A Persistence of Predictability

Grace Gomez-Palacio

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A quick disclaimer: No, I’m not trying to hate on your favorite authors. No, I don’t hate your favorite books. 94% of the time, I hold nothing but the utmost respect for authors trying to connect with the younger generations through literature. Being published is difficult, being an author is hard, and there’ve been plenty of outstanding stories written for teens that deserve all the recognition and readership they get.

That being said, the YA section is mostly trash.

Wait! Before you rear up, with your favorite John Green novel or post-apocalyptic dystopian wasteland in paperback clutched to your chest, hear me out.

While young adult literature has spawned many masterpieces throughout our day and age, there has remained a common, easy collection of tropes for authors to fall back on. The teen romance genre has been a consistently well-selling source of new stories- after all, think of all the ways you can set up two conflicted, juxtaposed young people with a heart melting story ending in only the truest of love. You can even spice it up with a tragic family situation for one half of the pair, or add in a dash of comedic timing to make the whole thing a bit lighter.

Or, as most of the YA section tends toward, you could create two walking stereotypes and model a picture perfect boy-meets-girl tale with a plot the reader can figure out from two chapters in. Feel free to spice it up with a few twists and turns your reader never saw coming, but watch out! Your characters will be so oversaturated with “relatability,” literally no one will care (for reference, try checking out The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak, by Brian Katcher. Fun, geeky, and a plot that tries hard to surprise you but ends exactly how you’d expect).

Chalk it up to overly-critical personal preference, but to me these sort of stories are the literary equivalent of those 50 cent bubble gum packs on the shelves near the register- they’re sweet, they’re boring, and there’s about sixty million of them. I can stomach maybe five or six pieces before I start feeling sick and altogether entirely fed up with the flavor, and then the whole pack is getting tossed.

Occasionally, an author will make up for an overused plot line with poetic or insightful writing that makes it genuinely fun to read, however more often than not, there seems to be a certain young adult success formula that no author dares stray from. They take the same mold, fit a fresh setting or situation around it, and get published.

Take, for instance, two of this year’s Gateway Award nominees: Emmy and Oliver and Extraordinary Means, by Robin Benway and Robyn Schneider respectively. These books have equally forgettable main characters and details that parallel each other to a frighteningly exact extent. I would describe in further detail, but it may be better just to read the two of them and compare yourself. While their locations and issues aren’t even somewhat related (i’ll give them that, at least), the overall impact is disappointing repetitiveness and decent writing that’s overshadowed by the lingering feeling of deja vu.

These books were voted among the best teen literature in the state.

And here’s the worst part: it’s not even the fact that the books are bad, as in, badly written or badly conceived. The premises are often decently interesting, but the actual content is just a collection of that certain brand of clichés reserved especially for the teenage masses. When you’ve read one or two, you’ve read ‘em all.

Now, don’t get me wrong- for some people, these stories are just plain fun. Something sweet and maybe a little predictable, but you read it for the same reason you eat the entire brownie after telling yourself you would only have half. It’s a little indulgent, has no lasting impact, and tastes perfectly nice, so all’s well that ends well.

But for me, who’s not the biggest fan of and has seen romance used as a staggeringly ineffectual main plot point far too many times before, these YA books turn eating a single brownie into crunching on cocoa-dusted rocks. Just for once, I’d rather toss out the brownies and bubble gum, and go for pizza instead.

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A Persistence of Predictability