February 14, 2011

Find the Gap: Breaking Stereotypes

What's missing in YA? Last week the discussion was on characters, the week before on settings. This week I thought I'd do the broader topic of breaking stereotypes. What stereotypes would you like to see thoroughly crushed in YA novels?

Here are a few I've thought up:

- The girl-must-be-shorter-than-the-guy stereotype. Seriously. I know I mentioned last week that I'd like to see more books where the female protagonist is tall, but this is a related point that is equally annoying. (Trust me, when you're taller than most of the population, guys that are even taller than you are few and far between.) I particularly liked the fact that in Anna and the French Kiss, √Čtienne is shorter than Anna, and yet it doesn't undermine his self-confidence and really isn't a focal point of the novel at all.

- The religion-and-race-go-hand-in-hand stereotype. I'd like to see some books about characters who, for instance, are Caucasian and Muslim. Or are Asian and Christian. African and Buddhist. We have certain immediate associations of race and religion, and while of course these have a foundation, they are still stereotypes. It would be fantastic to see some YA novels that push the envelope on this one.

- The "ordinary"-protagonist-discovers-unsurpassed-hidden-magic-powers stereotype. This one gets me all the time in YA fantasy. The boy or girl thinks they are totally average, or maybe even a bit of a weakling. Then they get some help from a kind, elderly mentor type, go on a quest, and on the way discover they have magical talent that absolutely no one else in their world has, and they are the only one who can defeat the evil that is stirring in the east. (Okay, I stole that last bit from Lord of the Rings.) How about an ordinary protagonist who really is totally ordinary? Or, okay, let's say they have magical powers, but they've known about them all along, and they aren't any more special than their brothers and sisters? This one is even more frustrating if they discover their hidden talents RIGHT when they are absolutely convinced they are going to die. Convenient much?

Harry Potter is excluded from this, because he is awesome. But there are some pretty poor HP wanna-bes out there...
-The love-interest-appears-first-in-a-dream stereotype. This one is particularly popular among paranormal YA books these days, and I really just can't get into it. For one thing, it's just happening too much in a copycat kind of way that makes me groan when I see it coming. Secondly, usually the response when the love interest actually pops up in real life is, "Oh, I dreamed about you! It must be true love...we're fated to be together!" Maybe it's just me, but if I met a guy that I'd dreamed about before I'd ever laid eyes on him, I think I would be mightily creeped out.

Make up your mind, Bella.
- The girl-is-caught-between-two-equally-amazing-guys stereotype. I know love triangles have been discussed on many other blogs, but the trend has been getting on my nerves too. If it's done well, I don't mind it, but what really gets me is when the girl who is trying to choose keeps flitting back and forth between the two guys and leading them on. I've seen this "whichever one I'm with" mindset now in several protagonists and frankly, I start getting really frustrated with the girl and feeling sorry for the poor guys who just keep getting used and coming back for more. It doesn't reflect well on the heroine and gets me thinking that she doesn't deserve either of them!

So, what do you think is missing in terms of breaking stereotypes? Which do you think need to be chipped away at some more?

Oh, and Happy Valentine's Day to all of my readers! Eat lots of chocolate today :)


  1. I'm really not a fan of the dream stereotype at all.... I just don't feel the romance between the characters. I have yet to read a good one.

    And I am SO sick of love triangles. ... Or maybe I just haven't read one that was good.

  2. Great post! I love that you put a picture from Lovely Complex! I love that manga/anime :)

  3. Your comment about race/religion made me think of another "gap" - there's a fair amount of "Christian fantasy" out there (C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, etc) but I've never read a fantasy book that uses a different religious worldview, other than a sort of general mishmash of "pagan" (i.e. most generic fantasy.) It would be quite interesting to read a fantasy book that was written from, say, a Buddhist or a Muslim perspective. (I've read some historical fiction with fantastic elements that does this - but none set in another world entirely.)

    1. It's not really a main topic in this anime but Rurouni Kenshin does have different religions and some more serious tones to it. Budism and Christianity mostly though. But it's not played for laughs or something. But again, it's only a sub topic in the anime but it does happen. It has pretty serious topics overall. Great main cast as well. Really worth everybody's time I think.

  4. Totally agree with your comments on the Love Triangel storylines. They really are getting redundant! Some are done really well, but most are a bit generic now...

  5. Great post! I am so sick of love triangles. I usually avoid books that feature them. Lately they have been cropping up in a lot of paranormal romance novels such as The Immortals Series by Alyson Noel and it just drives me nuts.

  6. I love these posts and I agree with you on the short guys tall girls. Race and religion as well, There are such things as Black Muslims and the like. I'd love to see something totally unexpected or something that was not explored. I would like to see an ordinary person discover that they were an ordinary person. I want someone to write a novel about someone who was ordinary surrounded by crazy magical people.

    I can't wait for your next posts, I love reading these so much, I love all the gaps that you notice and demand more from.

  7. @Cialina: Glad to hear I'm not the only one who doesn't find the dream stereotype appealing!

    @Sy: Thanks! I haven't actually read that manga but I thought the picture was cute :D

    @contrapuntalplatypus: Oh, good point! I can't think of any fantasy that incorporates religion noticeably other than Christian fantasy.

    @Brooke: So true that the love triangles are becoming generic! Often I feel like I could almost take the guys from different books and switch them and it wouldn't make much of a difference.

