Monday, April 26, 2010

What's Missing In YA Lit? The Contemporary Edition

One of the side effects of blogging, especially if you're blogging with being an aspiring writer in mind, is that you start to notice trends, of what's overdone, what's missing, things that worked for you, things that didn't.

Here are some things that I have found curiously absent in the contemporary YA books I've read, and would love to see more of:
1. Parents

This has been explored over and over again: notable essays on the topic are the April 1 New York Times article and the brilliant breakdown of parental archetypes by the First Novels Club. While I still generally do have problems with any time the NYT attempts to talk about YA lit (this one's not that ignorant or outdated, but the writer is still coming from the point of view of a rather hoity-toity "literary" adult. Can they get someone who actually knows what teenagers are thinking about, please?), it was still an interesting read. I'm not sure I agree with their point that problem parents are a literary norm at odds with society, but I do agree that more recent YA lit has lessened the impact of parents on teenagers' lives.

But still. Where are the parents? Why are 90% of parents either single, divorced, dead, workaholics, etc.? I understand that a little over 50% of married couples now divorce, but I'm also curious, because the writers of these problem parents are usually in stable, happy marriages themselves. (I read your acknowledgments page. Don't try to worm out of this one.) I think it's easy to exaggerate or categorize parents into flawed archetypes because that's the way teenagers think of their parents, for the most part. But it doesn't mean that the parents have to be truly awful people. The problem parent arises in the teenage protagonist's perception of his or her parents, not necessarily in the parents themselves. It's a subtle difference, but one that I would love to see explored more in YA lit.

Some favorite parents, or stories of parents: Audrey's hilarious parents in Robin Benway's Audrey, Wait! Sarah Dessen's parent-daughter relationships (I don't care if SD's parents have practically become an archetype in themselves, they're so well done in their ambiguity of who is right and who is wrong).
2. YA lit

Where's the YA lit in YA lit? Most of us like to read about characters that we can relate to in some way or another. We readers read tons of YA, but have you ever noticed how little YA the characters in YA books actually read? When literature is brought up, it's usually classics (Bella's love of Austen and Bronte in Twilight), YA classics (Judy Blume's Forever plays a central role in Tanya Lee Stone's A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl), or conspicuously obscure translations of European philosophers' works (I can't even give an example for this one). How cool would it be to read about a girl who reads the same type of stuff we do? If authors refer to one another within their own texts? I think it'd be absolutely fantastic if an MC read, say, the Mortal Instruments trilogy, or, for a more unisex taste, if the MC and the love interest got into a (spoiler-free, of course) discussion about The Hunger Games. Can you see that happening?

If you're worried about contemporary YA literary references dating a work, keep in mind that so many authors like to have their characters interested in pop culture, or have a particular taste in indie music. What's so different if characters were YA bookworms? I'd totally be up for that. The same way zillions of readers have picked up Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, and Romeo and Juliet from Bella Swan's love for them (and thanks to HarperTeen's exceedingly Twilight-y rejacketed reprints), or the same way I sometimes take music recommendations from book characters, I'd love to take book recommendations from characters as well. If we YAers are constantly working towards and fighting for YA lit's acceptance as "real literature" in today's society, shouldn't YA characters be a model YA bookworm?

YA books that contain YA lit: Lindsay Eland's Scones and Sensibility, which, alright, deals with two classics (Pride and Prejudice and Anne of Green Gables), but I loved how her obsession with those two drove her character. Aaaaaand I can't think of any more.

3. Homework

This is similar to the topic before this. Why, why, why do characters never have to do homework? They can be in 3 APs, 4 Honors classes, and get into some swankified Ivy League school... and yet we never see them hard at work. Instead, they spend 3-6pm at the mall, commiserating with their best friend over the guy who broke her heart over the past weekend's party. Then, when they go home, they go online, chat with their crush. Freak out. Call BFF for support and in-depth analysis of IMs. Get in bed by 10.

