The truth about YA fiction?

Last weekend the NY times book review featured a few children’s reviews, as they do every few weeks or so.  In one of the reviews was the following line:

“As expected inYA fiction, Lina has both a love interest and a special skill.”

I was kind of horrified.  Really?  Can the whole genre be boiled down so simplistically?  As a test, I decided to look at the last five YA fiction books I read.

1. If I Stay by Gayle Forman.  Main character has a love interest (her boyfriend Adam) and is a virtuoso cello player.

2. 8th Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich.  Main character has a love interest and is a comic book artist.

3. Dancing on the Edge by Han Nolan.  Main character DOES NOT HAVE A LOVE INTEREST (but is also a bit younger than typical YA main character) but is a talented dancer.

4. Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin.  Main character has a love interest and can understand the speech of animals.

5. The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga.  Main character has a love interest and he’s a comic book artist (yet again).

Ok, so that’s a pretty good fit.  But what books don’t have “love interests”?  It’s a pretty big part of life at any age.  As for the special talent thing.  That’s true.  There are an abundance of especially talented and powerful teenagers populating YA.  But I think that’s due to the particular desire of young people to feel singled out and important.  They’re just on the cusp of being adults and being taken seriously in the world.  They’re desperate to be noticed for the “right things”.  It doesn’t surprise me that having a special skill or talent has become a trope of YA fiction.  However, there are many great YA books where the characters are just ordinary kids.

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2 thoughts on “The truth about YA fiction?

  1. ok the first thing i thought about when reading this was – really?!? you present data so i am willing to believe you.

    but the first books i think of from that period in my life had no love interests. i was a bit obsessed with historical fiction novels… i.e. laura ingalls wilder was the person i wanted to be more than anyone else in the world… i craved a world where there were epic snow storms and people traveled in buggies. but maybe those books are technically “childrens” and not young adult. my next obsession was anne of green gables… she definitely falls into your category – constantly in love with gilbert blythe and overly precocious

  2. Mm, yes the books you mention are more middle grade than YA. Even our buddy Anne (who, gasp, I’ve actually never read) I’m pretty sure qualifies more as middle grade than YA. But you bring up an interesting point about historical fiction. I can think of a few books in that genre that have a love interest but not necessarily a special talent. Exception to the rule?

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