Discussion: Tropes in YA That Need to Take a Break

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(Note: None of these photos were taken by my hand, using a cat I know, or books I own. Per my usual aesthetic, I borrowed them from Google.)

So, this is a topic that’s been getting a lot of batting around on the online forums lately. I’ve seen several posts on the subject in the last few weeks, and a few of them I agreed with wholeheartedly. This is becoming A Big Deal.

Whenever you read a lot from one genre, you find that certain formulas are applied to many of them. (This is also called “tropes.” Don’t ask me why. I only discovered that myself about 3 months ago.) In YA fiction, there have developed some tropes that are so predictable that many readers (the fanbase of this genre) are warily eyeing new releases, anticipating that these books will contain these tropes, and potentially ruin the reading experience.

Examples: Orphan protagonists (think Harry Potter spinoffs to the enth degree). Rebellious teenagers just for the sake of being rebellious (sorry-not-sorry, folks, but drinking/smoking/drugs/underage sex still is not cool). Lots and lots of swearing and sexual jokes. Absent parents — either they’re dead (see above), or they’re simply not aware of/don’t care what their kids are up to. True love at first sight between a ridiculously naive female narrator and a stereotypically “bad boy” main character. Love triangles between said narrator and said bad boy and a new guy, the “kind she should go for.”

All right, I’d better stop before everyone hurts their heads bashing their keyboards in agreement.

And I am not the only one who thinks we need to set fire to these tropes and run the other way.

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Here’s why these tropes are harmful:

Most of the time, they create an unrealistic picture of adolescence. Especially when we’re addressing impressionable 13-14-15-year-olds. We should not be telling them getting drunk/breaking into cars/skipping school is fashionable and necessary to live a full life. More YA novels (contemporary, fantasy, historical) need to be presenting realistic consequences for this type of behavior. We need to have more unplanned teenage pregnancies, rehab center admissions, accidental deaths (that aren’t romanticized) addressed in such fiction. If our children are the future, then I think we’ve pretty much shot our future in the foot by encouraging it to steal liquor from their parents and sleep with the whole town before its 17th birthday.

It gives young people unrealistic and even dangerous expectations for relationships. Young ladies, listen to the voice of reason — If you meet a young man who wants to take you on a shoplifting spree instead of to a dinner with roses and candlelight, dump him, now. He is not the man you’re looking for (in fact, he’s not a man at all). And to the young gentlemen out there — If you’re stuck on a girl who “can’t decide” between you and some other guy, go find someone who totally appreciates you without constantly comparing you to someone else. You deserve better than that.

On a slightly less serious note, it’s just plain tiresome for readers to keep coming across the very same character types/plot premise. We know the narrator has faced tragedy. We get it already. Stop moaning. Why can’t we have a happy, positive orphan (like Anne of Green Gables?) Or a kid whose parents are divorced but is determined to make the best of his/her new situation? The most inspiring stories are the ones where the main character didn’t let their circumstances steal their hope. Not the ones where they just wouldn’t shut up about their crappy lot in life.

Back to the very serious — bad parenting is no joke. What, exactly, is the point of having parents of teen characters being “so cool” that they’ll let their kids stay out till 3 a.m., possibly committing petty theft, or enacting the ritual that lets Cthulhu back into the world, without seeming to care? It is not cool, people. Parents are supposed to be role models for how to behave as adults. They need to care what their kids are doing at 3 a.m. And if they’re bad parents to prove a point — could they be addicts, mentally ill, or (unglorified) criminals? — then I really think the author has a duty to the next generation by establishing that these are problems in life. Not a career goal or something we can just make fun of and ignore.

Personally, as an author and a parent, I take pride in writing about mature, stable moms and dads who aren’t afraid to discipline their kids for breaking the rules, work at their marriages, and hold down law-abiding jobs. Dysfunctional families need to stop being seen as the norm to create a concept of functionality in our future spouses/parents/leaders.

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When I was growing up, I remember reading lots of YA novels that focused on the negatives of substance abuse, of healthy ways of dealing with a break-up, of all the reasons not to choose “the bad boy/girl,” of why you should finish school and get to know yourself before trying to find a soulmate. Apparently these books aren’t being sold anymore — or they certainly aren’t selected by publishers post 2010. Instead, the market is saturated with all these tropes — and they’re setting a very, very wrong example.

Here are some YA authors that I would point to as setting a good example (go look them up, everyone): Robert Beatty, Carrie Anne Noble, Erin Hunter (the Warriors series), still JK Rowling’s Harry Potter, indie author Nate Philbrick, and Tony Abbott (most recently, The Copernicus Legacy).