In bed by 10? And you're able to get into an Ivy League school? Excuse me, but from personal experience, that's impossible. For me, getting to sleep by midnight was a real miracle. There is no way an Honors student can get 8 hours of sleep every night and still get into said swankified colleges without a significant portion of their life dedicated to schoolwork and extracurricular activities. Sad but true. (And no, you cannot get into a top-tier college on grades alone. Just ask any Honors student.) I enjoy the drama the MCs face, and the conversations they have with their best friends, and the hours upon hours they can spend on spontaneous road trips with their crushes or whatever. It just...can't happen.

I know, I know that we don't read fiction to get a play-by-play of reality, but I still think it'd be nice to have hints of heavy loads of homework, all-nighters, baggy eyes, and canceled plans due to academics in YA lit.

Books with realistic portrayals of academics: Robin Brande's Fat Cat. Cat spends lots of time working on her science project. Granted, it's what drives the plot of the novel, but you can see telltale signs of her intelligence (in the effortlessness of her narration) and hard work (late nights are mentioned).

Speaking of which...
4. An ACCURATE portrayal of the college application process

Here are some basic facts: the Early Decision deadline (for academically competitive colleges, which are what many characters aim for and, miraculously, all get into) is between Nov. 1-15, notification date is a few days after Dec. 15. Early Decision means it's binding: the character can't decide to change his/her mind without financial ramifications. Regular Decision deadline is between Dec. 31-Jan. 2. And no, academically competitive colleges (like Dartmouth) will not accept--and admit--applicants after the deadline *coughBellaSwancough*. RD notifications come between mid-March and mid-April; by May 1, you have to have made your decision. Also, IVY LEAGUE SCHOOLS (and D2 and D3 schools) DON'T GIVE OUT ACADEMIC OR ATHLETIC SCHOLARSHIPS.

So can we not have characters still applying to, like, Columbia or Brown in February? Or finding out, belatedly, that they had gotten into their dream school, after everyone else has had to turn in their college decisions? Or getting a full-ride soccer scholarship to Harvard? Maybe this is a small pet peeve of mine, but the college application process quite literally sucks away all the time and energy that many academically competitive high school students have, and authors making careless mistakes such as these really puts a brake to the whole "I can relate to YA lit because I'm going through what they're going through" symbiotic relationship we want between the books and the readers.

I'd also love to read about characters going through the entirety of the college application process. It doesn't have to be a book about applying to college, but the process is such a huge part of a high school senior's life that to not talk about it in books is really to disrespect all the work that teenagers have put in to get to this point in their lives.

Books: I can think of books that show parts of the process, but none that actually get it right, unfortunately.

5. Realistic romances

I really don't want to read yet another contemporary YA book in which the shy protagonist, so full of inner turmoil is she, is suddenly pursued by a super-confident, super-cute, and super-persistent boy who *gasp* turns out to have had his eye on her for years. Can we pause for a moment here and consider how often that really happens in real life? I asked some of my friends, and, surprisingly I guess, the majority of them who are in relationships had initiated contact themselves. You heard that right. Today's women are more assertive in romance than today's men.

Now, I know that reading fiction is mostly wish fulfillment. But it can also be partly educational. Maybe I shouldn't be doing this, but when I'm really confused about life, or social situations, I sometimes try to think back on the stories I read, to see how characters in situations similar to mine had reacted. With romance, there are so few assertive female protagonists to look up to it's rather shocking. We'd all love to be the reserved and unassuming girl whose love of her life suddenly approaches her and is all, sweetheart, I've loved you for years, and I love you just the way you are, awkwardness, shyness, quirks, and all. But the probability of that happening to us? Slim to none. And not because we're extremely unlikable, but because today's love or lust doesn't work like that.

Books: I'm tired.

6. Athletes

This topic actually came up at a YA panel with Catherine Gilbert Murdock, Beth Kephart, and Rita Williams-Garcia that I attended at the Philly Book Festival a couple weekends ago. Someone told Catherine that she had heard that publishers were not very willing to publish books about athletes, especially female athletes. I'm not sure where the lady had gotten her info, and I certainly hope that publishers don't feel that way, because I personally love characters who are athletes. I don't think this is as big of an issue as the others on this list, but I enjoy how books featuring athletes do not have to be sport books, y'know?

Though I would like to see some more actual athletic action: mentions or recaps of games, practice, interactions with teammates, bus rides, the like. Basically, I'd love if YA's approach to sports (part of a character's identity, but doesn't define him/her) could be extended to other aspects of YA lit, such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, introvertedness, mental illness... the list goes on and on.

