I’ve spent a lot of time defending the integrity of young adult novels. Sure, they can be silly, but that doesn’t negate their impact on the thirteen-to-mid-twenties demographic, and they shouldn’t be condemned just because teenage girls are the major target audience.
I still think this. In fact, I’m pretty adamant on the fact that teenage girls have good judgment skills when it comes to a lot of things (my teenage sister, for example, dresses way better than I do), and that includes books. Mary Shelley was sixteen when she wrote Frankenstein, so chew on that for a bit before you start slamming the XX chromosome.
The more I read and grew up, though, the more I started noticing the problems with YA/NA – problems that would have adverse effects on the same teenage girls I’ve been defending and now feel the need to caution. While plenty of these tropes are laughable and pretty much harmless, there are a number of influences that are potentially damaging to young women’s psyche, self-image, and lifestyle. Here are some of the pitfalls when it comes to how YA girls are portrayed.
Perfect Heroes, Clumsy Heroines
The hero tends to be good-looking, well-spoken, intelligent, charming, witty, and introspective. Meanwhile the heroine is stuttering up a storm and falling down every set of stairs that gets in her way. I’d say it’s a simple matter of extrovert/introvert, but then there seems to be the suggestion that all men are outgoing and all women would rather stay curled up in bed with a classic British novel or whatever. She’d probably fall off the bed repeatedly, though, since she’s always portrayed as a klutz. But I guess the heroine has to walk into the occasional wall. I mean, she needs some flaw to balance out her unprecedented hotness and overall perfection, which brings us to our next point…
The [Un]pretty Heroine
I don’t mind a heroine who doesn’t think she’s all that and a bag of chips. I mean, let’s face it, teenage girls aren’t offered a lot of encouragement when it comes to self-esteem; everywhere they look they see models who don’t even have pores. What I do mind is when authors try their hardest to convince you that their protagonists aren’t at all conventionally attractive, even though when they clearly are. Not only are dudes hitting on them left and right, but when the writer describes the character, she’s undeniably hot. Whatever happened to adolescent awkwardness? I’m not talking about that heroine who trips over the air, either. I’m talking about growth spurts and oily skin and pimples and bad haircuts and misdirected fashion choices and too much eye shadow and just the general weirdness of being a teenager. All these characters look like bammin’ slammin’ bootylicious twenty-somethings who’ve got their s— together. I cannot suspend disbelief for that; it’s too ridiculous.
Side note: Why does no one have brown eyes anymore? They’re all green with flecks of gold or steely blue-gray or violet (color contacts much?). Listen, if brown eyes are good enough for Van Morrison, they’re good enough for your super special snowflake protagonist.