And although my publishing date isn’t set in stone yet, I’ll take a moment to shamelessly self-promote. The Order of the Twelve Tribes: Volume 1: Masters and Beginners should be available in the spring. It’s a contemporary fantasy novel (first in a series), with very little impolite language, no underage sex, functional families, homeschooling, and the concept of taking responsibility for your actions.

Here’s a summary:

When Sophie Driscoll’s grandmother dies, her parents take over running the Annex, a warehouse facility that stores magical artifacts and documents proving the existence of faeries. As she and her brothers, Flynn and Cal, adjust to a new house, new friends, and a new way of living, Sophie discovers that one of her new acquaintances is protecting a dangerous secret. Now caught between two equally imposing groups — one of which is after the girl’s very blood –Sophie and her family must prove where their loyalty lies — and survive the choice they make.

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A Summary of Life as We Know It

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There’s a movie called “Life As We Know It.” It’s a romantic comedy/drama about two people whose best friends, a married couple, have died, and they are now responsible for raising their friends’ baby daughter. Anyway, I’m not critiquing a film right now; I’m just referring to the way that phrase can so often be used to remind us that things can change, quickly, and whether we’re ready or not.

My life has changed loads and loads in the last few years. I went from being a new college graduate trying to build a career to being a stay at home mom, which felt like deja vu, but was also new again. I stayed at home until White Fang went to preschool, and since he’s 11 years older than Muffin, that meant I’d been out in the workforce, in college classes, and dancing for 5 years before Muffin’s unanticipated arrival.

These days, life is still not quite as I’d imagine it to be. Muffin was a premie, so his progression has hardly been typical. And lately we’re finding ourselves challenged by new obstacles. He’s having issues with his growth, which is impacting his sleep and his behavior and his weight. And our sanity.

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Yesterday we took him to see a pediatric endocrinology specialist. (Try saying that 3 times fast.) It was a safe drive, but fraught with tension for me, since I hate going to unfamiliar places, and I hate not knowing what to expect when I get there. How would Muffin handle being in this new office? With strange doctors and nurses? Would he be patient, or a nightmare?

In the end, the answer was a combination. He tried to get into every single nook and cranny of the office, whether it was safe/recommended/allowed or not. But he was pretty good about staying away from wires and cables and equipment. I didn’t do so well. I was so exhausted from all the stress I didn’t even stay awake through dinner last night.

He had to have blood drawn, and I couldn’t watch. Not just as a parent not wanting to see her child in pain; I can’t handle seeing blood, period. (Sometimes I have nightmares about needles, my trigger is that bad.) So my husband held him while the lab tech executed the procedure; Muffin was probably the best-behaved toddler in the world for this instance. There was no screaming, no crying, just an, “Ow!…Ow!…Ow!”

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Next will be waiting for the lab results. And if they recommend treatment, we’ll probably need to administer injections at home. That will be fun. Hear the sarcasm literally dripping off every single letter.

All of this is beginning to feel like too much. There are those who would say, “God never gives you more than you can handle.” I bet not a one of those people were autistic. Life is hard for me, anyway, because every type of stimuli I encounter has the possibility of exploding in my brain and nerves and making me have a nervous breakdown. And since it’s a neurological/nervous system thing, I can’t just wish it away.

When we got home last night, and my precious kitty was waiting for me, and White Fang actually had taken the garbage out, and we had takeout to gorge on, I felt a slight sense of relief. But just slight. If God really thinks this is what I can handle, how much more is He going to keep heaping on me?

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This is the next thing coming. I have the money saved for my printing; I am almost done with proofing; with any luck, all the corrections will stick. The new cover is about finished (and it looks awesome, by the way). My beautiful Toby, my muse, will be front and center on each of my covers. I actually have started on a new draft of Volume 2.

My head still wants to explode sometimes.

“And call upon the torch tonight, to bring out all the ghosts to light…Because at last we have to go, it’s time to take back the night” — Try Hard Ninja, “Take Back the Night”

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Until We Meet Again…

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So, here it is, the post that I’ve been hinting at since early January. Remember when I said that pretty soon I’d need to take an official break to finish up editing for Volume 1 and get some personal things accomplished? Now we are to this time.

Will I still be around, checking in to see what all of you are up to, and making sure my social media notifications don’t rebel through lack of attention? Yeah. But I seriously need to take a mini-hiatus from blogging.

