Raindropreflections: Stereotypes in YA

Friday, 6 January 2012

Stereotypes in YA

I’ve seen so many times in YA that there are 5 stock characters that pop up somewhere or the other. In no particular order, here they are:

Cheerleader:this is usually never a girl who is confident in herself and her looks, although to be a cheerleader I’m pretty sure you need to be both. Instead, this girl is shown as a complete biatch who likes nothing better than stealing others’ boyfriends. Hmm.

Mean Girl: this is the perfect, popular girl who is apparently so insecure in her looks that she finds it worth her time to fight over a guy with our protagonist, who repeatedly describes herself as “plain” and “normal.” Dude, the perfect girl shouldn’t have any problem getting a guy, much less thinking that a plain, average girl has more of a chance than she does. The world isn’t fair. Get used to it.

Nerdy Guy: glasses, acne, you name it. Plus, he’s usually in love with the protagonist. This isn’t so implausible, if only the nerdy guy isn’t spurned by our protagonist in favor of the hot guy. Which brings me to…

Hot Guy: ridiculously good-looking. If he really was that handsome, with a buff body to boot, he’d either be in Hollywood or trying to make it there. Also, he wouldn’t be interested in you, protagonist, no matter how wonderful your brain is. It’s the truth. Life sucks.

Protagonist: I’ve been complaining about this person the entire time, and here’s why protagonists have become something of a stereotype: they’re all pretty but claim they’re not. They’re apparently smart but do stupid things. They seem average but attract the attention of the hottest guy in school by- what, breathing? Without even talking to them more than a couple of times.

I’m not saying that this is the case in ALL books. It’s just that if YA fiction talks about high school, it may as well be realistic, right? Remember Marcus Flint from the Jessica Darling books? He had red dreadlocks, for heavens’ sake. But there was something about him that made us all love him. *clears throat* and it couldn’t all have depended on his looks.

What I’m trying to say is this: if the protagonist is pretty, say so. If the hot guy is ridiculously hot, do have an actual explanation for him staying at some regular old school when he could be auditioning in LA. (Making him a vampire would work, now that I think about it. Heh.) If there’s a mean girl, why is she so intent on stealing our protag’s guy? Is there a reason she would hate a perfectly normal person?

High school is life intensified a hundred times. Every emotion is magnified, every sad thing turns into angst, and every conversation is pulled apart even when it might not mean anything other than what’s apparent. (Bee knows what I’m talking about.) Through it all, making the protagonist, the love interest, and hey, the odd vampire believable goes a long way. Readers totally appreciate it.

So tell me: what’s a stereotype in YA you’ve commonly seen? I’m curious, peeps!

7 comments:

  1. I definitely get your sentiment and always appreciate a book that can twist the generalizations. I'm acutely aware of stereotypes when I'm reading.

    Funny you mentioned cheerleader; I'm working on a YA story set in the early 60s; the protag is a cheerleader. Some of them are snotty, but mostly it's a mix of girls that are actually friends. But lots of popularity battles result from it. I was a cheerleader for 1 year in high school but the cheerleaders were NOT cool at my school. We were considered "ghetto," which honestly was just a thinly-veiled racist comment because of how diverse our team was. But there's still drama whenever you get a bunch of girls together for a team, so I try to focus on that.

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  2. Your story sounds really cool, though- you show cheerleaders as human beings. Some are weird, some are mean, but yeah- they're human, not cardboard cutouts. I appreciate what you're doing, Stephanie ­čÖé

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  3. Um…the two hot paranormal guys and the insecure girl they both love. Where is Buffy? I miss her. I miss Willow. I miss Anya. Joss Whedon knew how to write teens very well.

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  4. I heard Buffy was actually really good. I must get around to finding the books and shows!

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  5. Yesss. Right on. Stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason, and therefore they *really* shouldn't exist in books that claim to be "realistic." And yes, I'm totally with you on the protagonist issue. It's the number-one reason why I sometimes end up disliking a book that nearly everyone else likes. I also love that you mention Marcus Flutie and Jessica Darling–although, personally, I have much more of a platonic crush on the latter than a romantic crush on the former! ­čśŤ

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  6. That's a great point- realistic fiction shouldn't be unrealistic in its portrayal of people. And I think both Marcus Flutie and Jessica Darling are pretty darn amazing ­čÖé

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