Hi! I thought I would write a post about tropes! For those who do not know, a trope is a common theme. The five tropes I will be discussing are ones that are used excessively in young adult fiction and are ones that I am not particularly fond of. Truth be told, most themes in YA fiction exasperate me, so I did have to narrow it down to a select few. (I decided it was best to avoid love triangles, because I think all of our feelings about them are very similar.)
I will be attaching images of YA books that relate to each trope listed. Some of the images display a book that includes the trope while some display a book that I thought did an excellent job of avoiding the trope and representing quite the opposite. I will have an explanation of each image per trope.
Also, spoilers are present concerning the following: Severus Snape’s fate in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling and the main love interest in the A Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy by Sarah J. Maas. Let us begin!
THE BAD BOY
The Byronic Hero, typically referred to as the “bad boy,” is a theme that is present in the majority of young adult books. This is a male character who is generally brooding and handsome and conveniently becomes romantically involved with the main female character (or, with regard to Sarah J. Maas, every single male character can be classified as a “bad boy”). Unfortunately, rarely is this trope executed well. Authors of the young adult genre normally conform to the “established” and expected guidelines of the “bad boy.” While at times I do enjoy this trope, I am exhausted with its negative connotations and the laziness and unoriginality with which it is written. As I have mentioned several times on my blog, there are a variety of distinct qualities that tend to accompany the “bad boy.”
The character who meets this lamentable fate is frequently territorial and possessive over the female character who he is certain to be with. This dominating attribute is often inexcusably romanticized and glamourized in a disgusting and inappropriate manner (in terms of the YA genre, see Sarah J. Maas’ work). Despite many readers finding this characteristic appealing and entertaining, I do not approve of it and I find it despicable.
Furthermore, I find the “bad boy” trope exceptionally underwhelming and deserving of an eye-roll. The fact that these characters’ eerie and abusive pasts justify their, in some instances, cruel and seemingly indifferent behaviour (towards the love interest, mind you) is appalling and ridiculously clichéd. Their entire existence and disposition is developed from their traumatizing past. I am not claiming that the trauma that these characters have endured should not influence and impact their actions and their minds. I am rather accusing authors, specifically YA authors, of focusing solely on the “bad boy’s” history of abuse and excusing unacceptable behaviour by relying on their past as explanation. These male characters possess nothing but the memory of their past, which seems to fuel the relationship in the story and justifies their emotionally abusive behaviour! Unfortunately, I find these characters absolutely depthless and frankly a bore.
Image explained: I chose to attach an image of Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. First introduced in the third book, Heir of Fire, Rowan Whitethorn is a perfect portrayal of the “bad boy” and certainly projects my issues associated with it.
THE ABSENCE OF DEATH
I find in the YA genre, authors are greatly inclined to please readers by avoiding the deaths of prominent and significant characters. Additionally, authors seem keen on allowing readers to believe an essential character dead for a portion of the story, and then for it to be ascertained that the character is, in truth, alive and well. As a result, it is almost laughable for a major character to experience an irreparable death, which provides readers with an unrealistic and dry sense of comfort. When performed wisely, the death of a notable character is often imperative to the story and its, as well as the characters’, growth. As tragic as death is in fiction (and in reality, of course), I believe it indicates, among other things, that the author is willing to make necessary sacrifices for the story, and are able to remove their personal feelings from the equation to create a more immersive and delightfully uncertain atmosphere.
In YA, it is not uncommon for characters’ deaths to be merely convenient for the plot. This frustrates me, as it is more effective for the death of a character to have a profound and powerful meaning. However, as I have not failed to mention above, what irks me most is when readers, along with the characters, are led to believe a character is dead, and it so happens that the character was never dead. Resurrection/near death is such a cheap technique to generate suspense and intrigue that appears to, regrettably, never grow old in the YA community!
Image explained: Thankfully, J.K. Rowling did not follow this trope (in my opinion), as the death of Severus Snape in the final Harry Potter book was essential for the remainder of the story to unfold.