Athletes in books: Josie in Natasha Friend's For Keeps (varsity soccer). D.J. Schwenk in Catherine Gilbert Murdock's Dairy Queen series (super-awesome basketball player, not so great mental player).

7. Acne (and other physical "uncomfortableness")

AudryT on Twitter suggested this to me, and I wholeheartedly agree (and am appalled that this slipped my mind initially). If acne is such a common teen nightmare, why do so many books make it a point to note characters' (particularly the MC's) clear, model-worthy skin? If the average woman is a size 14, why do more than 90% of all MCs I come across complain about their boyish figure, the way their fast metabolism makes it so that they can never put on the weight they want? Also, why do 5'6" MCs weigh only 105 pounds? Is that healthy? [ETA: So I'm not going to look up a BMI chart, but my main point is that I'd also like for there to be 5'6" MCs who weigh, say, closer to 130. Get the spectrum of body types.] I'm 5'4", size 4, and weigh far from 105 pounds. Also, I had (have) acne. Put on some muscles, girls!

I realize that teenagers are supposed to hate their bodies, no matter if your body type is the envy of someone else. But I'd love to see, say, heavier teens. Or, teens with bad skin. A lazy eye. A limp. A hearing device. An amputated leg. There are these teens out there (and bad skin and size 10 bodies are not that rare), and they (or we, in some cases) shouldn't have to feel as if they/we can't find themselves/ourselves in books.

Books: Carolyn Mackler's Love and Other Four-Letter Words. The MC's best friend in NYC does not have perfect skin. The MC in Beth Fantaskey's Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side is a size 10.

8. Characters whose differences don't identify them

The girl can be on the larger side, but it's not a book about obesity. The boy plays football, but it's not a sports book. A book with a black protagonist is not labeled as "ethnic" literature. A gay teen doesn't make a book GLBTQ lit. It's 2010: the world is a lot more diverse than literature gives it credit for. I find myself almost subconsciously looking for racial and ethnic diversity in the characters in a book. For example, are you really going to have only white, upper-middle-class friends? Protagonists don't have to be white to be understood by readers; "white" is not a default race. Having a white MC doesn't signify the MC's "lack of race": it simply means that the parameters of his/her race are normalized as to be "invisible" in society.

There's a curious disjuncture between YA and adult POC. In adult literature, POC characters are often celebrated, considered a huge accomplishment by the author in "convincingly embodying" the character's voice. Just check out an NYT bestselling list or something. Or recent books that have a good chance of being a "modern classic." In adult lit, POC is IN. Whereas in YA lit, there is still an unbalanced ratio of non-POC to POC characters. Here's to hoping for more POC "non-issue" books, and less segregation of books into "issue" (body image, self-esteem, family troubles, abuse, gang activity, etc.) and "non-issue" (light, fluffy, romance happily-ever-after, biggest problem is best friend not speaking to you).

Books: Nina Beck's This Book Isn't Fat, It's Fabulous. Justine Larbalestier's Liar.


I'm going to stop with the in-depth analysis here, but a quick survey on Twitter showed that this is far from a complete list. I could go on about the ones below, but I'm just going to list them quickly. Many thanks to my Twitter friends for helping add to this list, especially Carol, who said, like, half of these. :)

  • Well-rounded cheerleaders and jocks - because bitchy cheerleaders and asshole jocks aren't the only types out there
  • A best friend-less MC who's NOT a social leper - because I didn't (and still don't) have a BFF, and it's not because the world is unfair and I was wrongly accused of something-or-other
  • Socioeconomic diversity - because I read Holly Hoxter's The Snowball Effect and realized how often books featuring blue-collar characters are often still classified as "problem novels"
  • Realistic IMing/texting shorthand - U R tryin 2 hrd if U wryt lyk dis. Pls stop kthxbye.
  • Male MCs - because a lot of YA readers like boys, and boy narrators are hot, and besides, we want to try to understand how their minds work
Got anything else you'd like to see more of in contemporary YA lit? How about paranormal? (For the Paranormal Edition) Or other genres? (for potential Other Editions) I want to hear them!


