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#24 – Shy or withdrawn characters that take refuge in the school’s art room/ compassionate art teachers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


Unknown 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 Brezenoff 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.

Anonymous 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 B 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

Anonymous said...

Joelle Anthony owns my soul.

Anonymous said...

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

Who knows, maybe more.

Tara 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

Anonymous 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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