THE SNARKY, WHITE FEMALE CHARACTER
The snarky, white, heterosexual female character is most frequently the leading protagonist in the young adult genre, particularly in the fantasy subgenre. This type of female existing as the central character has become normalized rather than simply being an author’s preference. It is extremely tiring to endlessly read about this fraction of the population, and I do believe that this exclusivity is toxic and plainly idealized.
Image explained: An Ember in the Ashes is an excellent example of a fantasy series in which the two leading characters are, I believe, biracial. I have read the first two books in this series and possibly half of the third. To my dismay, I did not quite enjoy the third nearly as much as I had hoped, so I decided to DNF it. However, I did appreciate the diverse cast of characters. I do think that the majority of racially-inclusive young adult fantasy novels are written by people of colour. In part, this is the reason why both genres are exceptionally limited and shallow.
I am so exhausted by the number of battles that seem to resolve storylines in YA fantasy. I don’t have any specific critique regarding the war trope, other than the fact that I am swiftly growing tired of seeing these conflicts settled in the form of dramatic battle. It has become foreseeable and appears almost lazy on the author’s part.
Image explained: To be frank, I can hardly remember most of the young adult fantasy books I have read. Therefore, as a way to not repeat books (such as Sarah J. Maas’ series or the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling), I have attached a picture of The Infernal Devices to represent war, as I do recall a war, referred to as the Clockwork War, transpiring in the last book.
I savour villainy in a character, if it is written expertly. Needless to say, I do not appreciate a swift transition from antagonist to protagonist. It frustrates me further when the antagonist (commonly the “bad boy”) becomes the love interest, which conveniently rationalizes their previous behaviour. However, this essentially returns to my dislike of the “bad boy” trope.
I admire realistic complexity and nuance in characters. I find that when authors carefully craft a character to be twisted and antagonistic, it is such a stale and predictable—as well as an unnatural—technique to rapidly redeem this character (especially if they shortly become the love interest). It is utterly unrealistic for a character to abruptly—perhaps over the course of a mere book—possess integrity and the capacity for reflection. I believe the inability to wholly understand a character injects a valued sense of realism and beauty in a story.
With respect to Severus Snape, I do not think this redemption trope particularly applies to his character (this is certainly a biased opinion due to my love for Harry Potter, but that’s that). I do recognize there are a fair number of flaws with his character; however, throughout the entire series, he is portrayed as an extremely unpleasant and unjust person (which, naturally, stems from his childhood), and only near the end of the last installment does his complete story become clear. I am not insisting Snape’s behaviour towards Harry Potter was appropriate (it was not), but I am arguing that he himself never claims to be good! Normally, it is the initially evil character who attempts to explain away their actions.
Snape is such a controversial and greatly multi-dimensional character with a nuanced and tragic backstory. I believe his story is beautifully revealed throughout the course of the seven Harry Potter books. Moreover, although his complete story unfolds, I find that he remains a misunderstood and highly divided character. Severus Snape does not deserve to be categorized with a considerable number of “bad boys.”
Image explained: The redemption of Rhysand in the A Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy appealed to me at the time of my YA obsession. However, as my taste in fiction has evolved, my perspective on Rhysand has shifted dramatically as well. This book represents a redemption that should not have happened, in my opinion. Rhysand was unforgivably cruel and tantalizing to the protagonist, Feyre, in the earlier books of the trilogy. Consequently, he could have been an acceptable antagonist. That possibility, however, was eliminated by the fact that he became the love interest readers were wholeheartedly supporting. As much as I delighted in the relationship between Rhysand and Feyre when I originally read the trilogy, I now recognize how disturbing it is that he became the comforting second love interest.
I hope you all enjoyed this post on my least favourite tropes! I know it is not exactly the most cheerful of posts, but I find it more enjoyable to write about reasons why I dislike tropes than why I love them.
Stay home and stay safe,
2 thoughts on “Least Favourite Tropes in Young Adult Fiction”
Always an interesting read, Ava!