What I Like And Dislike In Literature, Part I: Relationships In YA Dystopian Novels (Teens Can Write, Too!)

tcwt-3[1]Well, I screwed up. I forgot about this month’s Teens Can Write, Too! blog chain.

Or more accurately, I didn’t forget – instead, I just didn’t see the post notification in my inbox! I subscribe to a TON of blogs and therefore my email is always cluttered with new messages, so I missed the notification this time around. Honestly, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before – this is the first TCWT blog chain I’ve missed since, like, I joined two or three years ago.

Anyway. I really like participating in the chain, and I liked the prompt (as usual!), so I’m going to take part in this thing on my own. #rebel

A list of January’s blog chain participants can be found here until the end of the month. This month’s prompt is:

“What is something you feel is generally written well in fiction? What is something you feel is generally written poorly?”

I’m going to flip this question around and answer the second part first. ACTUALLY, what I’m going to do is discuss the second part in this post and the rest in another post, probably sometime next week.

To be honest, there are a lot of things that I think are poorly written in fiction. This post’s length would be out of control if I listed all of them, though, so I’m going to limit myself to discussing just one.

And I’ve chosen something really specific: Relationships in dystopian YA.

katniss peeta cave1[1]love dystopian stories, and I love YA, so this subgenre is something I devour. Dystopian YA doesn’t always leave me satisfied, though, because I have SO MANY PROBLEMS with the way relationships are written about in those books.

To begin with, the amount of romance in these books is just ridiculous. Like, seriously? That’s not the point of these books! Maybe we should make up a name for this sub-sub-genre; in the spirit of paranormal romance, I’m thinking it should be “dystopian romance.”

DIVI want to read about battles for one’s life and people overcoming the odds and governments being overthrown. I hate when a book promises me all these things and then sneaks in a bunch of kissy scenes.

An example? The Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth. I commend Ms. Roth for the intriguing dystopian WORLD she created, but I’m less than thrilled with the dystopian STORY she wrote. I love the idea of factions and “divergence,” and I live pretty close to Chicago, so I loved reading about a post-apocalyptic version of that city.

I did not love reading Tris’s endless make-out scenes with Four. GAH. They were just so unnecessary! Their whole romance was so unnecessary! I didn’t observe any romantic chemistry between those two, but hey – even if I had, I would still think that particular subplot was unnecessary. It felt… spliced in? Shoved where it didn’t belong? It was a perfectly decent dystopian story up until they started making out, and then pages upon PAGES were lost to this little side-story. I actually quit reading Insurgent about 150 pages in because I was so frustrated by how slowly the “let’s defeat Erudite and get this situation under control” plot was moving.

Also, I can't stand it when some YA dystopian series has an evil female antagonist who's really really gorgeous because then I feel awkward adjkghsdlghdlgdhgdg why do I always think villainesses are pretty? This is so unfair.

Also, I can’t stand it when some YA dystopian series has an evil female antagonist who’s really really gorgeous because then I feel awkward adjkghsdlghdlgdhgdg why do I always think villainesses are pretty? This is so unfair.

I WILL give Divergent points for not including a love triangle, though. I won’t deny that love triangles (fictional ones, that is) can sometimes be good, but I’ve read so many stories with boring/bad ones that I think it’s probably best for authors to avoid them unless they really, really know what they are doing.

Case in point: Matched. (Hey, look – another YA dystopian trilogy that I just couldn’t bear to finish!) The love triangle in that book was SO SILLY. It was literally the entire point of the story, yet it wasn’t even well written.

I love Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, I really do, but sometimes I also kind of hate
it for what it did to YA dystopian novels. Yes, it made that genre hugely popular (a fact for which I am ever grateful), but it also seemingly made a whole bunch of authors think that they TOO should include a love triangle.

thumbnail[7]Look, guys, it’s just not necessary. For heaven’s sake, The Hunger Games is more of a CRITIQUE of love triangles than anything else; it’s a media ploy and Katniss hates it. Unless a love triangle is A) interesting and B) absolutely necessary to the protagonist’s character development, I really don’t see the point in including one.

I’m not happy with the lack of queer romance in YA dystopians, either. Like, where are all the gay and bi and trans people in those stories? Were they all murdered/driven into hiding (by society, an oppressive government, et cetera)? SERIOUSLY. Where are they?!

