Why Some YA Books are Bad for Teens

I’m back to writing YA again, and as a general rule, when I write YA, I read YA. Young adult novels seem to hog the shelves when you browse a bookstore. They’re great sellers with a wide audience. Not only teenagers read YA. I’m a big fan of the genre, but there are certain messages in YA I can’t promote.

I often considered myself a mature teenager growing up (didn’t we all?) but when books like Twilight came out, I failed to see the problems within. A few years later, upon closer inspection, I couldn’t believe I’d overlooked what I now consider a serious issue with YA novels.

Some young adult books teach girls that it’s okay to lose yourself when a boy leaves you. They teach you it’s healthy to be destructive and suicidal. They say it’s all right to let the world slip away, because apparently you were only a real person when you were with someone else.

Wrong.

This is a terrible message to send to teenagers, and I hate how many authors defend their characters for promoting such a message. How would they react if their children or friends behaved this way after a breakup? Would they shrug it off and say it’s natural? I seriously doubt it.

In the Twilight series, the protagonist puts herself through life-threatening situations in order to view a glimpse of the guy who left her. If you need the translucent image of a ex-boyfriend telling you, “stop, this is dangerous” whenever you decide to jump off a cliff, then you really need to get yourself some help. And you probably shouldn’t be in a relationship in the first place. Telling girls it’s okay to act like this is actually not okay.

It’s one thing for a character to act bravely, to seize the day and save someone they love; it’s an entirely different thing when they purposely put themselves in harm’s way because they feel they can’t live if the other person dies or leaves them.

I feel like writers know this, but still the trend continues. It’s being romanticized (for some reason I just don’t understand) and considered the ultimate proof of a couple’s love. You don’t need to promote self-harm to prove your characters’ love. Here, let me help. Have a list of things you can do to prove their love (without the whole break-up-and-torture-them ritual):

  • Say “I love you”
  • Do something nice
  • Cook an amazing dinner
  • Find them that perfect spell book they’ve been dying to get their hands on
  • Win a duel in their honour
  • Slay that dragon (it was probably minding its own business, but love)
  • Conquer a country and give it to them on their birthday (for all those villainous couples)

See? Isn’t that easy?

Characters are free to breakup and go their separate ways, and even meet again later because they’re tru wuv, but can we please stop with the unnecessary self-destruction? They’re hurting, I get it, but let’s not pretend it’s okay to behave like that. Let’s not condone the message that people aren’t whole unless they are in a relationship. Teenagers had lives before getting a boy/girlfriend; let’s not steal those lives away. Develop your characters; don’t reduce them to nothing.

That’s my discussion for today.

Happy writing,

Sandra

* On a side note, there are probably equally bad messages towards teenage boys in the YA genre, though I haven’t come across any yet. I can’t remember the last YA book I’ve read with a male protagonist.

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Blog Response to: “Why are those birds so angry, anyway?”

I know I’ve been away from my blog for a little while, but nothing brings me back all fired-up like a good attack on one of my favourite hobbies. Over on the Telegram, Peter Jackson (no, not that Jackson) bashes video gaming and gaming for charity events. I’m actually appalled by the nonsense he’s preaching to those unfamiliar to gaming, comparing a fun hobby to a gambling addiction.

Firstly, don’t bash Sandbox Gaming for raising money for an organization like Easter Seals. And calling the people who support gaming “fanatics” is just another step in the wrong direction.

Secondly, let’s move on to this point: “Video games are addictive, at least in the general sense.” His whole argument is based around video gaming becoming an addiction. Okay, sure. It can become an addiction. So can reading or binge watching television shows or organizing your apartment. Go watch Glee. There’s an interesting character on that show who can’t sit at a table without cleaning it. My point is anything can become an addiction, so why target gaming? Should we rise up against cleaning products, books, or movies because there’s a chance we may become addicted to them? Sigh. No.

Jackson gives us the example of Angry Birds as an addictive game and I had to hold back my laughter. If that’s the best example he can muster, I’m afraid he doesn’t know much about addicting video games. Online role-playing games are by far the most addictive games out there–not a mobile game that most people tire of after beating twenty levels. I would say Candy Crush is more addictive than Angry Birds, though most people who play Candy Crush so religiously are addicted to Facebook. Yet, like I said in the previous paragraph, anything can become addicting if you let it.

“I’ve seen young people waste hours of their lives on video games.” Fantastic. I’ve seen young people waste hours of their life texting on their phones while at the bus stop, or window shopping at the mall, or standing in line at the local Tim’s to get burnt coffee. Looking at things you can’t have and waiting for disappointing, burnt coffee sure seems like a waste of time, though I’m sure those people will tell you differently. And maybe some won’t, but everyone has a different experience, now don’t they?