A lot of it — I’ll be perfectly honest — is the current climate we find ourselves in in this little sphere of online influence. Unfortunately, there have been many recent incidents involving book bloggers that are less than respectful, qualify as the opposite of pleasant, and really leave me scratching my head and wondering how it came to this.

When I started blogging, I was encouraged by how many supportive people came out of the void that surrounds our little contributions to the blogisphere or the social media forums. My corner here was never the subject of true hated-ness, though there were a few people I kept a close eye on for possible unfriendliness. Luckily nothing more than blocking certain individuals has ever been necessary.

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However, this is not the case for some bloggers I know, and many on social media are receiving the brunt of people evidently forgetting to tell their kids, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I’m all for open discussion, but I think if we want to consider ourselves living in an advanced civilization, we also need to recognize the vital qualities required for this concept to work, such as respect, level-headedness, and not stomping on a person’s whole self-worth just because they happened not to like your favorite book.

I’ve touched on this idea a fair amount lately, since there’s been a rash of very, very bad stuff happening close to my online vicinity, and quite frankly, it disturbs me. Some of the posts I read either outright concern me because of their extreme intolerance (bordering on cruelty), or because of the behavior they’re reporting. For the first time in the past 2 years, I’m beginning to wonder if I should cut back on my continued efforts to reach out to others on this platform.

Anyway, it makes me all the more grateful for those of you who do stand by me, even if there are things we may disagree on. And it does embolden me to return when I am ready and able.

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This is another serious issue, though. Self-care has not been that high a priority for me in the last few weeks, and I am feeling the effects of it. Major feels. (Like seeing that final scene in Return of the King for the first time. Or when David Tennant left Doctor Who.) Just, physically.

Last week, I was plagued with headaches, fatigue, inability to sleep very well, and an intense ache in my side that only got more painful as the days went on. The desire to tackle my final edits for Volume 1 completely went away. Writers’ block set in for Volume 2. I inwardly shut down the idea of trying to do anything more exciting than sit on the couch and snuggle with Muffin (including cooking for myself or sometimes even taking a shower).

So, now that I know that I just can’t do it all right now — especially not when it seems every time I get on the internet, the world is ready to implode — I’m simply not going to attempt to do it all. This harsh, vitriolic environment greatly upsets me, and I don’t like that feeling. I want to focus on feeling good. Apparently I need to.

And I am very looking forward to getting Volume 1 moving forward again. To getting Muffin to these specialist appointments. To preparing for White Fang’s birthday and February break. To remembering where the hell I’m going with Volume 2.

Wish me luck. And I’ll be checking in now and then. I can’t completely go away from the little corner of joy I have here. Thank you so much, moths, truly.

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Valentine’s Day, Schmalentine’s Day

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We’re on the eve of supposedly the most romantic day of the year. A day which can bring fun and tender memories for couples, too much candy for small children, and which can really rankle singles. As a married woman with kids, let me tell you right now, single ladies: Valentine’s Day is not all it’s cracked up to be.

February 14th is not a more important date than your birthday, the day you graduate from high school or college, or the day you accomplish a major goal, like getting your first job or apartment. Valentine’s Day is just a cultural celebration that you don’t have to take part in, and shouldn’t feel bad if you’re not one half of a couple when it occurs.

There are also plenty of ways to celebrate as a single. You can get together with a bunch of single friends, and treat yourselves to chocolate and flowers. You can send a gift to a relative or acquaintance who’s been ill. Or deliver pet food and toys to a local animal shelter. (That’ll get you a lot of kisses and cuddles.)

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When I was younger, I used to feel left out on Valentine’s Day. By the time I was an adult and in a committed relationship, I realized that, while having a significant other on this day is fine, it’s also fine to not have one.

Maybe what changed my mind was spending February 14th, 14 years ago, in the maternity ward, waiting for White Fang to be born.

He is by far the best valentine I’ve ever received (although he didn’t officially say hi until the 15th).

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And even as an adult, there have been years when my husband and I forgot the date, and it wasn’t that big a deal. Chocolate makes you gain weight. Flowers are lovely but only last a little while. Significant others are just people. They may let you down. (Single guys, this is for you, too.) Which would you rather — having a partner for one particular day, or having a partner in life, someone who loves you whether you bring home a bouquet of roses or a cold, someone who will be there long after the calendar page has turned?