  1. I loved this post so hard it's not even funny. I can't add much, just a big fat YES!

  2. Really hit the nail on the head with the characters whose differences don't define them. I've been just on about that in LGBTQ lit.

    Just WORD to this post.

  3. Such a fantastic post, steph, and heartening to find my contemporary novels do contain most of the above! We'll definitely include this in our YA Highway round-up this Friday.

  4. OMG I love this post! Awesome job, Steph! And thanks for mentioning the FNC parent's analysis.

  5. Steph - first of all, great post! Second of all, I suggest Into The Wild Nerd Yonder to you if you haven't read it already. It's a really great YA book that bucks a couple of these trends. Thirdly - more, please! I always appreciate your posts that 'group' books together. They're well-done and something I don't usually think of on my own.

  6. Talk about hitting the nail on the head! Especially the first one. The absence of the parents. One of my biggest pet peeves of YA FOR SURE! Loved this post. Perfect!

  7. I'm in love with this post. Especially the homework thing. I took my fair share of AP classes and had no time to chase bad guys, chill at the mall, etc., on weekdays.

  8. Hear, Hear! I love to pile on the homework on my characters!!

  9. Thank you so much for this post. I can't tell you how many times I've been frustrated by characters who never have any homework, get in bed early, and then get "scholarships" to Ivy League schools. ARGH! And as someone who had really, really bad acne through my teen years, it would have meant so much to me to have found one realistic portrayal of any character anywhere with similar struggles. One minor quibble: I totally get your point that more body diversity is desperately needed in YA lit, but, to answer your "is this healthy?" question: for most people, maybe not. For me, yes (that is my body). So, I guess my point is, body diversity includes all ends of the spectrum (please don't make the blanket judgment that my end is always unhealthy).
    Are you going to do a Paranormal edition? Awesome! I would like to see more of "things like Vampire Academy," I guess. So . . . tough, nuanced heroines whose relationships with their significant others are on more equal footing? I also like how well developed the political world of the VA books is-- the Moroi/dhampir caste system and all its ramifications. I think what it shows is that paranormal can be smart, and that there's room for so much more than just romance.

  10. Oh gosh, you are my hero right now. Your list is so spot on it's scary, and when you brought up something I hadn't thought about before, it clicks and I'm all like "that's SO true!"

    I agree esp. about homework, the realistic romances (loved 500 days of summer), and athletes. I play school sports, and I wished it was included more in YA lit. Completely agree with the appearances thing (I loved how Fantasky made Jessica size 10, she was a great MC)and the character whose differences don't identify them...yeah, I basically love everything you said.

    Thanks for the great list, can I link to this in a future blog post?

  11. You got my gears turning for tons of ideas from this!

  12. A friend of mine is working on a novel and the parents are important to the plot. Well, all the advice she's gotten from her agent and editors is to kill off the mother! They say the mother is "her" and she needs to give the MC room to breathe and make her own choices. I think this could be a reason so many parents are absent/insane/neglectful/dead in YA - editors don't want them!

  13. THis was a great post! SO many things I'd never really thought about, and yet you're so right on about all of them.

  14. Thanks for this, Steph. I think I completely agree with most of it, especially YA lit in YA and realistic romances!

    Thanks also for explaining more about the US college application process. I only know what I've seen in shows/read, which admittedly isn't a lot. I had no idea about most of what went on.. it's quite different to how we do it!

  15. Oh this is so good! I have some beefs with YA too I suppose.

    Girls who have to make a point to be a feminist. Why? Just be a strong female and don't put yourself in a box. If a author has to tell her audience this, then the character is obviously not strong.

    I'm a big fan of multicultural literature but have you noticed its generally historical? Why not sci-fi or paranormal? I think the multicultural realm could really expand.

  16. You make a lot of great points. Though, I have to say that I understand the homework one. The last thing I would want to do is watch someone else study. Not exactly thrilling. I just finished I really great book, Her Mother’s Diary, that has a strong and deep protagonist. A mold breaker for sure!

  17. Great post! Another rarity in YA lit - the lack of romance. Nearly every YA book I read has romance as a significant plot-point or sub-plot-point. The only book I've read recently where romance was not a big deal is Incarceron by Catherine Fisher. There's still hints of romance but it's never really there btw the characters. That may change in the sequels.