    @YA Book Lover: I know, the love triangles seem particularly popular in paranormal romance. Less so in contemp YA, I think, perhaps because they just aren't that realistic... :D

    @Najela: Thanks so much, I'm so glad to hear you've been enjoying them! It would be fantastic to have a main character who was a Black Muslim, definitely. And I'd love to see a protag who was ordinary living in a world with lots of magically talented individuals, and have the protag *stay* ordinary through the whole book!

  8. Awesome post, more unique un-stereotypical books would be awesome in the YA genre. I do admit to loving stereotypes when they're done well but yeah, they can get old, but then again they're awesomeness when they have a twist to them that makes them all lovely and fresh. I'm not that into love triangles that much lately, they can get really frustrating and disappointing when they're not written that well. I always feel so sorry for the third guy. Also Happy Valentine's Day to you too!

  9. This was an interesting post with good thoughts! Like everyone else, I don't care for the love triangle.....all the angst gets tiresome to say the least.

  10. Couldn't agree more with you about the love triangle. I don't mind some of them, but I really don't like it when it turns into the girl leading on both guys.

    I want to see the "anti-damsel" stereotype broken. It's kind of funny how this stereotype was created to combat a stereotype, but it's become a stereotype itself.

    Can't we have a female main character who is both strong and girly? Why does femininity need to be removed in order to have an admirable female lead? I love Evie from Paranormalcy in part because she is strong but also girly.

  11. Couldn't agree with you more, especially about the love triangle. Don't get me wrong, some stories do this really well. But, when the girl is playing with both guys and the guys just go along with it, knowing very well that there is the other one and doing nothing but follow the heroine's fancy, now that's really what bugs me.

  12. Apropos - The girl must be shorter than the boy.

    Sorry - but as a 6 ft girl there has always been issue kissing down to a boy / man - well to be honest it was actually on only one occassion and scared me for life!!!! Call me old fashioned (And I'm not in any other aspect of my life - I promise - I'm a signed up empowered, independent career feminist in almost every way - LOL) but it just doesn't feel right / hot (for me) to bend down to a man to kiss him.(Noses - don't start me on noses!) As a result, I made it a priority to find a hubby that was 6ft 4 and I also need my male protagonists tall. I need my head to nestle into a solid shoulder when times are tough.
    But on reflection, I might make an exception to the rule if Johhny Depp was asking - we'll I'd give it a go for the sake of therapy!

  13. Great post! A stereotype I'd add would be the quirky BFF/sidekick who is there mostly for comic relief or to make the MC (who is often oblivious to her own beauty/talents/power) look even better. I'd like to see more BFFs or female "sidekicks" who have different qualities, and I'd like to see richer, more complex, more nuanced friendships between girls.

  14. Fantastic stereotype examples! I don't like the stereotypes in high school set books of the popular girl being drop dead georgeous and the girl who always works hard being unfashionable and unsociable. Why can't pretty girls also be clever? I realise there are actually quite a lot of books where the characters are like that and it can almost be a bit tedious if the girl seems too perfect all round but more of a balance would be nice to see. I also agree with Small Review about wanting to see more strong and girly heroines.

  15. @Anna: Aw, thanks! I agree, when there is a twist on a stereotype or something that makes it memorable then it is so much more enjoyable.

    @Sharon: So with you on the tiresome angst :D

    @Small Review: I know what you mean about the "anti-damsel" stereotype! I don't mind it quite as much as the traditional 'damsel in distress' one, but often the protag seems so invincible that it's tough to relate to them. Good point, Evie is a great example of a strong female protag who still likes girly things :)

    @Cheree: Yes, exactly!

    @Katie: LOL, I think a lot of women might make an exception for Johnny Depp ;) I am 6 ft too so I do get where you are coming from!

    @Diana: Oh yes, the quirky sidekick gets me too. I hate it when the BFF is just there to prop up the MC and doesn't seem to have a life of her own. Would love to see more of those complex friendships!

    @Stephanie: Yep, the pretty & popular vs. "plain" & smart stereotype is so old. Like you say, if she is pretty & clever then you run the risk of making her a "Mary Sue" character, but I would like to see more 3-D characterization with vulnerabilities and flaws that may be totally unrelated to the girl's looks or brains.

  16. I'd love to read more books where the main character isn't always Caucasian and surrounded by Caucasians. I know a lot of times the MC is living in a large city and yet you don't read about secondary characters that are of a different ethnicity.

  17. What a great post. Some of these tropes I can't stand, but others I really like!

    Example: I would looooove to read a book about a girl who's taller than her guy. That would be really neat, especially if it was a major character or plot point.

    Religion and race, mixing it up, I'm all for that!

    BUT, I love reading about a kid who discovers they have awesome magic powers. I'll never get tired of reading stories that feature that.

    Seeing your love in a dream, is cool, as long as it's not too heavy-handed. If the readers are clued in that something is UP, because of the dream, but you're still not sure if they're FATED to be together, I think that's pretty good. So, basically, it's tough to do well, but if it is, then it's great.

    The love-triangle for a girl is really overdone these days. I do like a story with conflict, where a girl has trouble picking... but a lot of times, sad to say, these stories feel like Mary-Sue wish fulfillment on the part of the authors, who can only wish to have 2 hunky men duking it out for them!


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