Are the characters in young adult novels good role models?
Jessica looks at the importance of quality content in young adult novels
From a young age, reading has always been a passion of mine and, as I got older, I continued to engage myself in a variety of genres such as Young Adult (YA) fiction. This category of reading is made for teenagers above the age of 15 and contains more mature content. YA books have always been a favorite genre for me due to the amazing authors who have emerged out of it, like E. Lockhart, Jesse Andrews, and Jenny Han. However, these days some of the most popular YA writers such as John Green and Stephanie Meyer have created misconceptions of the real world and romance.
One of my biggest issue relating to YA fiction is the unrealistic way that characters solve their personal problems. Often in Young Adult books, the main character is struggling through a personal issue such as an identity crisis or self hatred but, by the end of the story, their problems are magically gone once they meet the right romantic interest. Take John Green’s ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ for example. In 2014, this book reached 10.7 million sales and is one of the most well-known YA novels to date. ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ is a novel about a teenage girl named Hazel Grace who has been diagnosed with cancer and at the beginning feels misunderstood due to her circumstances. After meeting a cute boy named Augustus, in her cancer support group, the two develop a relationship. The couple go through their ups and downs but one message above all is definitely clear, you need romance in your life in order to be happy. While I do understand the importance of having a good support system, I do not agree with Green’s message that a significant other is the only way for a person to find true happiness. This is quite the issue with YA novels as young readers will start to believe that instances like Hazel Grace’s are true. However, in a more realistic view of the world, stories like ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ are not everyday occurrences. So, instead of teaching young adults that someone can “fix” you, we should be teaching all young people that happiness comes from within through self-love.
In addition, the codependency that the main characters develop on a love interest is a huge issue as well that is popular throughout Young Adult fiction. YA novels have a tendency to create very two dimensional female characters and, a part of the problem with Young Adult books these days is that the characters are not developed enough to be their own person. The women in these stories are often portrayed as broken, vulnerable, or unhappy. With specific reference Stephanie Meyer’s best selling series, the Twilight Saga, the main character, Bella lacks her own personal identity and lives in the shadows of others. From the beginning of the novel, Bella feels sorry for herself as she has recently becomes the new girl in town. Almost immediately after this, she is drawn to a fellow classmate named Edward. There, they fall in love and, she becomes a part of his world, even after finding out that he is a vampire. In my experience, I can easily say that Bella is one of the most two-dimensional characters that I have encountered in YA fiction. She is dry, uncharismatic and at one point is willing to give up her whole life in order to be with her boyfriend Edward. This is not a positive message to be spread out to young impressionable readers as it teaches the lesson that being that heavily co-dependent on someone is a positive thing. However, in order to have a healthy relationship, both partners should continue to be their own person and to learn how to grow together in a positive way.
There needs to be a change in the way that authors write Young Adult novels. These stories leave a direct impression on how readers perceive the world as it teaches them lessons beyond the classroom. However, if we are teaching teenage readers that things like extreme codependency is a good thing and that romance is the answer to all problems, it will not prepare them realistically to solve their own issues and will prevent them from growing as a person. We need to see more well-developed characters who reflect who we are, realistic ways that demonstrate how to solve our issues, and above all, we deserve for the quality of Young Adult fiction to be better.