  18. This is an awesome post. I have often thought of these things as I read YA. I love your acne true! And it drives me nuts that the girls can eat whatever they want and still maintain 105 lbs. So unrealistic and very common in YA unfortunately. I'm so glad you wrote about this!

  19. This has to be my favorite post ever. No joke. THIS is what book blogs are all about! Getting our say out there! I agree with every word. Fabulous post!

  20. Excellent post - particularly the parents bit. So often mum/dad are just 2-dimensional stereotypes in the background or absent completely - even in some truly awesome YA books.
    Re. your questions at the end there, I have one big beef with Paranormal Romance (which I generally love): Why don't people freak out more???? If my love interest suddenly turned round and admitted to being a vampire/witch/faerie king/werewolf/ghost/other I would be pretty perturbed. In so many books (Twilight being the most obvious one but far from the only perp) the protagonist seems to just shrug their shoulders as if this is an everyday occurrence!! Gar!!! Ok. I'm ranting... I'll go now...

  21. I want a YA book with completely ordinary people with ordinary problems... but I want it to have cute cowboy in it! :)

  22. Everything you've posted here is absolutely 100% true. I agree wholeheartedly. As an avid reader, I see way too much of the same stuff. It would be nice to see some of these changes take place in YA literature.

  23. I loved this post. I've read something similar before but don't remember where :s

    I agree with you in everything!!

    By the way, another book with athletes is Oh.My.Gods - Tera Lynn Childs. The protagonist is a runner.

    Realistic romances!! Please!! If you find one, share ;D (i loved that movie, hehe)

  24. Oh, I forgot....
    I recommend you The Broken Brigde, by Philip Pullman --> Black protagonist and gay teenagers. Really good.

  25. Aside to Alison: the few hints of anything like romance in INCARCERON are so subtle and almost nonexistent that I fell head over heels with a certain pairing (*cough*Jared/Claudia*cough*) and lived for every scene they had together. And I enjoyed that more than any overt romance I've read in years. So it's not necessarily a problem for YA authors not to write a full-blown romance into their story, because readers who want to will find it anyway...

    As for a YA character with a limp -- don't forget Alan in THE DEMON'S LEXICON!

  26. Yay!!

    Currently taking care of #6... Totally agree. :)

  27. This comment has been removed by the author.

  28. Great post! I do think you raised many great points. Thanks for sharing!

  29. Yes, yes, yess!! This speaks to me on so many levels, especially the physical appearances front. Kelley Armstrong deserves rampant praise for making one of her male MCs acne ridden.

  30. I would like to see YA lit with a MC that is religious, but without the book being about religion. And not just Christian, but other religions as well.

    Fantastic post!

  31. Yes so very much. Especially the weight thing. I'm 24 years of age now and my weight bothers me, but when i was a teenager it bothered me ten times more. The depiction of the boyish, under weight girl in books is not healthy. It gives a bad impression and a bad role model to teens. Girls & Guys should be reading about teens who are a healthy size. Ones who when shopping look in the mirror and wonder "does my butt look big in these jeans?" and other questions normal people ask. ^^ Teens need healthy role models and since the media isn't giving them it they should be able to find it in literature.


  32. Excellent analysis! You are so right that these topics are underrepresented/neglected in YA literature. I’ve been addressing this lacuna in my own writing (my agent is shopping my first YA novel now.) Hopefully publishers will agree that YA lit could grow to be more realistic and inclusive.

    My 12-year-old daughter and I enjoyed Fat Cat too. We also loved The Indigo Notebook by Laura Resau. It has a fun, if a bit negligent, mother character with a close relationship to her daughter. I’m behind in posting those reviews, but I did review Undercover by Beth Kephart with a very likable but unpopular MC who loves poetry. YA author Keri Mikulski writes sporty romances, and I just saw that she commented above. Small cyber world!

  33. Great post. LGBT especially. Granted, I love love love reading about these characters, but that's because I connect with them. Not because their gayness is, like, the only reason to read. In fact, there are many problems within them (and other books).

