If you read enough YA sci-fi/fantasy, you’ll eventually start noticing some trends and common themes. A lot of times they’re harmless, but there are a few tropes that just have become so repetitive that my eyes have gotten tired from rolling. See if your favorite novels are guilty of any of these (I know a few of mine are).
1. The Prophecy
I’ve become so sick of this one that if the summary even hints at a prophecy, I drop the book like it’s diseased. The most notorious author for doing this is Rick Riordan. Basically what happens is at the beginning of the book, there’s this Big Prophecy that the main character alone can fulfill. My problem isn’t with the prophecy itself (okay, it kind of is), but with the fact that the prophecy is the only thing that drives the protagonist. They should be motivated by more than a few cheesy rhyming verses, which if failed to act upon will result the destruction of everything we know. Which leads to the second point…
2. Let’s go save the world…again
Conflicts in YA novels have become over-the-top. The main character doesn’t have to solve a problem that just pertains to them and their community; no, if the conflict isn’t solved, the entire world is going to be enslaved or destroyed. Therefore, if they’re a decent human being, they have no choice but to act.
Let’s think realistically for a moment. What things in our world will completely destroy the earth if one person is an honest coward or simply makes a mistake? Nuclear weapons. Possibly an engineered plague. And that’s about it.
3. Absent-parent syndrome
Young adult novels feature teenagers doing ridiculously stupid stuff that no decent parent would actually allow. This poses a problem for authors because, well, the world is going to end and their character alone can save it! So what happens? The parents die within the first few chapters, if they haven’t already died before the novel even begins. Being the parent of a character in a YA novel is a very dangerous job.
4. Super Special Powers
Every single character has something special about them that no one else has, and that’s the reason why they–and they alone–can save the world. Harry Potter has a love spell that repels Voldemort’s curses. Katniss Everdeen can shoot an arrow better than anyone else (and not give a @#&$ what anyone thinks). Percy Jackson is Poseidon’s son. The Midnighters have en extra hour of the day, during which they have super powers (which they use to save the world). That’s all fine and dandy, but what’s also cool is reading about every day ordinary people, who aren’t royalty, who aren’t part of a prophecy, and who don’t have special powers–people just like you and me who change the world. You don’t have to be a prince or a wizard to make a difference.
Before you open the first page of a novel, the characters have had years of prior experience. The author has to somehow convey this history to us without info dumping. One thing I’ve noticed in YA novels lately is dream memories. The character falls asleep and we the readers become privy to their dreams, which conveniently are the exact recollection of their memories.
Are your dreams perfect memories? Because mine certainly aren’t. My dreams are weird and crazy, changing and flowing from one odd scene to the next. Dreams should reveal the deepest fears and desires of the character. They could contain snippets of real memories (as dreams often do), not a perfect play-by-play memory. Using memory-dreams a cheap trick to give us back story.
6. Secrets identities
Secret identities are a lot of fun, and I’ll admit that I’m most forgiving of this trope than any other. Most YA novels either have some kind of secret that only a few people know about, whether it’s a secret society (Harry Potter) or a secret identity (Song of the Lioness) . I think the appeal of the secret society/identity is that it makes us feel like we’re a part of this select group of people who are in the know. While it’s a lot of fun, it happens a lot, and I would really enjoy reading a series where everything is out in the open.
I’m not sure this one really counts as a “trope,” but since we’re talking about things in the YA lit world that needs to stop, I figured it needed mentioning. I’m a little sick of series. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about that wonderfully awful anticipation for the release of the next book, but it would be extremely refreshing to read a stand alone YA novel every now and then.
(EDIT: @stillrecruiting pointed out that these tropes are unique to YA fantasy, so the post has been updated to reflect that fact.)