And while we’re on the subject, let me just say that I think the recurring theme of “straight couple in a YA dystopian complains about the government’s disapproval of their relationship” is SO SILLY. Like, wow, a world in which people are disrespected and called disgusting for who they love? I wonder where I’ve seen THAT before.

(FYI, this article is recommended reading if you’d like to know more: “The Government Can’t Stop Our Heterosexual Love: YA Dystopia From A Gay Perspective.”)

So basically, my general attitude towards romance in YA dystopians is “Um, how about about no?” I want less romance, and fewer love triangles, and if we absolutely HAVE to have the aforementioned items, then can we please please please queer up YA dystopians?

THG-stills-the-hunger-games-movie-29947816-500-325[1]What I’d like to see more of in YA dystopians is friendship.

And not just any kind of friendship, either. I’ll use The Hunger Games as an example here since pretty much everyone knows about it: I’m not looking for excellent friendships between minor characters (think Johanna and Finnick), or for great friendships between the main character and someone else (Katniss and Haymitch). Such relationships are awesome, of course. But I already see them pretty often in fiction.

I want to read about a fictional friendship that is the MAIN relationship, not merely A relationship.

cressAnd I’ve found this in so many other genres, but it’s very difficult to find in dystopian novels – especially YA ones, because it’s all about the romance there.

Now that I’ve complained extensively to all of you, I think it’s only fair for me to recommend a few of the YA dystopian stories that DID satisfy me. It’s like I said before: If you’re going to include romance/a love triangle/whatever, at least do a good job with it. The following stories do a good job.

If you’re looking for well-written romance in YA dystopians: Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles has a multitude of romantic subplots that are swoon-worthy AND complex.

If you’re looking for worthwhile love triangles in YA dystopians: I know of nothing better than Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, I’m afraid. Hey, these books really explored the ins and outs and ups and downs of trying to pretend you’re in love with two boys at once. (Gosh, I couldn’t even manage to do that with one boy…)inheritance

If you’re looking for queer romance in YA dystopians: Malinda Lo’s Imrian Duology, comprised of Adaptation and Inheritance, has a bisexual protagonist. (And an AMAZING love triangle, as well! Its resolution is perfect and brilliant and oh my gosh I could go on and on and on but I won’t. Go read it. Now.)

If you’re looking for friendship in YA dystopians: V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd isn’t YA (and it’s definitely not new, either) but it was the ONLY example I could think of. (Now do you see why I’m grumpy about relationships in dystopian stories?) I love the dysfunctional-yet-fiercely-loyal friendship between V and Evey Hammond – together, they’re rather fond of anarchy and blowing up old landmarks and overthrowing the government.

(Also, can I just say their relationship with Valerie is pretty awesome too, considering how they don’t even meet/interact with her? Like, how is it that Moore can write a complex friendship between people who never meet, but some authors can’t even insert believable romantic chemistry between their constantly-making-out characters?)

-~-

What is something you think is generally poorly written in fiction? And what are your YA dystopian pet peeves? I’d love to know!

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About nevillegirl

Elizabeth, University of Iowa class of 2019. Double majoring in English & Creative Writing and Journalism. Twenty-year-old daydreamer, introvert, voracious reader, and aspiring writer. Passionate about feminism and lesbian positivity.
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19 Responses to What I Like And Dislike In Literature, Part I: Relationships In YA Dystopian Novels (Teens Can Write, Too!)

  1. Totally agree – and honestly it’s in ALL YA, not just dystopian, that there’s too much romance. Which is why I pretty much never write it in my own novels (or when I do, it’s of two girls or two people who aren’t white, because…you know, I’m white, hetero and cis and I’m kind of boring tbh). AND YES MORE FRIENDSHIPS PLEASE. My friends are pretty much the most important people in my life and it annoys me that there are hardly any YA books where this is the case.

    • nevillegirl says:

      Indeed. I do think it’s more prevalent in YA dystopians than in any other genre, though, probably due to the enormous success of THG.
      Same here – I’m usually not interested in writing love story subplots, anyway, but when I do they’re almost always between two girls. 😀 😀 😀

      *nodnod* WHY ARE SO MANY OF THE GOOD FRIENDSHIPS FOUND IN FANTASY GAAAAH I JUST WANT TO READ ABOUT SCIENCE BROS

  2. Nirvana says:

    YES. WE DEFINITELY NEED MORE FRIENDSHIP. There have been so many romance books in YA that you almost never see this anymore. But a few friendships are so beautifully written.

