I have read a lot of YA novels - whether it's fantasy or contemporary; sci-fi or historical, I cannot get enough of YA fiction. However, when you read enough books, you start to notice that a lot of them contain the same old, tired plot points that you have read a thousand times before. Indeed, I am relatively sure that my number one criticism in 3-star or less reviews is that there was nothing unique or innovative about the story.
When we are talking about obvious, ho-hum tropes in YA fiction, no subplot gets it quite as wrong as romance. Almost all YA novels have some kind of romance in them these days, and an unfortunate majority of them seem to get it wrong in some way. Now, don't misunderstand me - there are plenty of amazing romance plots and sub-plots out there; A Court of Mist and Fury and The Wrath and The Dawn come to mind.
But since it seems that romance storylines are particularly irksome lately, I have written a list of my 5 least favourite romance tropes. These are the ones likely to make me put a book down quicker than you can say "he smirked."
This one makes the top spot because it is as prevalent as it is unrealistic. You know the kind of story I'm talking about - our protagonist has hit chapter 3, and it's time to introduce some drama! We better make her run into an extremely attractive boy who has luscious locks and smirks far too often. Not only that, but she better feel an instant connection; the kind of connection that puts super glue and duct tape to shame. Next, they have to date for a week before confessing their undying love for each other, and nearly get killed trying to defend said love.
Yawn. If I have to read one more line like, "As the handsome stranger and I locked eyes, I felt a shiver down my spine; it was like our souls knew each other even though we had never met before," I will likely explode with rage. Yes, you can meet someone and think, "Damn, s/he's fine." However, there is a huge difference between thinking someone is attractive, and falling in love with them while bells ring and birds sing. It's unrealistic, and honestly, it's just lazy writing. It's far easier to say that they fell in love at first sight, than it is to write the intimate details of a complex and evolving relationship.
If you hate this too, you should read... A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas, The Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare, and Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge.
#2: Sex Negativity
This is where I get slightly political. YA has a real problem with sex - most of the iconic books in the genre avoid sex, or treat it as something that should be left until marriage. We are told that these characters can fall in love in two seconds, but that it's immoral or dangerous for them to sleep together because then real-life teenagers might have sex. Oh no! Not sex! It's not like teenagers do it all the time. It's not like our society has a bunch of problems because we treat sex as taboo, and therefore leave our young people uneducated as to the realities, both positive and negative, behind their desires. Yeah. Not at all.
Now, I am not saying that all YA books should be heavy erotica novels - they do not even necessarily have to have sex scenes - they just need to allow characters to explore their sexuality without demonisation (bonus points if the characters sleep with more than one person). Why? Firstly, because it's realistic - a lot of people lose their virginity when they are a teenager. Secondly, because it's dangerous to teach young people that sex is somehow dirty or impure - this leads to negative self-talk and slut shaming. YA has the potential to be a catalyst for change in the way we view sex - but not until the plot lines become much more progressive.
If you hate this too, you should read... Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare, Throne of Glass and A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas, and What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler.
#3: Unnecessary Romances
Is it just me, or does every YA book these days have a romance subplot? You have this strong protagonist, fighting the forces of evil, kicking ass, a brilliant world, great plot - and for some reason, there's a love interest that doesn't quite fit into the story. Romances can be great, when they do not detract or distract from the central plot. It feels like there's someone out there in Publishing Land that says you cannot be published unless you have a mediocre romance forcefully shoved between the threads of an otherwise decent story.
More YA stories without romance, I say! There's more to life that can be explored in literature than love and romance - just ask every other genre out there.
If you hate this too, you should read... A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, and Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman.
#4: Forced Love Triangles
I am going to preface this one with a small, yet important, confession - I am a love triangle enthusiast. Anyone who has read my reviews will know that I love angsty romances, especially when there is some (real or imagined) obstacle preventing the pair from getting together. If that obstacle is another person, to whom our protagonist is genuinely attracted, then - great! Drama and conflict - I live for it, baby.
Love triangles become very trope-y (definitely a word) when the third person in the triangle presents no genuine threat to our main couple. I am pretty sure that's the definition of a contrived and unnecessary plot device - and it forcefully throws me out of the world which I am sure the writer has worked so hard to create. Just another example of how lazy writing can ruin the potential brilliance of great ideas and stories.
If you hate this too, you should read... The Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare, Shadow and Bone (and the rest of the Grisha Trilogy as well) by Leigh Bardugo, and Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge.
#5: Unequal Relationships
It was actually the amazing and hilarious twitter account @broodingYAhero that got me thinking about this one. Ever notice how many romance novels perpetuate sexist and abusive stereotypes? Like how a guy that is jealous and possessive is just 'protective' and 'in love', or how we let guys get away with fighting/cheating/flirting with other characters, but never the women? Or that relationships where you fight uproariously, and then get it on, are exceptionally healthy ones (not toxic at all), that will definitely last longer than a year?
Teaching young people that toxic relationships, usually based on physical attraction alone, are the gold standard to which we should be striving is incredibly damaging. Yes, there are people to whom you will be overwhelmingly attracted - that does not mean that you are meant to be together, or that you should settle for an unequal, potentially damaging relationship to placate them. Why is it that we talk about "strong" female protagonists, but often give them love interests that are in a position of power (prince/general/other generic boss position)? Let's stop perpetuating the ideas that a) emotional abuse is okay as long as the person is attractive, and b) it's only okay for women to be strong as long as they have a male counterpart to legitimise them.
If you hate this too, you should read... Goddess Interrupted by Aimee Carter, Prodigy by Marie Lu, and Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas.
Thanks for reading my little (okay, huge) rant, everyone! Let me know what you think - do you agree? Disagree? Little of both? Got any books you think avoid all five of these tropes really well? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me @gracelucyreads!
Love as ever,