March 02

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I Hate Rants About YA Cliches — Also Here’s A Rant About YA Cliches

I don’t know about you all, but I kind of hate it when people tell me what to do. Crossing guards, flight attendants, the police — it’s like, get off my back, society. I get really pissed, however, when people write those lists of cliches you’re supposed to avoid when writing YA. Because, you know, your cliche is my truth. Or something.

That’s why it’s kind of hypocritical and ironic that I’m about to write one of those lists myself. I’d like to think, however, that mine’s a bit more thoughtful than most (which is how everyone thinks, for the record — because we all reside within our own minds, decorated with our own thoughts, #TheMatrix).

There are a lot of “cliches” that I’m totally OK with, for the record. For example, I’m not about to denounce stuff like, “Your main character discovers she has a special power that makes her stand out from the rabblement of lemmings that comprise her town.” Or, “She soon finds that adults are not to be trusted.”

Because, you know, your main character should probably have something about her that makes her stand out — otherwise why are you writing her story in the first place? — and adults are not to be trusted. Including me (which is why you should take everything below with that proverbial grain of salt).

Nope. None of those kinds of generalities here. What I take issue with is a few cultural touchstones that I really think have run their course.

Sure, I bet you all could find some compelling reasons to continue including them in your prose (and some of those reasons are valid) but, in my estimation, it’s time for them to go wherever the ducks in Central Park head in the winter in “The Catcher In The Rye.” Which is basically “away.”

Buffy The Vampire Slayer

You guys — I love “Buffy The Vampire Slayer.” I really do. But that’s because I’m 30 and I watched it when it was on the WB or the CW or UPN or whatever network featured that jaunty dancing frog. And, dudes, I was even a little too young for Buffy at the time. She was, like, 16 when I was 12 and I watched it with my older sister in the attic with the kind of anticipation generally reserved for major sporting events. You know, because neither my sister nor I had lives at the time. My dad used to join us for said viewings, until the episode in which Buffy lost her virginity — which embarrassed my sister and I so much that we couldn’t even utter the word “sex,” we just said “she did what Leo and Kate did in the car in ‘Titanic’ in the scene with the handprint.”

But I digress…

I understand the show has reached classic status or whatever, but why is that everyone’s YA heroine appears to be stuck in some kind of early ’00s timewarp where all there is to watch is Buffy and Angel brooding at each other? Is that show even on cable anymore? Do kids even watch cable anymore? Will we eventually like in a society — ala M.T. Anderson’s FEED — in which entertainment is pumped directly into our BRAINS?!

Scary dystopian thoughts aside, I think it’s time to retire Buffy’s jersey (sports!) and find another show for heroines to watch when they can’t stop thinking about how their newly found powers have rendered them unable to trust the adults in their lives.

Pride & Prejudice

I get that most YA characters are into reading (and that’s basically it) because authors are into reading, but does everyone really have to be obsessed with PRIDE & PREJUDICE? First off all, Mr. Darcy is kind of lame. There. I said it. He’s basically an emotionally stunted asshole with — I imagine — a very limited range of facial expressions, and, really, Lizzie could do better. We could all do better. Let’s all stop going after the Mr. Darcys of the world, shall we? Dudes who smile are where it’s at.

Secondly, liking that book is such short-hand for a certain kind of personality (bookish, prude-ish, strong-willed) that it’s almost lazy to evoke it. I mean, Meg Ryan was down with it back in the Stone Age in “You’ve Got Mail” and that movie came out when dial-up was still a thing — so maybe leap into the future and upgrade to wireless? Or something? You get what I’m saying, right?

Romeo & Juliet, The Scarlet Letter

There are certain books we all read in high school — no matter how old we are or where we went to school. Apparently, literature stopped being important after HUCK FINN. So, you know, it makes sense that your characters would be reading said books. But, really, do we need to see them reading said books in order to learn some kind of lesson that moves the narrative along? I’m going to say no. Especially not the same exact lesson that every other character learns when they read said books.

Invariably, when characters are reading ROMEO & JULIET, someone stands up and says something about how Insta-Love is stupid and teens who get too wrapped up in it are insane. That person later falls in love and eats some crow. And, when reading THE SCARLET LETTER, there’s always some kind of lesson about slut-shaming. Which is cool. Slut-shaming sucks. But, really, the last “slut” to be shamed in literature was not Hester Prynne — so maybe give the lady a break.

Now You Can Argue

After that hypocritical rant about cliches in which I also stated that I dislike rants about cliches, I’m sure you all have some thoughts that you are thinking in your head. I invite you now to turn to the comments below and voice your OWN opinions with the ferocity of Buffy staking a vamp, the passion of Lizzie yelling something very smart at Darcy and the solemnity coursing through R&J and TSL.