charmed Life trilogy by Jenny B. Jones.
When It’s Real just failed to execute any of its tropes even marginally well. To describe the book in one word: contrived. (Which is actually rather ironic, because When It’s Real is supposed to be about a contrived romance…but even the contrived romance was contrived. It’s almost funny, in a pathetic sort of way).
I don’t want to waste a lot of time talking about The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. To summarize: Bland Narrator Hadley misses her flight to her Dad’s wedding and meets a dull adorable British boy. She goes to the wedding, reconnects with her Dad, and Bland British Boy shows up later, even though he’s in the middle of being hot and troubled about his semi-tragic backstory. *Yawn* No, I’m serious—I spent most of the book bored and yawning and waiting for it to end. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight wasn’t a total disaster: it was a significantly better-told story than When It’s Real, and its writing was smooth enough to feel almost poetic, but much like its main characters, it was ultimately quite dull. (And it had some awful messages: the book basically justified having an affair and getting a divorce because if you’re in love, it’s okay because Love Is Illogical. Yes, destroying marriages is totally justified by some cute little platitude).
After reading two YA books in the span of one month (crazy, I know) I’m probably done with the genre for at least a few weeks. I think Reason Number One why I don’t particularly like YA is because I don’t find any of the characters identifiable. The female narrators seem to be either Perfectly Average, in that they’ve had a least one boyfriend before the story starts and high school is pretty chill and they have a large group of friends who all play sports…yeah, sorry, can’t relate. The other end of the spectrum leaves us with someone is consumed by a disability and they live inside their house and their only friend is their goldfish…um, okay, I can somewhat relate, but the anti-social thing usually feels forced.
I think it’s quite obvious when an extrovert author is writing introvert characters and vice versa, but that’s a discussion for another time.
Yet I do still try to read a YA book once in a while, if only to stay in touch with the specifics of the genre and the current YA “popular” worldviews. Nowhere have I seen feminism and homosexuality pushed as much as in the YA genre—and I can say this with confidence, despite having only read eleven YA books over the past year. You wouldn’t have to read any YA at all to come to this conclusion; stalking around the YA section in B&N and reading book flaps for an hour would show the genre’s obvious adherence to certain political and social messages. It’s almost ironic how in YA’s push for diversity any books that don’t fit the standard of being “diverse” are nonexistent; the genre itself is hardly diverse, as each book conforms to a carefully prescribed standard to make it “socially acceptable.” Where are the YA books where the protagonist is Christian and chooses not to have wild sex with her boyfriend every night? I suppose this too explains my general aversion to YA: I dislike having any sort of message forcefully shoved downed my throat while I am trying to read. You want to subtly convince me that feminism actually empowers men (ha), okay, go for it. I don’t have to agree with you, and as the author, it’s your choice what opinions and political views get inserted into your novel. But reading YA shouldn’t have to feel like reading a propaganda pamphlet for “alternative lifestyles.” I have nothing against diversity; I would love to read about people in Africa or India or the Middle East. But as of now, I’ll stick to the adult fiction, where the characters are usually better developed and the themes aren’t quite so forcefully shoved in my face. (Clara and I discussed this more here).
One last thought: YA is known for its slick, fresh writing style, presumably making it easier for younger readers to bridge the MG/YA gap. But how on earth did we go from Shakespeare being easily understood by the common Englishman to YA books where the language is so painfully diluted that second graders could read it? Are there YA books that are written beautifully? Yes—The Book Thief and Paper Covers Rock come to mind. Are there also YA books that are written so poorly that they lower the standards of the entire genre? Yes, I’d say so. Point and case: When It’s Real wasn’t written horribly…but it could have been considerably more mature in its language usage.
Have you read any of the above YA books? What are your thoughts on YA as a genre? Can you offer any recommendations for YA books with legitimately good romances? (For instance, would you recommend Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before? Because I referenced the title in my title, but I’ve never *actually* read the book. I did want to…but it was on hold for so long at the library that I gave up). Also, what are your thoughts on Zutara??? (Clara doesn’t ship it so I’ve disowned her).