5 Biggest Cliches in YA Romance

Recently, I’ve spent some time working my way through the bestseller list of YA romance fiction – everything from John Green to hit debuts such as ‘Everything Everything’ by Nicola Yoon, which was recently made into a movie.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the book. But for now I’m done with YA fiction and going back to my usual genre of world lit, classics and general gritty depressing stories that leave me in existential doubt for days afterwards. As charming as it sometimes is to indulge in the idealistic world of manic pixie dream girls (MPDGs), deep conversations under the stars and passionate, obsessive love affairs, it’s all starting to feel a bit fake. Here are the 5 biggest cliches that I think have been way overdone in YA these days:

  1. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She’s beautiful. She’s deep. She’s probably a metaphor. She’s ‘broken’ but ‘strong’ and wants to make cryptic remarks about the meaning of life on a rooftop at 3am. She’s ‘not like the other girls’ because she’s a special snowflake and apparently has the ability to understand life better than everyone else, despite being a teenager with no actual life experience. Most likely she has a mental illness that’s probably being romanticised by the male love interest. Examples: basically anything written by John Green, pretty much ever.
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  2. The MPDGs favourite activity? Astronomy of course. Because relating everything in your life to the workings of the universe automatically makes you deep apparently. Sorry, no. It doesn’t make you deep. It makes you sound kind of egotistical and occasionally like a bad science textbook. Example: Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon
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  3. The dead parent/sibling/relative trope. Quite often it just seems like a lazy attempt to remove the adults from the story so the author doesn’t have to write them. In reality, family relationships are a pretty damn huge part of teenager’s lives. It’d be nice to see some more YA novels accurately reflect that.
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  4. Romanticising mental illness. This one worries me. While I have read some books which have given the topic the gravity it deserves (Laurie Halse Anderson does this excellently) I’ve also read many more that treat it as ‘teenage angst’ or an interesting quirk to make the character seem broody, mysterious and ultimately more attractive. Yeah, no. Just don’t. Being depressed isn’t sexy, it’s just extremely unpleasant and soul-destroying really.
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  5. Instalove! Because why spend valuable pages on having the characters actually get to know each other when they could be discussing the stars and their undying love instead.

What tropes and cliches do you hate in YA fiction? 

On a side note, my novel ‘This Really Happened’ is free this week until 30th September. You can download it here

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Book Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I’ve recently finished reading ‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas, amid all of the hype over this book. And let me just say this: that hype is well deserved. I’m just going to make it clear right now that I adored this novel and am rating it 5/5 stars. It’s funny, heart-breaking, relatable and so, so relevant right now with everything that’s going on in the world. It’s a story that needs to be told and a truly fantastic debut in the YA genre for 2017.

The story follows Starr, a seventeen year old girl ‘from the hood’ A.K.A Garden Heights. Her life is divided into two parts: the Starr she acts like at her preppy, white private school, and her true self. However her two lives are blown apart when she witnesses the fatal shooting of her friend Khalil by a white police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. With pressures facing her on all sides, Starr must decide between what is right and what is easy. She must use her voice to fight for justice, for Khalil and herself.

I found Starr to be a relatable, down-to-earth protagonist who I could easily feel for and imagine myself in the shoes of. The confusing storm of emotions she feels in the wake of her friend’s murder is very believable and deeply painful to read, especially knowing that although this book is fiction, it’s based on true events. Her close relationship with her family members is also at times hilarious and heart-warming to read. I loved her interactions with her dad in particular, who clearly cares a lot for his family and neighbourhood, despite being an ex-con and an ex-gangster.

Thomas has done an excellent job of developing a large and diverse cast of characters, delving into their backstories and humanising them in ways that allow you to understand their choices, even if they’re bad ones. A lot of the book is centred on examining the stereotypes and assumptions people make about ‘thug life’ and the black community – an idea which is very neatly explained by Tupac’s lyrics ‘The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody’. Too often the media’s portrayal of these communities is one-dimensional, focusing only on the bad without understanding the complex web of reasons behind it. Thomas’ book rightly examines how many of these people, like Khalil, are in fact victims of a system that is already stacked against them and how perpetuating these stereotypes will only continue to worsen the situation.

I also really enjoyed the subtle critique of ‘casual racism’ in this book – how racist terminology has become so ingrained in our culture that we might not even be aware of it. Chris, Starr’s white boyfriend, provides a model example of how not to take white priviledge for granted. His tolerance and sensitivity are a great contrast to Hailey – Starr’s white best friend who keeps making racist jokes and then tries to deny that they’re racist. I thought this was really important, as it shows that racism isn’t just about big flashy news headlines, it’s about the little things too. And as someone who’s been on the receiving end of those kinds of jokes, I felt a sense of validation to know that I did have the right to get upset over it.

