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.
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.
* 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.