Deal breakers, those literary tropes, or latest annoying character attributions, or plot un-believability or all-round “you’ve GOT to be kidding me” that will make you stop reading a young adult book. This is a subject that I am planning to bring up with my *group of teens. Here is one of mine.
Deal breaker: Boring YA female main characters
Usually I can tell when I’m not going to like a book by its cover. Yeah, yeah, I know, don’t judge a book by its cover, but really, with the latest trends in young adults I can tell what’s going to happen in the story and what the main character is going to be like by the cover. You know the ones, there’s a girl standing on a cliff or in a field, usually somewhere remote and desolate, wearing a long dress that looks hot, tight and uncomfortable, hair gently wafting in the wind as she stares off into the distance. Then I open the cover and start reading only to find that’s the most this character does: stand places staring off into the distance.
These female characters do not make the action happen in the story thus they do not move the plot. What they do is have pages and pages of internal conversation about what is happening to them and how they feel about it and wonder how others feel about it, but they don’t actually do anything. At most they move along the teen life pattern of home, school, and meeting place(s) and home again. Home is defined as any place they rest whether it is their actual home or makeshift.
If it’s not conversation then flashbacks are used instead to explain either why they are the way they are or how their relationships with other characters came to be, what those relationships mean to the main character and how they feel about it. (My thought is if the background is so important why not start the story there instead. Over use of flashbacks is another deal breaker.)
Who does move the story? The secondary characters do. They are the ones who believe what is happening to the main character and are helping her solve her dilemma. They do all of the heavy lifting: the decision-making, the training, the fighting and the explaining. They also do a lot of shuttling the main character around and setting them to the side whenever any action happens. (Invariably something happens during the fight scene and the main character is standing off to the side get hit by some projectile and knocked out because they were too busy with their internal conversation to duck.)
Secondary characters are more interesting and exciting to me as a reader. They just do more. I start to wonder why are the secondary character much more interesting than the main character. Then I wonder what the story would be like if the main character hadn’t been in the story at all.
How I have been handling this deal breaker is by reading more and more books with male protagonists. Male main characters mix the internal dialogue with the action. You can see them make a decision and then act on it. They tend to be more impulsive and they react quicker to complications.
Tell me your deal breakers that you have in the comments.
Books with proactive male and female main characters that I’ve read recently:
- “Not A Drop To Drink” by Mindy McGinnis
“Winger” by Andrew Smith
- “Wise Young Fool” by Sean Beaudoin
- “Antigoddess” by Kendare Blake
- “The Dream Thieves” by Maggie Stiefvater (must read Raven Boys first)
- “Reality Boy” by A. S. King
- “The 5th Wave” by Rick Yancey
- “Ashes” by Ilsa Bick
- “Orleans” by Sherri L. Smith
- “The Cadet of Tildor by Alex Liddell
*My group is unable to meet this fall semester because their library is moving and my library remodeling. I am looking forward to meeting with them during the spring semester