For anyone who doesn’t know the origin of Valentine’s Day (it was actually not invented by Hallmark or Nestle), St. Valentine was a priest who married couples during a time of war, when new marriages had been forbidden by the government, so that young drafted soldiers wouldn’t be “distracted” by their sweethearts at home. (This is true. Wikipedia it.) St. Valentine decided that uniting these couples would in fact make the soldiers — and therefore the military — stronger. He performed marriages for soldiers who asked him to, regardless of the government’s order, in fact risking his life by doing so.

Now that sounds like the power of true love.

So, if you’re single this Valentine’s Day, don’t sweat it. The right person for you is out there, and one day you’ll find each other — maybe on February 14th, but most likely on March 3rd, or July 29th, or October 1st. And whichever day it is, it will always be special, because of what it really means.

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The Importance of Not Jumping on the Bandwagon

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Am I really dating myself here? Does anyone even use this phrase anymore? Can someone under the age of 30 even tell me what it means? (By the way, I truly hope all these answers are yes…)

Anyway, just in case you don’t know, the term “jumping on the bandwagon” refers to just blindly following the latest big thing — if I say “trend,” will that make sense across the demographics?  The idea is that it’s considered a negative behavior, that people who just run with every new thing to come along — without stopping to evaluate whether they really agree with it — isn’t smart, or healthy, or beneficial.

I see the logic of that. For example, it can definitely be dangerous to go bungee jumping or cliff diving without proper supervision or equipment, just because “everybody’s doing it.” But, to get on track for the feel of this blog, and its usual sentiments, what does this mean for books?

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Let’s say you’re a reader, a writer, or both. If you don’t live under a rock inside your personal library and keep up with new publications every year, you’ll start to see trends emerge every now and then. A strong example I can pinpoint right away is The Hunger Games. After it had been on the bestseller list for several months, with a movie deal in the works and merchandise popping up everywhere, YA trilogies along a similar theme/concept were released at a rapid-fire rate. The Maze Runner, Divergent, Legend, The 5th Wave, Delirium, Matched, Uglies — while their individual stories were very different (from THG and from each other)they were all riding high on the wave of “dystopian future/teens in danger/overthrowing a totalitarian government is hot right now.”

Before anyone gets mad at me, I’m not for a minute suggesting any of these weren’t well-written books simply because they were part of a “trend.” Hardly. Whether I think these series were worth reading or not goes straight back to my criteria for determining a good book — fun, sensible plot; well-developed characters; realistic scenarios; relatable motivations. That’s how I evaluate every new release I’ve added to my TBR.

Here’s where my concern gets applied — many, many readers (especially teens, who are impressionable) chose to read most or all of these series simply because they were popular.  And this created quite an issue among parents who felt some of these trilogies were just not appropriate for their 15, 14, 13-year-olds. (Having read at least one book from almost every single set, I wholeheartedly concur that they’re not.)

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As parents, readers, and writers, we need to be aware of the necessity of putting our foot down when we feel trends have gotten out of control. As writers, we can pen novels with more age-appropriate plots, language, and morals we actually want our kids to adhere to. (Vital note: Love triangles are not only tiresome and unrealistic in fiction, but they often glamorize unhealthy behavior, such as obsessing over your attraction to a narcissistic individual to the point of shutting out the rest of the world. Not cool to send that message to teenagers, folks. Eating and sleeping and having non-vampire/alien/criminal/promiscuous friends is important.)

As readers, we can support authors/publishers who are getting this idea. Recently I’ve seen an expansion in MG fiction, to include more serious topics (more serious than failing a math test), but keeping the discussion at a level many 12 – 14-year-olds would relate to developmentally, along with clean language and non-gory fight scenes, and romance limited to a first crush or parents getting remarried. There’s finally beginning to be a move towards separating New Adult from Young Adult. (I complained about this a while ago. My guess is I wasn’t the only one standing on the soapbox with a megaphone.)

It is important to teach our kids to think for themselves. But how can we do that if we’re always checking the hashtags, downloading something based solely on the hashtag, not stopping for a minute in the bookstore to scan through the paperback our 6th-grader just handed us?

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Ways In Which I Am Not A Traditional Geek

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Most of the “the world” would consider me a geek. I am rarely seen without a book in my hand; I won’t be watching the latest chick flick, but a new sci-fi movie I’m game for; I have (shamelessly) cried like a baby during Doctor Who season finales.

But, there are several views I hold that would be shot down by the same “geek” community many would subscribe me to. So, I guess it’s confession time.

