I don’t have much of an intro today, because I really want to get back to my current reads and I’ve had this post in mind for months. If you were wondering, I’m reading an eARC of Enigma by Tonya Kuper and rereading Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins for the first time. I’ve been waiting for the former since September 2015, I’m nearly halfway done, and I absolutely love it. 😀
That aside, I honestly have been planning this post on my phone since … January? February? Maybe earlier? I’m not sure exactly, but I’ve always had something else to write so I haven’t gotten to it. I was inspired to write this after reading a similar post on another blog, but for the life of me I can’t remember whose blog it was. If you know, let me know and I’ll link it!
I like to think that, though it still has problems, YA is getting better and better. However, there are still things I think it lacks and would love to see more of when I read. So I made a list! I love making lists. Let’s dive in!
- Main characters with unique hobbies
In contemporary and other modern books, I feel like the protagonists always have similar interests: art, reading, singing, etc. There’s so much more than that! Skateboarding, dancing, show choir, theater, parkour, fashion design… and that’s just what I thought of in a few seconds. Alyssa from Splintered by A.G. Howard skateboards, Simon from Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda is in theater, Kan and Ethan from Girl on the Verge by Pintip Dunn sew and ballroom dance, respectively. Otherwise, I’ve got nothing.
- Sporty protagonists
It’s fairly common for protagonists to have friends that are cheerleaders, or on the swim/basketball/soccer/other sports teams. Why can’t it be the protagonist there alongside their friend, or a complete swap? Make the friend the introvert and the lead the athlete!
I’m asexual, and I’m not interested in sex in fiction or real life. But I still think it should be more common in books, because a lot of teens feel differently. For some reason it seems to be this alien, negative concept in YA, with a few exceptions that I can’t think of right now. Even if I personally skip over sex scenes, they’re necessary for other teens, especially those that don’t want to talk about it with anyone.
- Supportive, present parents
This is improving, but it could still be better. All too often, parents fade into the background because they work a lot or don’t care. I don’t think this is realistic at all. As cheesy as it might sound, my mom is my best friend and I talk to her about everything. I can’t think of any characters with a relationship like mine. Whether it’s a single dad, a single mom, a happy mom and dad, or other family members that act as parental figures, bring it on! And on that note…
- Queer parents
YA is getting more and more queer representation for protagonists, but what about the parents and other adults? Lola has two dads in Lola and the Boy Next Door, and I think the main character in The Upside of Unrequited has two moms, though I’m not sure on that one. Teens aren’t the only ones that can be in the LGBTQ+ community. There are a lot of adults that identify as such in real life, so why not in fiction?
- Foster/adopted families
That love the protagonist as much as their own children, or maybe adopted the protagonist because they weren’t able to have their own children. Kelsey from Tiger’s Curse by Colleen Houck lives with a foster family, but they basically disappear after the first few chapters, which takes me back to my previous point on present parents. Are you sensing a theme here? I know YA is about and for teens, but parents are important too.
- Developed, loving siblings
Brothers and sisters aren’t just annoying people in our lives. They’re definitely annoying sometimes, but that’s not their only trait. So many protagonists see siblings as irritating, and if they’re younger then they’re a burden. That’s. Not. The. Case. Look at Alec and Isabelle Lightwood, or the Blackthorn family from The Mortal Instruments and The Dark Artifices, respectively. I love the sibling dynamic in Cassandra Clare’s books, and more authors should follow in her footsteps, at least in that aspect.
- Girl empowerment
Friendships rather than rivalries. Encouragement rather than shaming. No more of the “I’m different from other girls” stuff.
- Real platonic friendships
One friend doesn’t need to be harboring secret romantic feelings for the other. It’s very possible and very common for two people to be friends and only friends. And on that note…
- Girl/guy friendships
It doesn’t always need to be love. Granted, there was a lot of drama leading up to it, but Simon and Clary from The Mortal Instruments. Simon and Leah from Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Feyre and Lucien from A Court of Thorns and Roses. It’s possible to be friends with someone of the opposite gender and not be attracted to them.
- Twists on love triangles
Three girls. Three guys. Two girls falling in love with each other instead of a guy. Two guys choosing one another instead of a girl. Genderqueer and nonbinary characters. If love triangles didn’t always follow the same pattern, they’d be much more interesting. And yes, The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich is on my TBR.
- Polyamorous relationships
I know this probably shouldn’t be used too often so that it doesn’t become a trope. But if there’s a love triangle and all three characters genuinely love each other, why not? Why choose? Relationships can involve more than just two people.