“And unless you’re going into some sort of technical field — like video game development — video  games serve very little purpose in terms of career development.” Did Jackson ever stop to consider that perhaps people play video games to have fun? I like eating cake. I’m not going to become a professional cake-taster someday. I mean, as awesome as that would be, I don’t see that in my future. And life isn’t all about which career you get. It’s about having fun and living the journey you want to live. If gaming is part of that journey, whether you plan on being a game designer or a chef, then game away.

Jackson goes on to comment about the game Grand Theft Auto and how it promotes bad behaviour in real life. Let’s be honest: If your kid is acting out anything from GTA, you have larger issues to deal with. You should really rethink your parenting approach and the mental state of your child. I grew up with games like these and never once thought, “Hey, I think I’ll go out and steal a car!” It just doesn’t happen unless you weren’t properly educated on what’s right and what’s wrong. Violence presents itself in violent people. Plus: Don’t buy your kids games rated for a mature audience.

“But what message does a video game marathon send, other than that it’s OK to let life and the responsibilities that go with it fleet by unnoticed as you immerse yourself in a virtual world of pointless distraction?” So Sandbox Gaming didn’t give this message. They didn’t sit the participants down and have them stay there for days on end. Rotation was put into effect so everyone could have a turn (and breaks are healthy). Jackson is assuming the charity event was some kind of brainwashing technique to cause children and adults to trade life for virtual distraction. Sorry, pointless distraction.

So how pointless are video games, really? Just compare them to television shows or social media platforms. Children watch hours of television and waste time browsing websites like Facebook. I’m speaking from experience when I say that video games really helped me as a child. Everything was text-based when I was a kid, so I had to read the entire story of a game. I developed better reading skills because of this–much more than I could have learned from a television show. It was super fun to read along with an animated story, rather than listen to a cartoon. I mean, I loved cartoons, but games were more interactive and thus more educational.

Video games can also boost confidence, allowing you to become the hero of an epic story. And let’s not forget how multiplayer games can help kids learn how to work together. If you’re a good parent, you won’t allow your child to spend “endless hours” on a PC playing games. Allowing a child to spend endless hours doing anything isn’t healthy. Children still have responsibilities and they should have multiple hobbies to engage themselves with.

I’ll end this post to say that I support Sandbox Gaming and what they’re doing to raise money and awareness for kids with disabilities, and anyone who speaks out against young people for enjoying a fun pastime to support such a charity should be ashamed. Hours of memories with friends, laughing around the latest Nintendo console, will always be the proof I need to tell people opposed to video gaming they’re wrong about games being harmful to youths.

Happy gaming,

Sandra

Thoughts upon Female Characters

As much as I love feminism and fighting for equal rights, some people take the concept of “independence” too far. Critics are saying the new Jurassic World is sexist because of Claire’s character development throughout the movie. She goes from cold, calculating Claire to caring, reckless Claire. In my review earlier this week, I pointed out that her character was the kind you’d want to see eaten in a Jurassic movie. My opinion completely changed halfway through the film.

Does caring for her nephews make Claire a weak character? Does caring for the death of dinosaurs or people make her a weak character? Does caring for a guy she chose to ignore because of work make her a weak character? The answer is: No, it does not.

People are so focused on females in movies or literature being strong and independent that they forget that females are people, too. They don’t always have to be cold and distant. They can be strong and independent and also have a significant other, a sensitive side, and motherly instincts. The beauty of women is that they have personalities. Go figure, right?

I saw the same problem surrounding books this week. People were making cruel comments about how this or that book featured two main characters (one female and one male) and how the book would end with the women being redeemed by a man’s love–or rescued by him. Yet if this plot was to completely flip and the man would be the one in need of redemption or rescuing, no one would bat an eyelash. It would be acceptable.

People judge females far too harshly in literature and media, and because of that I worry about my own writing. Someone reading the blurb of Sky Knight could make the assumption that Taliah falls into the above mentioned scenario (she doesn’t, if you’re wondering). Yet in the sequel Taliah will find herself in a difficult situation–a situation she can’t get out of without help. Is she now suddenly a weak character because for once in her life she has to depend upon someone else for assistance? Absolutely not, but some will judge your female MC if this happens.

So am I going to rewrite the scene to make Taliah get through the situation on her own? Nope. Scenes like these are what bond characters together and reveal character traits the characters themselves didn’t know they had. And having a character rescued by another character doesn’t make them weak or any less independent. It just shows they’re human and not some robot hybrid.

Some people are easily offended when female and male characters work together to achieve a goal, each relying upon the other for support and strength, but what is equality if it isn’t this?

Happy writing,

Sandra