    Random meeting of another gay person who is PERFECT for the MC despite living in a small town/homophobic place. Do I have to even go into the fact of how HARD it is in this day and age to come out and have an okay life?

    Aside from minor traumas, LGBT characters being totally fine and never receiving permanent damage from bullying/ect. This one isn't SO common, but it's there.

    After deciding they are gay, never questioning their sexuality. This is like, the worst one for me. As a teenager, you have HORMONES. You are constantly questioning yourself, especially guys. A picture of a carrot could set you off. It's a confusing time, and it's not easy to get over.

    There are more, but then I'd be ranting. :) Still, great post idea!

  34. Terrific post! Have you read Jennifer Echols? Most of her characters are sporty. Her latest romantic comedy, The Ex Games, is about snowboarders and I think one of the male snowboarding friends is Asian. The characters in The Boys Next Door are very into wakeboarding - I have no idea what that is but they were very sporty. Her characters in Major Crush and Going too Far had Black friends and I loved that.

    I think Megan McCafferty mentions college applications in that series she wrote - Sloppy Firsts, but I agree that homework and college should be mentioned more. (The MC in Hex Hall has to write a bunch of essays as punishment but she points out how easy the classes are.)

    I remember liking the parents of the MC in the Daniel Waters zombie book. Generation Dead?

    I'd LOVE to see more books with characters whose differences don't identify them.


  35. Great post. I totally agree. I would love to see some more realistic portrayal of teens and life in novels.

  36. Love this post!

    This might shock you, but here's something I discovered when I wrote a character with mild acne, who ended up finding love at the end of the book. My [then] editor labeled her "too unattractive" to find love. I was shocked and pretty disgusted too.

    And parents? I agree. When I put them in by books? Editors say they shouldn't be there and ask me to take them out.

    I sure hope YA editors are reading this post.

  37. All of this is so true! I don't read that much YA, but even I can point out many of the annoying trends within books.

  38. One book that I felt gave a realistic representation of the college application process (and consequently made me outrageously nervous because I'm applying this fall!) is HACKING HARVARD by Robin Wasserman. Granted, the plot revolves around the application process but it definitely felt authentic. :-)

  39. You've hit some good nails here and summed up the growing cliches nicely. I have that NYT article on parents sitting in my inbox waiting to be discussed.

    I will say, though, from a writing perspective, to requote a quote from somewhere I can't remember, "It's not my job to light my characters' cigarettes." In other words, cut the minutiae out. If acne isn't a driving force to the plot, why mention it at all? If homework or college applications don't affect the MC or the story any, they're just pointless details that can come off as contrived. So you really have to pick and choose what you add in when you're writing.

    You know, I haven't had a boyish figure since I was 10. I hit puberty and bam! Italian ass. Been that way ever since. But yeah, some actual normalcy in YA is definitely needed. It's like our books are turning into Hollywood where what's on the page is "real" when it only represents like 1% of the population. While I think actual realism is boring (like my opinion of Viola in Reel Life by Adriana Trigianni), having realistic elements in a story can't hurt.

  40. Fantastic post!
    I for one don't write about acne and homework because I don't want to be reminded of the sucky parts of being a teenager.

    But you make valid points. :-)

  41. I loved 500 Days of Summer--it was realistic romance with humor; it was indie, but not SO stuck on itself as to be award-winning yet boring.

    As for the list, love it.

    I'm working on something right now with sports, b/c I noticed a lack of these out there (at least those that aren't sports' novels).

    I think the reason you don't see a lot of sports or parents is b/c, well, it's more difficult. Writing is easier when you only have to focus on a couple of characters. Throw in overbearing (or just normal) parents and a bunch of teammates, and that's when things get sticky. I know I sometimes worry that I'll get too many people involved, and a reader will get lost.

  42. Great post!! I agree 100% with everything you said.

  43. you should send this list to the back page of the NYTBR. seriously.

    I like it.

  44. Awesome, awesome list. I'm trying to break a couple of these in my novel. And thanks for the FNC link love!

  45. LOVE the post, I was thinking about it all day yesterday.

  46. Great post! For a book that has a reader who actually reads books I do (not classics) I suggest Into the Wild Nerd Yonder.I loved how the MC listened to audiobooks (she read Life As We Knew It and Elsewhere I think) I agree with everything and I'd love to see all of these added to YA. (especially not having the super hot super cool guy always fall for the shy girl-so not real life!)