Overall, I thought this book was incredibly well-written and authentic. A lot of it is clearly based on personal experience and the author did a fantastic job of bringing Garden Heights and its inhabitants to life. It’s not often I find a YA book that deals with serious issues such as this so well, and I think it really has the potential to make a difference.

Have you read ‘The Hate U Give’? What did you think of it? Leave your comments below!

Book Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

‘In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer’ – Albert Camus

In 1939, The Soviet Union occupied the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Thousands of citizens considered to be ‘anti-soviet’ were murdered, sent to prison or deported into slavery in Siberia. Ruta Sepetys’ debut novel ‘Between shades of gray’ is the harrowing story of these deportees, told from the perspective of Lina, a 15 year old girl whose family are taken in the middle of the night by Russian soldiers and sent to a Siberian work camp.

I first heard about this book on goodreads. I usually don’t read historical fiction, but it had such a high rating that I had to see what the hype was about. And believe me, that rating is well deserved. Haunting in its simplicity and brutally honest, this book tells the story of one of WWII’s hidden tragedies. While the horrors the Nazis committed and the holocaust are general knowledge, the invasion of the Baltic states is virtually ignored in history lessons, which is why I think reading this book is so important. It gives a voice to a silenced generation of people, uncovers a trauma narrative that has woven its way to the very heart of the nation.

Sepetys prose is not flowery or elaborate. It’s stark, cold and sometimes detached, reflecting the bleak reality of the protagonists lives. However this doesn’t mean that it’s unemotional; on the contrary emotion seeps into every part of the narrative, from Lina’s flashbacks to the happier times in her past, to her overflowing love for her family. Despite being subjected to hostile conditions, abuse and trauma at the hands of the Russian soldiers, Lina remains strong and determined to escape, to reunite her family and return to her homeland with them.

One of the things I loved about this novel is the characterisation. Lina, her younger brother Jonas, their mother and Andrius (Lina’s love interest) are all unique, three-dimensional characters with their own passions, their own dreams, but also sharing the same dream: to return home. Lina’s observations of the other deportees in their group are morbidly humorous, quirky and insightful. It’s a beautiful depiction of how adversity can bond people together and the strength of the human survival instinct.

I can’t say it was an easy book to read. There were times when I had to take a break and pull myself out of it because it was sending me into a downward spiral of ‘how can people be so cruel? What’s wrong with humanity?’ Saying this though, it was a necessary book to read. Based on true events, this novel is an education as well as a lesson in empathy. It’s heart-breaking and harrowing, but at the same time incredibly inspiring. While it showcases the worst side of humanity, it also showcases the best: how, in Ruta Sepetys’s words, ‘love reveals to us the truly miraculous nature of the human spirit.’

Have you read this book, or others by Ruta Sepetys? Let me know your thoughts! 

Book review: ‘We were liars’ by E. Lockhart

“The island is ours. Here, in some way, we are young forever.”

I’ve read a lot of books in the last few months. Spending nearly 3 hours a day on a train commuting to work and back has made reading the highlight of my day. But despite all of the classics I’ve read ‘We were liars’ is the book that has stuck with me. I know that many will claim that it’s not in the same league because it’s ‘YA’ and therefore of lesser value somehow. But frankly I feel like there’s not enough space in the world of literature for newness, that literature is very much a closed off category of the past.

‘We were liars’ is a work of the present. Through her depiction of the Sinclair family, Lockhart paints a surprisingly authentic metaphor of modern day American society, touching on relevant issues such as insidious racism and power struggles within the family dynamic. Though the Sinclairs may be beautiful, rich and powerful on the outside, they are riddled with corruption and tragedy underneath.

Cadence Eastman Sinclair is the American golden girl; she’s rich, pretty, loved, however beneath the facade she is struggling with chronic, debilitating migraines, which doctors believe to be a symptom of a post-traumatic brain injury. She believes this was caused by an accident she had swimming in the sea, while holidaying on her family’s island two summers ago. However she’s not really sure, since the accident also caused amnesia.

From there Cadence takes us on a trip down memory lane, back to when she first went to the island with the rest of her family, including her cousins Johnny and Mirren and Johnny’s best friend Gat.

The four of them quickly become close friends, calling themselves the ‘liars’. Cadence falls in love with Gat and they start a summer fling, one that Cadence’s grandfather, the patriarch of the family, disproves of since Gat is ethnically Indian. While the grandfather never says this outright and speaks more in veiled threats than clear statements, the situation becomes tense and Gat mysteriously breaks off the budding romance.

Heartbroken, Cadence tries to move on, however when she finally returns to the island 2 summers later everything has changed and it’s clear that something isn’t right. What really happened on the night of the accident? To discover the truth, Cadence is forced to dig up old memories that are probably better left buried.

