Whether you’re an Audiobook person or you treasure the feeling of pages on your fingers, you’ve more than likely come across a trashy young adult novel–you know the type–300 page paperback with either a pretty girl, white guy in a leather jacket, a couple in a fierce embrace, or heck, all three if you look hard enough. Now, although the majority of these novels have all the charisma of a wet piece of cardboard, the real issue lies in the toxic and unrealistic ways young adult authors portray their characters and how they handle confrontation; it seems these authors are incapable of moving their stories along without unrealistic, or worse, grossly abusive interactions.
Most of the notable examples of these abusive interactions happen in the romantic relationships authors create in the YA universe. The behaviors that would be seen as creepy, manipulative, and controlling are painted as grand romantic gestures. From Twilight’s Edward just casually climbing into 17-year-old Bella’s BEDROOM WINDOW while she’s asleep to the female protagonist having a complete reboot of herself for the sake of a “makeover”, the lengths that these authors go to make a novel “enjoyable” just turn into something undesirable to be associated with. And worse, these negative tropes are often sexualized for younger viewers, leading them to believe the these controlling and inappropriate behaviors are meant to be striven after in a romantic relationship. The kids that imitate their favorite fictional characters are often seen as annoying or cringe-worthy, but relatively harmless; however, once these impressionable children begin to imitate the dangerous and unhealthy standards these books provide, there begins a much bigger issue to control.
Although the awful romantic behaviors of the YA genre are relatively widely known, the platonic characterizations are pretty awful too. Granted, most of the issues among fictional friends tend to revolve around a romantic subplot, but that doesn’t excuse the ickiness of most of these “friendships”. Even without the fighting-over-a-boy subplot, the typical YA friendship is extremely controlling and, frankly, dangerous. The platonic relationships of the YA universe fall into a similar pitfall as the romantic ones; the story falls apart without an excuse to pit the characters against each other. The hugely territorial undertones that these friendships have don’t advertise dealing with confrontation in a healthy manner, but rather demonize the other person in a fight until one of them gets what they want. There is no compromise, only submitting and pushing that resentment aside.
At the end of the day, literature is a huge influence on our culture. From Shakespeare to Mark Twain, we remember and incorporate what we read into our societal values. It’s because of this that the relationships portrayed in YA novels are so dangerous, by romanticizing these abusive friendships/relationships, these behaviors are seen as normal, not bad. This tells readers that if they’re not treated this way, their partners don’t really care about them, because if they truly cared, the relationship would look like what they’ve read for so many years. In the #metoo era, this more than ever needs to be emphasized for our youth, stopping the normalcy of abusive romantic and platonic relationships once and for all.