  47. Great thoughts. The idea of having a more realistic book with acne and homework and parents is a good one, but I wonder if it might be like the original version of Melrose Place, where they tried to have a show about semi-realistic 20 somethings in low-end jobs, then realized that soap opera silliness was the key to ratings.

    I think some of the overused conventions you mention make YA less literary--there's a lack of depth of characterization when these shorthands become predominant.

  48. Can I tell you how much I love this post? So many points, and so well laid out. Love.

    For the homework section, I think adding Sweethearts by Sara Zarr is a good one. She mentions homework as a legitimate and realistic part of the characters lives, and does it in a way that doesn't seem tacked on.

    For another one of these, pleasepleaseplease do a straight up Fantasy one. PLEASE (paranormal can have its own day) :)

  49. Spot on Steph! I can't understand how you haven't written/pubbed a book yet. You've got it all figured out! I can't wait to share this article with my fellow YA writers!

  50. Oh My Gosh, I want to be your BFF! This post is brilliant, Steph, and I have a feeling I will be coming back to it again and again.

  51. Excellent post. My daughter insisted that my next book have a normal family with parents and siblings--no empty household. And my new protag is a swimmer! Glad to see I'm getting some things right.
    Thanks again.

  52. Recently some friends and I were discussing the differences between tv and literature, and why tv could cover some things, where literature was restricted.

    For example, sex is frowned upon in YA, but it's all over YA on tv. And it's not just recently. I remember watchig sex come up on the original Beverly Hills 90210 back in the 80's/90's,

    You also find lots of athletes on tv YA, and there are parents, and kids do homework, and apply to college properly, and freak out about not having enough extra-curriculars...

    On a complete aside, is that Mimi wo Sumaseba (Whisper of the Heart) in your header? That's one of my fave movies ever!

  53. Agree with so much of this post. One comment re: parents, though. As a YA writer, I've found it's just much easier to have the parent(s)in some way out of touch because otherwise, the MC just cannot get into--and out of--as much trouble. Once they go to mom and pop, (or the parents find out what's up) the book is over in a way. I always try to find realistic reasons/ways that the MC can solve things on their own.

  54. 2. I've been tempted to add Hunger Games references in my books, but like you said, I'm afraid of dating them. Though, I always laugh when I find references to other books in my favorites. They might not call the book by name, but it's there.

    3. There's no homework mentioned because homework is boring. There would be no exciting in watching the MC do their chemistry for three hours.

    6. I wish we had more female athletes in other sports besides cheerleading. All female athletes do not cheerlead. We ride horses, play soccer, play softball, play volleyball, etc. Though lately it seems that if the girl's in sports at all, it's cheerleading.

  55. I've had many of these same thoughts myself but never in such a cohesive way. I love how you included examples!

    While reading the Parents section I was thinking of Audrey, Wait! and then you included it...LOVED that book!

    How is The Eternal Ones??? Can't wait!

  56. This list is spot-on. The lack of decent parents in YA lit is a particular pet peeve of mine.

    I mentioned this post in this week's Cream of the Crop.

  57. I totally agree with all this! It frustrates me how YA lit can be totally unrelatable!

  58. Great, great post--all sort of points to ponder for the WIP (and beyond). Thank you!

  59. Great post! Agreed on all of the above points -- I always wonder about the homework thing. Sure, it would be boring to go into detail about, but how come it's so rarely even mentioned?!

    Also, I was (in the audience) at that YA panel at the Free Library Festival, too :)

  60. I'm doing last-minute reading for the #BBAW voting (yay!) and I just wanted to say that I LOVE THIS POST, AND YOU FOR MAKING IT, SO UNBELIEVABLY MUCH. *fistbumps*

  61. Go you for the nomination! Go Azn, go azn...:P

    I'm a college counselor - got a kick out of this post. Seriously, whether a teen or even as an adult applying to grad school, the admissions process takes up ALL your time and mental capacity.

    I went to Harvard and I definitely got zero sleep :)


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