- Breakups that don’t end with the protagonist brokenhearted
Not all romances last forever. I might not be able to speak from experience, but I’m pretty sure it’s more realistic for protagonists to experience at least one breakup before finding the person best for them. In all of the books I’ve read, it’s always the first guy (or in some cases, girl) that ends up being endgame. Unless there’s about five different love interests, like in Sarah J. Maas’s books. I want to read about breakups that don’t negatively affect the protagonist. Let them realize the relationship won’t work out, or that they don’t want to be in one at that moment.
- Protagonists that stay single
Or better yet, have the protagonist stay single the whole story, or at least break up and not want/need another partner. Whether they’re aromantic/asexual or just not interested, not everyone dates. So many teens focus on school or hobbies or family or can’t date because of other obligations or family/cultural rules. Don’t have them long for a relationship or sneak off to see someone, have them accept it. Much more realistic that way.
- School > relationships
In contemporary, a lot of protagonists ditch school and barely study, and some just don’t care. That’s not realistic! My mom doesn’t have strict or high expectations for me, but she’d be upset if I treated school the way some characters do. Just saying.
- Retellings of less popular mythology/folklore stories
I love Greek and Roman mythology, and I love Rick Riordan’s books. I love The Goddess Test by Aimée Carter. I would totally read more Hades and Persephone retellings. But there’s still Egyptian, Norse, and Celtic mythology, as well as so many more. There’s Scottish, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean folklore, and a lot more for different countries. I’ve read The Star-Touched Queen and I want to read A Crown of Wishes. I’m sure there are other books on my TBR I can’t think of currently, but in general I don’t know of very many.
- Retellings of different fairytales
Mulan, The Little Mermaid, 12 Dancing Princesses, to name a few. Villain origin stories for fairytale villains. Fairytales with LGBTQ+ characters. There are so many possibilities! And there are stories from other cultures that I don’t know of, that could be made into stories.
- Assassins that actually do their job
This one is kind of random. I can only think of two assassin books – Throne of Glass and Grave Mercy – but in both, the story goes in a different direction that keeps the assassin protagonists from doing their jobs. I’m not one for gore, but if a synopsis mentions assassins, I want assassins. Not just the title, the full package. I love TOG and GM, but they sort of stray from what’s promised, at least in my opinion. I’ve got a few other assassin books on my TBR that hopefully won’t disappoint in this aspect, and also the other GM books to read.
I’m not the most qualified to talk about this, but I do want to mention it briefly. Including POC, LGBTQ+, mentally ill, disabled, ethnically, or religiously diverse characters is great. It’s a good first step. But people can be more than one thing. I think YA is improving in this, but there’s definitely room for more improvement.
- Different financial situations
Not everyone is managing well enough to own a house, and definitely not everyone is wealthy. Most characters are, or it’s implied that they and their families are well-off. That’s great, but we’re not all that lucky. How would being in a poor or middle-class family affect a protagonist? Do they have to trade one thing for another?
- Matriarchies and general gender equality
This one is geared more toward fantasy. I have nothing against men in society, but why aren’t there more societies led by women? More queendoms? And if a fantasy world does have a king, at the very least, it should have gender equality. I don’t get how authors can create epic fantasy worlds and not bother to take away the sexism. I mean, come on. It’s not that hard.
- Mental illness and disability outside of contemporary
An elemental witch with panic attacks. A princess with social anxiety. A spaceship pilot with autism. The chosen one in a wheelchair. Mentally and physically able people aren’t the only ones that can be heroes. Contemporary books are slowly becoming more inclusive, although there’s still room for improvement. Sci-fi and fantasy are what really need to improve, in my opinion. And can I just say, as much as you might not like Sarah J. Maas (and that’s 100% okay), both of her protagonists suffer from PTSD. Her other representation needs work and there should be more of it, but I believe this is one good thing.
- Stories set outside of the US and England
There are some, I’ll totally admit that. This is one of the least important things on my list, but something I’d like nonetheless. Fantasy and sci-fi are, obviously, not included here, since they’re not even in this world. A lot of the historical fiction I’ve read and want to eventually read is set in Victorian England, and nearly all of the contemporary, be it romance, mystery, thriller, or otherwise, are in the US. Anna and the French Kiss and the third book in that series, Isla and the Happily Ever After, are set in France. Tiger’s Curse, an urban fantasy, is set in India. A dystopian on my TBR, Rook by Sharon Cameron, is also in France. But otherwise, I can’t think of anything. Maybe I’m just blanking, but I don’t think a lot of YA books are outside the US and England.
What do you want to see more of in YA? Do you agree with any of the things on my list? Do you have any recommendations for me? Let’s chat! I’d love to hear your thoughts! 🙂
I’m off to play Super Mario 3D World and continue my two current reads. I hope to finish Enigma either today or tomorrow. 🙂 And I hope you all have a fabulous day/night! ❤
Until next time…