    ASDFGK LUNAR CHRONICLES IS AMAZING! I can’t wait to read the next book. It was the one instance of a book where the romance was fine. And there were no extensive make-out scenes 😉

    Great post!

    • nevillegirl says:

      I love the friendships in Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle, especially! 🙂 It’s not a dystopian series, though…

      I know, right?! And the characters-who-were-in-love were actually realistic and reasonable about it and got to KNOW the other person first. It was lovely.

      Thank you so much! 🙂

  3. Charley R says:

    I think there’s way too much cultural pressure and focus on romance altogether – and it really, really shows in YA. Like, of course you can’t have your protagonist grow and become a full and fulfilled person without romance, everyone knows romance is the be-all and end-all of personal fulfillment and success!!?!?!

    I’d quite like to see more books where there wasn’t any romance, particularly in YA. And, better yet, including diverse characters WITHOUT their sexuality / race / gender / whatever being the defining trait. Have an openly bisexual protagonist who does not need to showcase this by getting into a relationship. Have a trans* character who is trans* without their trans*-ness being their major focal plot point.

    But that’s just me being a cantankerous old snipe, don’t mind me xD

    • nevillegirl says:

      IKR?! And it’s ESPECIALLY irritating in YA dystopians, because shouldn’t the be-all and end-all of success be, like, overthrowing the government or whatever else it is that they’re rebelling against? Why is the focus on “which boy should she choose”?!

      We shall be cantankerous old snipes together. *nodnod*

  4. Mo says:

    …so V and Evey are Skulduggery and Valkryie? 😛 (Out of all seriousness, V for Vendetta is in for me at the library and I shall be reading it soon.)

    I do agree with you on pretty much all of these points. I am particularly in agreement about the Divergent series–I really liked the first book, and all the training stuff (and FRIENDSHIP, might I add) but the others were SO BORING. Ugh.
    And god bless Malinda Lo for being so amazing and writing dystopian love triangles so dang well. *blows kisses in Ms. Lo’s general direction*

    • nevillegirl says:

      …that’s… actually a fairly accurate comparison? I hadn’t ever those of those two pairs before like that, but it actually works. 😀 V for Vendetta isn’t nearly as funny, though. xD No colonies of octopus people in that book. (Ooh, yay! Let me know what you think! LET ME KNOW HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT THE TRAGIC LESBIANS BECAUSE I AM STILL HAVING A SAD.)

      Ehehe, that comment makes me glad I didn’t continue with the series. I don’t want to be bored!

      *blows kisses along with you* (Hey, I just had a thought – why doesn’t “blowing your nose’ mean the same thing? Like, “Hey, I really like you, so… HERE IS MY NOSE.” *obviously needs to get more sleep sorry for the weirdness*)

      • Mo says:

        I will commence reading soon and tell you what I think. 🙂

        …I didn’t even go see the movie cause I thought the books were so boring. xD

        *accidentally blows kisses at you rather than Malinda Lo* [pats] Go take a nap, dear.

    • nevillegirl says:

      Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!

      I DID go see the movie, and now I dearly regret the loss of that eight dollars. :/

      *giggles and blushes* Why, thank you. *puts her nose back on*

  5. moosha23 says:

    Yep need WAY more friendship in YA dystopia – friendships ARE SO AWESOME for plots and sub-plots! 😀 (And I get you with Divergent – gah, why do they do this?).

  6. Silvana Nicholson says:

    Hi- I’m a new reader here and I love your blog!!1!

    I have a friend who came up with a really nice Hunger Games AU. In this AU, Katniss is ace biro. Peeta is a gay trans girl who doesn’t have her gender recognized by the government- and so has her name pulled as a ‘male’ tribute. This makes the love triangle more interesting, I think, and also diversity!!

  7. Shena Tokala says:

    I agree, I can’t stand how badly YA dystopian romance is often-times written. I like shipping, but most of the YA books I’ve read do it badly 😛 And yes, I definitely want to see more LGBTQA+ characters and romances in fiction(creating diverse fiction is one reason I write). One dystopian YA series I’ve read that had a same-sex romance was “The Torchkeeper series”(only two books are out so far) by Steven dos Santos. I’m reading the second book now and the series so far has been excellent(very good dystopia).

    • nevillegirl says:

      Yeah, it’s always frustrating when the romance is so boring that I can’t even excitedly ship anything. xD

      I need to see if that series is at my library – I’ve never even heard of it before. Thanks for the rec! 🙂

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