Has Cliche’ in Young Adult Literature Decreased It’s Appeal to Adult Readers?
After the peak of Twilight and Hunger Games, there seems to be a continuous stream of meticulously beautiful vampires and werewolves and highly political dystopian societies. The success of Harry Potter had bridged the gap between generations of avid readers, strengthening the appeal of Young Adult for adults. But now, gone are the days of Hermonie Granger’s frizzy hair and buck teeth. Instead YA books are replaced with blindly gorgeous protagonists and love triangles as publishing houses race to find the next big literature phenomenon. Book stores are lining their shelves with new lines of YA novels to try and mimic the past successful franchises, but at the end of the day has it all grown a bit repetitive? Put simply, the ‘bad stigma’ that has now been associated with YA literature can deter adults from reading the genre. The repetitious clichés have begun to make it feel childish for adult readers. Hillerich (2015) named the 10 worn out clichés in YA: the obscure prologues, love triangles, dreamy or ‘perfect’ characters, orphans, undiscovered powers, unclaimed royal bloodlines, trilogy story lines and lastly…the ‘chosen one’. With all these repetitious story lines and characters, does YA need a fresh start for those loyal adult readers?
What is Young Adult literature?
Firstly, just what is Young Adult literature?
Young readers come to a point where they start to demand literature that asks more of them than a child. This “human condition as known as adolescence” (as cited in Roberts, 2013) and is a transition being a child to a member of the adult community. YA is about readers finding their identity, sexuality, relationships and evolving their view of society. Overused characters and plot lines or not, YA literature is about the wisdom written between the lines. Messages and morals in literature are timeless, and that’s why we continue to read those favourite books over and over again.
Good YA literature transcend readers into unknown worlds where they can live the character’s experiences and develop an insider perspective. Bullying, suicide or violence are common adolescent themes adolescents are experiencing in their transitional period into adulthood and sometimes adults need a reminder of the perils in that lifetime. YA literature fills that marketable need by opening up that window into a phase of a person life they may have forgotten about. Bullying and suicide has always been a conscious hurdle in adolescents lives. As we grow up though, we can tend to forget the hurt and underestimate the scars on our children. Parents and teachers in particular can become “unsettled” when they hear of traumatic events in their children’s or students’ lives (Pytash, 2013).
Rather than list books that obviously fit the status quo of overused clichés, the following describes previously published YA books which reflect the benefits for adults to read the young genre.
For Support with Bullying
YA books such as 13 Reasons Why (Jay Asher, 2007) and Nineteen Minutes (Jodi Picoult, 2007) can help bridge empathy and compassion for the younger generation who are experiencing such trauma. Hannah, in 13 Reasons Why, leaves behind a series of tapes to be listened to after her planned suicide. Her friend Clay is given the tapes and as he listens to them, he discovers that each tape describes a person who gave Hannah a reason to end her life. Hannah describes the smallest mundane reason for her loneliness (the loss of a friendship) to a huge traumatic event (rape) which had all culminated into enough hatred and sadness that she takes her life. All these ‘little’ moments can be relatable to any persons life regardless of age. Nineteen Minutes also describes countless scenes of bullying and harassment for Peter and intimidation and a desire to fit in for Josie. The difference between the two is that Peter deals with the situation by getting revenge with his bullies and orchestrates a school shooting. These books are powerful to read and challenges the readers to think about their own actions. Are we an unintentionally bully?
To Deal with Death or Illness
Dealing with death or illness is relevant to adolescents and adults alike. YA commonly experiences characters who deal with these themes to guide and support readers in their own lives. The Fault in our Stars (John Green, 2012) for example, centrally revolves around cancer that affects the lives of young teens Hazel and Gus. Hazel cuts herself off from the world because she is a “ticking time bomb” and she doesn’t want to leave a carnage of grief behind. However, after befriending Gus she wakes up and takes control of her life again. How many people can relate to that sense of useless frustration? That feeling of being tossed to the fringe of society and not having the courage or the energy to bounce back and join the rest of the world.
The Book Thief (Markus Zusak, 2005) also discusses death amidst war and country genocide. There are some key clichés in these books, however it is the messages within the prose that has made them timeless, and enjoyable for readers of all ages. The protagonist Liesel is orphaned and she develops close bonds with many male characters in the story, but past the clichés is a story of a girl who tries to find her identity in a war torn time. Like so many avid readers, she turns to the powerful source of books and words to form and strengthen her own ideologies. Liesel is a true heroine who’s just trying to find her place in the world.
To Become Culturally Inclusive Citizens
Even in our diverse world where cultures have mixed in every corner of the Earth, we can still feel like outsiders in our communities. YA is about finding identity and self worth, a feeling all readers aspire for throughout their lives. Looking for Alibrandi (Melina Marchetta, 1992) and Deadly, Unna? (Phillip Gwynne, 1998) represent characters with different cultural heritages trying to find their identity in conservative settings. Alibrandi is Italian, who attends a very prestigious all girls grammar school. She is trying to survive her final year of school, all the while surviving through a friend’s suicide and rekindling a relationship with her previously non existent father. Blacky, in Deadly, Unna? is about a white Australian boy and his interracial friendship with Dumby Red. Despite the clichéd forbidden love story, Blacky questions his views about justice and loyalty.
All these themes: standing up to bullies, dealing with trauma and death, family dynamics and valuing diverse cultures are very much beneficial to adult readers, despite between labeled as a Young Adult genre. Yes, sometimes the clichés are repetitive. The beginning of the books contain ambiguous prologues that hinder our prediction of the tale ahead. The protagonists describe their physical flaws and yet a (or more) person overdramatically longs for them with teenaged flair. There are undiscoverable powers (The Mortal Instruments – Cassandra Clare) and tedious love triangles (Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins & Twilight – Stephanie Meyer) but YA on a whole can still appeal adult readers.
Is New Adult a Fresh Start We Need?
Despite the relevance of YA literature for all readership, there is still a negative stigma surrounding the genre. The fresh genre New Adult (St Martins Press) transitions readers from YA to Adult Fiction. With welcome similarities to YA, New Adult commonly refers to themes of sexuality, leaving home and careers to suit the age brackets of 18-30. It is yet to gain strong popularity, but is this new genre the fresh start YA needs to step away from the cliché story lines and staple love triangles?
Books benefit all readers when they are relevant to their lives, needs and interests. YA story lines are generally easy to read so the book is more enjoyable, as opposed to the classics or even adult fiction. Just because adults can read at a more academic level or understand sophisticated jargon, does not mean they automatically outgrow YA novels. Perhaps as readers, we should just be selective about the books we browse through at the bookstores. If overrated love triangles or repetitive ‘chosen one’ plot lines are starting to grind your gears, just put the book back and select one that is more unique. There are plenty out there that adults shouldn’t feel embarrassed to read!
When reading, we should just consider the context at the time, not the blurry age recommendations. Do we want a book that challenges our notions of society, a page of explicit sexual scenes, an historical account in a certain place and time…or do we just want to read a pleasurable book like YA?
What do you think? Leave a comment.