Sunday, January 4, 2009

25 Clichés in YA

I'm reposting this from Pub Rants, (super) agent Kristin Nelson's blog. It was originally written by Joelle Anthony, who I daresay is a genius.

A countdown of 25 things that show up repeatedly in young adult fiction:

#25 – Vegetarian teens with unsympathetic meat-eating parents

#24 – Shy or withdrawn characters that take refuge in the school’s art room/ compassionate art teachers

#23 – A token black friend among a group of white friends - usually it’s a girl, and she’s always gorgeous

#22 – A tiny scar through the eyebrow, sometimes accompanied by an embarrassing story

# 21 – Using the word ‘rents for parents, but not using any other slang

# 20 – A beautiful best friend who gets all the guys but doesn’t want them

#19 – The wicked stepmother who turns out to be simply misunderstood and it’s all cleared up in the climax

#18 – Authors showing their age by naming characters names they grew up with (i.e. Debbie, Lisa, Kimberly, Alice, Linda, etc.)

#17 – Parents who are professional writers or book illustrators

#16 – Using coffee, cappuccino, and café latte to describe black people’s skin

#15 – Main characters named Hannah and making a note of it being a palindrome

#14 – Younger siblings who are geniuses, adored by everyone, and usually run away during the book’s climax, causing dramatic tension

#13 – The mean-spirited cheerleader (and her gang) as the story’s antagonist

# 12 – A dead mother

# 11 – Heroines who can’t carry a tune, even if it were in a bucket

# 10 – Guys with extraordinarily long eyelashes (Steph: BLESS!)

# 9 – The popular boy dating the dorky heroine to make his former girlfriend jealous, and then breaking the heroine’s heart

# 8 – The diary, either as the entire format, or the occasional entry

# 7 – Fingernail biting

# 6 – Characters who chew on their lip or tongue in times of stress – usually until they taste blood

# 5 – Raising one eyebrow

# 4 – Main characters who want to be writers

# 3 – Calling parents by their first names

# 2 – Best friends with red hair*

And the number one thing found in YA novels…
#1 – Lists

*While lists rule in teen fiction, red-haired best friends are amazingly predominant in both MG and YA, and certainly gave “lists” a run for its money. It might be an easy way to quickly identify a secondary character, but it’s a lot more common in books than red hair actually is!

© Joëlle Anthony, 2007
Originally published in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Bulletin, July/Aug. 2007


Further: When this was originally posted, I don't think Joelle had a YA sale, but it seems she does now! Restoring Harmony is coming from Putnam (Penguin) in the Fall of 2010 (tentatively). It's a futuristic novel set in 2041. Find out more about it here. I really loved the list, so I'll keep my eye out for this one.


Lenore said...

I did hear somewhere (I think in the SCBWI newsletter) about characters with red hair being overused. Hey, I have a friend with red hair!

Alea said...

That's awesome!

Khy said...

Haha, I've seen this before. Love it. I've never even come across two though: 25 and 15.

Anonymous said...

I kind of think #24 refers to Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. I've actually heard of a lot of those in YA novels, but I can't remember exactly what book.


Kimberly Derting said...

That is hilarious! Okay, so what does it say about my age that I named my characters after my son's friends??? I was at least smart enough to realize that my friends' names would be "old".


Taren said...

That's hilarious. I could think of at least one book I've read for every cliche on the list. I totally want to write a book with characters named Buelah, Ethel, and Maud now -that would be my great-grandparents' generation I think.

Steve said...

I think Cathy Hopkins is guilty of about 80% of those. But don't tell her I said so.

Ellie said...


And don't worry -- I'll definitely be reviewing L&K!

Megan said...

I wrote a really long comment, but for some reason, it didn't show up. Sorry if it does show up later and I've posted twice!

Gist of long comment: I'm a cliche offender, and it's embarrassing. Majors are tough. I want to major in Creative Writing and possibly minor in journalism.

Adele - The Sarah Dessen Diarist said...

This list is absolutely fabulous. Things that made me laugh - the description of a black friends skin, eyebrow scars, old people names, Hannah/palindrome, my best friend is perfection and the eyelashes. I think I groan at every single one's appearance in novels.

Simply_Megan said...

This is really funny. And I totally agree with #15. This seems to come up all the time.

Amee said...

I was hoping a review would be your next post. :(

Diana Dang said...

I agree so much with the eyebrow raising thing. I use it for every roleplay I am in at least once.

Vicky said...

HeHeHe. This just made me laugh. I'm so glad I haven't used any of these in my novels. That would just embarass me. The only one I know I have used is the cheerleader as the antagonist. But she wasn't so much a cheerleader as just a gorgeous blond.

Beth Fehlbaum, Author said...

Those are interesting.. I think there are 2 in mine- raising one eyebrow & calling the parent by his first name...
Beth Fehlbaum, author
Courage in Patience, a story of hope for those who have endured abuse
Ch. 1 is online!

Laina said...

I can't believe how many of these things I do in real life... lol

Nina. said...

Joelle Anthony owns my soul.

Nina. said...

Is it just me or 80% of those apply to Meg Cabot books?

Who knows, maybe more.

Tara Champagne Dean said...

Wow...I didn't think that the Jessica Darling Series (Megan McCafferty) would have any of those cliques, but I counted nine...not very much, but still :p Jess would be horrified to realize that part of her life is YA cliques :P

Sarah Quigley said...

Love this! I would also add to the list characters who shrug excessively and anyone who is described as having almond-shaped eyes (although this one frequently pops up in grown-up novels, too).

You'll see in TMI that I'm guilty of the red-headed best friend cliche, but I remained steadfastly unapologetic and unashamed.

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