Lockhart’s prose flows effortlessly as she describes lazy days on the beach of a paradise island cut off from reality. Everything about this book has a dreamy, semi-lucid quality to it, evoking emotion and imagery with every paragraph. It’s truly a masterpiece to read, and even better when you find out what the twist is at the end. Though I had my suspicions, it still took me by surprise and I thought it was very masterfully constructed. I was satisfied with the ending and, though I was sad it was over, it felt like the story had come to a natural close.

I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys mysteries, suspense, psychological thrillers and general YA. It really is an excellent read and definitely worth the time investment.

Ender’s Game – Best of Sci-Fi

So, it took me three whole days to finish reading the novel ‘Ender’s Game’ by Orson Scott Card, and then move quickly onto the film. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it’s one of those books that you can’t put down, that makes you forget your body’s annoying need for things like sleep, that makes all other tasks in life seem dreary and completely unnecessary because, dammit, you could be reading instead.

I digress, but my point is that it was very hard to tear myself away from this particular book and it became a bit of an addiction. Let’s face it, beautiful prose is basically a Literature student’s version of substance abuse.

I’ll be focusing only on the novel today, though I may blog in the future about the film adaptation also. I’m going to choose the top 5 things I love about the novel. 

The Originality – I have to admit, there has been a LOT of sci-fi ‘stop the alien invasion’ fiction around lately, but Ender’s Game has got to be one of the most creative and original concepts I’ve seen in a long time. For one, the aliens aren’t actually the main focus. Yes, they’re the driving force of the plot, but that’s all they ever are: a mysterious ‘enemy’ that must be defeated, except no one really knows why until the very end, leaving us to question the morality of it throughout most of the book.

The Detail: Card’s writing style is very easy to read and get into. He delves right into the story and constantly moves the plot along at a pretty fast pace. No time to stop and dawdle on the majesty of the universe, or waste a few pages describing the artful space chair (cough Charles Dickens cough take a hint). There’s a nice balance between dialogue, description and emotion. Enough so that we as the reader have the chance to connect with Ender and feel sympathy for him, but not so much that we start to hate him for being a whiney brat. Though I did find some of the action scenes in the battle room hard to visualise because of the whole ‘null gravity’ thing, I liked that Card didn’t try and patronise readers by over-explaining everything and instead trusted us to use our own imaginations. He’s fantastic at the whole ‘show but don’t tell’ thing, a skill which has been drilled into my head by every creative writing guide I’ve ever read.

The side-plots: I liked how the author wasn’t afraid to shift perspective from Ender to some of the other protagonists, making the plot that much more complex. General Graff, for instance, provides an interesting insight into how the bureaucracy has chosen to justify using children as military weapons. His relationship with Ender, too, can be seen as almost paternal. The other big plot line is that of Valentine and Peter: Ender’s siblings. After all, if a 10 year old military space commander is believable, then why not a 14 year old megalomaniac intent on world domination? Peter and Valentine’s little political stint makes a nice real-world contrast to all of the intergalactic conflict happening in Ender’s life, and in a way reminds us that the futuristic society that the novel is set in may not be all that different from our own.

The supporting characters: I found that every one of the supporting characters had their own distinct personality traits, and there was something to either love or hate about all of them. Sometimes, especially with the bullies like Bernard and Bonzo, it’s how they react to situations and how they are provoked. Sometimes it’s the language they use: certain slang words, a way of speaking. A lot of the time it’s through Ender’s relationship with them, most notably Alai and Bean.

Ender himself – ah. How do I even begin? Of course you have a soft spot for him. Everyone does. Even the people training him to commit genocide. Admittedly, I do have a soft spot for misunderstood clever boys (cough Sherlock cough) but Ender is a special case. Maybe because he’s always getting bullied and everyone loves an underdog. Maybe because he actually defends himself. But I think the main reason is that despite being a child prodigy, he still retains his innocence and compassion. ‘Ender’s Game’ is just as much about Ender’s humanity as it is about him being a badass military commander. He feels guilt for hurting others, but does it anyway because he knows he has to. It seems like the reluctant hero is always the most loved.

Overall, it’s a brilliant book that deals with a lot of dark themes. Honestly, it doesn’t seem like YA at all, even though it would technically be in that genre as the protagonist is only 10 years old for most of it. Somehow, Card made the entire concept of a kid in the military very believable, and while telling Ender’s story simultaneously questions the morality and ethics of warfare. Though it may be set centuries into the future, Ender’s Game relates to timeless issues affecting all of us – what makes us human? How far can we go while retaining our humanity? To destroy monsters, you must become one. I have no idea who came up with that quote, but it seems very applicable to Ender Wiggin.