I don’t play video games. That’s right. The only reason I know so much about them is White Fang’s dad was a game designer. I have failed horribly at first person shooters such as Halo; been the master of mashing buttons in Dead or Alive (4, I think); and the last Final Fantasy I played was, I believe, 10. All of these experiments weren’t my idea (though I will admit to enjoying DoA and FF). The screenshot above (from Minecraft) is courtesy of White Fang, who is basically a programmer in training, and the resident Minecraft fiend in my midst. When I see ads for new games in a series I’m familiar with, or game-inspired movies, I’m a little bit in the know, but very little, and that’s not likely to change.

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I love ballet. A lot of “geeks” are into Broadway and the ballroom/jazzy/hip-hop style of dance that’s predominantly featured in those shows. But that’s just not for me. (Further confession — I don’t even like musicals. Sorry, folks.) Classical is the style I love the best, that my body appreciates and emulates the most, and that I am likely to drop everything for. (No offense, anyone, but) I won’t race to the TV for a clip of Hamilton; but a new version of Swan Lake — and children need to learn to watch themselves.

I don’t like Star Wars. This one may get me in some hot water. But it’s just a fact. And I’ll hasten to add, it’s just my opinion. If you’re a massive Star Wars fan, good for you. (I’m not one of those jerks.) But I’ll just have to politely excuse myself from the in-depth discussions about Jedi vs. Sith and the complexities of The Clone Wars.

I gave up on Doctor Who halfway through Matt Smith. Like many fans who had mixed feelings about the story arcs after Amy and Rory were close to leaving/had officially left, my drive to keep caught up on new episodes really faded out. And I just did not care for Clara or her storylines. So, since I don’t have to plant myself in front of the TV for this show, I’m not. I still fondly re-watch the Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant eras, and am content to stay there.

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I never read comic books, have barely touched manga, and avoid graphic novels. Again, this is purely personal taste. The main reason I don’t do this format is simply because I find it confusing. Following the text in the bubbles and the action in the pictures with no over-reaching narrative to explain what’s really going is super tough for me. I truly appreciate the work these artists put in to their genre, though; so, for their sake, I’m really glad I’m in the minority of non-fandom.

The only Star Trek series for me is the original. (Leonard Nimoy was one of my childhood heroes, and I want a Tribble; I’m aware of the risks.) Am loving the new movies that go back to this show’s roots.

I’ve only read through The Lord of the Rings books once. No, this does not make me a traitor, I swear. And I saw the movies before I started reading the trilogy. Still not a traitor, really.

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Along those same lines, I generally don’t read high fantasy. Not knowing how to pronounce anyone’s name, or where they’re going, is a real turn-off for me as a reader. I’d much rather (gasp!) wait for the movie to come out.

I don’t even belong to any fandoms. Stop shouting at your screens, I swear I am a true geek. When I was 7, I wanted to marry The Goblin King, and be Almathea (The Last Unicorn). Rose Tyler is the best Companion ever; it’s officially carved in a block of ice on the planet Woman Wept. For my birthday I got an Evenstar. I proudly carry a TARDIS tote bag. Minecraft has llamas now. See? For me, it’s more about time than anything else. I have a slightly obsessive trait buried down deep (because I’ve repressed it to survive), and if I let myself get started on the forums and the accounts and the threads, I would never eat or sleep or take care of my kids. And those things are kind of important, too.

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White Fang’s Greatest Hits

My “baby” is turning 14 next week (bring out the tissues and leave me alone). As a tribute to my ever-brilliant, ever-maddening, ever-amazing oldest, here’s a re-post of this collection of zany and poignant tidbits.

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On Muffin hitting the troublesome stage of toddlerhood: “One day I’ll come home to you chasing a naked baby running through the house, while something’s boiling over on the stove, and you’re dropping stuff, and the cat is like, ‘Let me out of here.’ ”

On Muffin complaining while they were wrestling: “I will squish him, and then his cuteness will be absorbed into me. …This is going in the blog, isn’t it?”

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When he found his latest Minecraft house was overrun with monsters: “Tiny pest problem. Super tiny. I’ll be able to fix it.”

When he discovered some of these same monsters were not behaving themselves: “Oh my gosh, Creeper and Spider, stop trying to mate! Oh my gosh, get a room!!”

After Muffin’s first Early Intervention visit: “Mom, do you think he’ll have autism? If he doesn’t, will he be able to understand me?”

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While trying to arrange a Gathering for his Warriors fan community: “And Bramblestar said, ‘All cats, here, sit beside this…giant pile of…stuff!’ ”

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