I never thought this day would come. Most weeks you can find me on The Booket List crapping on YA books. I routinely makes jokes about “that girl who’s somehow… different” and the “dark, brooding man with rippling muscles concealed beneath his unassuming frame,” who usually has a name like Ridge, or Zane. Yet here I stand today (well, actually I like to sit while writing) as a bulwark against book enthusiasts who seem to think that YA literature is little more than pretty firewood.
First, let me get this out of the way: I don’t like dystopian romance. It’s overdone, relentlessly tropey, and they’re all essentially rewriting of the same story. However, that’s not to say that they don’t have any literary merit. This unexpected defense was sparked by a recent comment on a Reddit post. Someone was dismissing dystopian romance as a fad that is, thankfully, fading into the past. This got me thinking; why are these overdone books so popular? Surely they have something to offer! So, I compiled my defense, realized that I needed an article for the week, and here we are.
So, what does this oft-ridiculed genre do right? First, they provide relatable and compelling protagonists. Teenagers like books featuring characters they can relate to. The reason dystopian YA books feature moody and dramatic protagonists is because teenagers are moody and dramatic. The readers are given a character they can identify with, but who is also (hopefully) independent, intelligent, and critical. Last I checked, those aren’t exactly qualities we should be discouraging.
That’s not to say that YADR (it’s probably a good idea to throw in an acronym for Young Adult Dystopian Romance at this point) books aren’t extremely flawed. Most of the criticisms against them are perfectly valid. For the most part they’re poorly written, lack originality and well-rounded characters, and can push slightly unhealthy ideas about ditching life for a man. However, these flaws also make for an extremely appealing read (from a teenager’s perspective, of course). The language and plot may be poorly done and simplistic, but that makes for an extremely easy read. Lack of originality makes for an extremely familiar and comfortable story. Cookie-cutter characters provide lots of room to place your own thoughts and feelings into the story. And, although the relationships highlighted in YADR books can be… questionable… they feature strong and active female protagonists. We still have a long way to go, but today’s YA books are a far cry from the days of Twilight, where the leading female was just expected to brood and let the plot happen to her.
Would I rather today’s youths read 1984 or Fahrenheit 451 rather than Divergent or Hunger Games? Absolutely! Many books offer a much more… nuanced approach to reality than YADR, but I’m of the opinion that there’s no such thing as “trash books.” Think of YADR as a sort of gateway genre to other literature, rather than something worthless. Dystopian romance offers an outlet to thousands of teenagers, and I see that as a net positive. Let’s stop worrying about what those blasted youths are up to and let them be kids.