Hello everyone! This week, I’ll be continuing my series on my problems with YA or young-adult literature – bashing cliches, character tropes and stereotypes galore! If you’d like to read more of my opinion-discussions on this topic, then check out the links down below.
So, last time, I talked about ‘Mary-Sue/ Gary-Stu” characters as well as certain character-plot tropes, like those of ‘the chosen one’, a la the Harry Potter series, and ‘the love triangle’ as seen in every rom-com to ever be churned out by Netflix’s high-school movie factory.
Nevertheless, once I started dissecting the nitty-gritty details of these issues, I went spiralling down the rabbit-hole that is the variety in most YA. Of course, I’m using a gross generalization to bring some semblance of “the comic element” into my work.
It’s non-existent, isn’t it?
As a disclaimer, the material here is reflective of my own thoughts and opinions, and I do not intend to attack, offend or otherwise harm the thoughts or opinions of any other individuals or fans of the books I might name-drop.
Moving on, today let’s talk about different kinds of genres and the specific problems that we might see in these classifications. As mentioned in one of my previous bits of rambling, YA, though commonly mistaken for a genre in itself, is actually a category for readers to find material appropriate for reading levels and age, in the same way that you probably wouldn’t hand the Lord of the Flies to a third-grader.
YA literature can range from fantasy and science fiction to memoirs and autobiographies, varying in diversity, writing style, setting, and so much more. I find that within this category I most often read fantasy and adventure stories- think Suzanne Collins, Cassandra Clare, Soman Chainani, and the like, followed by more realist and realistic portrayals of “the teenage experience”- Samira Ahmed, John Green, and Angie Thomas, as well as the occasional historical fiction, sci-fi, memoirs, and very, very rarely, horror.
The tropes I discussed in my last piece most commonly manifest in fantasy, dystopian and adventure stories. The ‘chosen one’ plays out in stories dealing with prophecies or ancient foretelling and often the ‘Marys’ and ‘Garys’ such as Clary Fray from the Mortal Instruments, Harry Potter from the eponymous J.K. Rowling series, Agatha and Sophie from the School for Good and Evil, and Mare Barrow of the Red Queen series. I won’t delve too much into this, so let’s move on to the next trope-and-genre-combination.
Skipping ahead to what I called ‘realistic and realist portrayals of the teenage experience’, I refer to the stories that- unfortunately for readers in other countries, like me- most commonly are set in urban American high schools and sometimes, colleges or universities. While readers like me can somewhat relate to these foreign teenagers – in both a literal and word-y sense, I feel that this sub-genre has the greatest scope for improving diversity. I am yet to find an engaging story like this about Indian high-schoolers.
On a more positive note, however, I do have some recommendations of more diverse and inclusive American works of this type. Enjoy the following:
- Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed.
While this story is set in a small-town American high school, the protagonist is a young Indian-Muslim girl. The story’s synopsis reads: American-born seventeen-year-old Maya Aziz is torn between worlds. There’s the proper one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter: attending a college close to their suburban Chicago home, and being paired off with an older Muslim boy her mom deems “suitable.” And then there is the world of her dreams: going to film school and living in New York City—and maybe (just maybe) pursuing a boy she’s known from afar since grade school, a boy who’s finally falling into her orbit at school.
There’s also the real world, beyond Maya’s control. In the aftermath of a horrific crime perpetrated hundreds of miles away, her life is turned upside down. The community she’s known since birth becomes unrecognizable; neighbours and classmates alike are consumed with fear, bigotry, and hatred. Ultimately, Maya must find the strength within to determine where she truly belongs.
The book, Love Hate & Other Filters follows two different stories, and experiences of the same girl. As mentioned above, Maya is torn between two worlds, and struggles to figure out where she belongs. She tries to find her own identity- as an Indian, as an American, as a Muslim, as an artist, and as a young girl growing up. Maya knows what she wants, but not how to get it, which is something I believe several teenagers face as they grow into young adults, going into the world as their own people.
As I mentioned in my review for this book, I cannot verify the authenticity of Maya’s emotions as an Indian-Muslim growing up in America, but I will say that growing up as an Indian girl with a combination of cultures, her confusion about who she is, and her own alienation of her parents’ culture is somewhat relatable.
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
This YA story is one that I find very compelling and a must-read for any teenager- or adult, for that matter- wanting to know more about discrimination systemic racism, civil unrest, oppression and expression. The synopsis reads: “Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protestors are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does – or does not – say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.”
Additionally, there is a 2018 movie based on this book, of the same name, starring Amandla Stenberg of Hunger Games and Everything, Everything Fame as Starr Carter.
- The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon
This one is for the romance fans. While I haven’t fully read this book, the number of reviews I’ve heard have led me to conclude that this is indeed a good book. The synopsis reads: “Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.
Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.
The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?”
For fantasy, I would one-hundred percent recommend the ‘Mortal Instruments’ series by Cassandra Clare- particularly for the younger YA readers in terms of literary level. To check out my six-week review stint for this “double trilogy”, click here. For science fiction I definitely have to say ‘The Lunar Chronicles’ series by Marissa Meyer, and to read my review of the first book, ‘Cinder’, click here.
And that’s all for this week, everyone! See you next time! Signing off.
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