whiny teens in ya literature

Today’s post is a guest post via Zoe E:

Zoe E. lives in Milan with her husband Luciano. When she is not writing, she spends time reading, gardening, practicing guitar, singing, playing video games, or otherwise touching her nerd roots. She used to be a crazy cat lady, but is still waiting delivery of her new cats.

Last night I read this post from Amy Sundberg about whiny teens in YA that hits on one of my major complaints with some of the commercial YA I’ve read. I got on a bit of a Twitter rant about it, and Mari asked me if I felt like doing a guest blog for her. So, here I am.

I’ve also read some indie YA as well, and I can say that some of their stuff is still using the same formulas, but not all of it. Indie is like that though, as you can’t lump it all into one broad category. But the author got me into talking again about my problems with Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games. But my beef nowadays isn’t so much with her, or the writer. Rather, my problem lies with the adult readers of YA who came up with a stunning defense to my statements that Katniss was self-centered and incompetent. They said: “But aren’t ALL TEENAGERS self-centered?”

Ladies and gentlemen, the defense of a stereotyped character in fiction with an even worse stereotype. It’s like if I said, “I don’t like this character on TV because he’s a black drug dealer, and he’s always abusive to women,” and someone defended with, “But aren’t all black guys like that?” Obviously no, not all black guys are drug dealers or abusive. No one in his right mind would make that defense…but rational, seemingly sane adults HAVE lumped all teenagers together into one big ass stereotype, “you’re all self-centered!”

It’s a defense that should be insulting to the teen readers of the market, the people who are supposedly meant to be reading these stories. I’ve read a number of stories that make me wonder, do these writers just hate teenagers and have low opinions of them? And, I can now tell you from personal experience, some of them do. I’ve been following a few on Twitter, and I watch them complain about the music today’s teens listen to or about their culture or their sexuality. Then they turn around and put out a link to their YA story, and I go read it, and I hate their teens because I wasn’t their kind of proper “good” teen.

I’m sure there are teens out there who do buy the story and “feel it.” But I don’t think they know how much the writer hates teen culture, and they’re just writing in the market because it’s lucrative. It’s not about art, and all their claims that it is are crap. They rely on cheap stereotypes in their work, making harmful statements about whole groups of people because it’s easier than writing the story out with more flesh on its anorexic and snarky bones. If this is art, it’s the equivalent of cutting out other peoples’ pictures from a comic book and adding in new bits of dialogue. And even then, the words are cut out from magazines and pasted in.

But beyond the writers who seem to hate teens, what is up with the adult readers who think all teenagers are self-centered? I’ve met a few teens during my teens, and in my adult life I’ve ended up following a few online at various social sites. Although I’ve seen a few teens who probably do fit the stereotype, I rarely follow someone who gives off a 100% me-me-me vibe…except for teen authors. But with them it’s okay, since all adult authors also do the same thing…oh, wait, what was that? Did I just use a stereotype that made your mouse finger twitch? Well that was sarcasm, so ease off the reply button just yet.

And that’s my whole point about this view that ALL teens are self-centered. I get that there are a lot of people who dug Katniss and her story. I didn’t. I hated her right from the start, and every other blunder in the book became that much worse because I hated the narrator. And later, I came to dislike the writer for her lack of concern for trying to present a better story. To me, it feels like she thinks teens are stupid, and just any old thing is good enough for them. And, a lot of people ate that stupid story up and thought it was JUST SUPER.

Great, but the book was insulting to me, and while I don’t expect anyone to agree with my views, I would hope that no adult would make a rebuttal by further insulting real teens with a broad brush negative stereotype.

The Hunger Games is just one of many stories that I’ve read in commercial YA where the main character rubs me the wrong way right from the introduction. During a reading of one writer’s latest YA efforts, the main character blows off describing a rival character by saying’ “but you know the type. Hey, stereotypes exist for a reason.” Yes, they exist so people don’t have to think. The writer doesn’t have to think of a character anymore, she just has to pen some lines that feel appropriate to the stereotype. And boy, does she ever. Which is why I gave up on her story a few minutes later when she resorted to yet more stereotypes instead of actual descriptions.

Yes, I get that there are teenagers out there who are reading my post and are like, “Meh, whatever, lady. I just liked the story, and I didn’t think too much about the characters.” Right, you’re apparently the self-centered teens that everyone else is talking about. And kids, I’ve got nothing against you being self-centered. It’s a great big world, and for this time in your life, you HAVE to do a lot of inner inspection to decide where you want to go in it and what you want to do. Some of you still have to do decide who you want to present to the world, or even to your parents. So if you become a bit too self-centered to notice someone’s utter contempt for you and your culture through his writing, that’s okay. I’m cool with you, and I’m cool with you wanting to read whatever you like.

But, doesn’t it piss you off just a little bit that adult readers rise to the defense of your books by putting you down? Even if you are genuinely self-centered, doesn’t it bug you that someone else thinks that you’re the way all teens are, everywhere? You’ve become a bad stereotype that’s also popular at the same time. You’re like individual Kurt Cobains, targets for adult contempt just by right of your inability to tune into the adult world when adults need attention and coddling.

I know not all YA is like this. I’ve read plenty of YA that isn’t, so don’t think I’m going to whip out another stereotype to fight a stereotype. I’m not saying the YA written this way needs to change. The writers and publishers find success with it, so more power to them. But I’d like to see writers of next year’s crop of YA titles use a few less easy stereotypes in their narration and act like they love their craft instead of trying to get something out that’s fast-paced, but nasty to everyone outside a tightly focused target market and harmful to many other groups without meaning to be.