Trends in YA Literature

A couple of years ago Steven D. Greydanus wrote an excellent essay A House Divided: Broken Homes, Flying Houses, Divorce, and Death in Family Fantasy Films. I thought that what he had to say was dead on. Some of the movies he discussed were based on children’s books.

During the summer the site Sync offers YA literature in audiobook formats. Each week during this time they usually have a fairly recent YA fiction audiobook and one of more classic literature. What I have noticed of the YA fiction are some similarities to what Mr. Greydanus wrote. In the last couple of years I can’t think of one book I read or listened to in this genre that actually had an intact family. If the children were not orphans than it was usually the case that they only had a mother or rarer only a father.

Such a contrast between classics such as the ones written by Madeleine L’Engle. I had been reading through the Kairos first-generation books and looking at the other YA books I have read in the last couple of years there is quite a contrast. Now many Fantasy novels have had the trope of the orphan who becomes the hero partly out of revenge. Now though it just seems that there must be a broken family regardless of the setting of the novel.

The other thing I have noticed is just how much deception and lying is part of these plots. Children lie and deceive either their one parent, whoever is taking care of them, or some authority figure. There is almost never a lesson learned in this and some resulting character development. The children/young adults “know better” and just have to do this for some apparent good. Moral relativism is the status quo even for the heroic figure. While I enjoyed the Harry Potter novels, the amount of lying that Harry does throughout and with no apparent consequences is an aspect that annoyed me.

Another common thread in many of these YA novels is just how dark they are or how often it involves the death of young adults. The situations contrived call for this to happen and becomes a major part of the plot as for example “The Hunger Games” trilogy. Dystopian futures seem to dominate.

Now I can understand various plot tensions and how conflict is a necessary part of a story. Yet this was done before without a dominance of broken families and gloomy futures. Maybe I am just getting older and instead of saying “Get off my lawn” I am saying “get off my bookshelf.”

While I am unable to eloquently write about these trends I see, I do wonder if others have noticed the same?

About Jeff Miller

Jeff Miller is a former atheist who after spending forty years in the wilderness finds himself with both astonishment and joy a member of the Catholic Church. A retired Navy Chief who now makes his living as an application developer.

  • Elena

    I’m a college student who reads a lot of children’s and young adult fantasy/sci-fi literature, and oftentimes I think the lack of family is used more as a simplifying device than anything else. A large, close-knit family is harder to run away from to start the Quest or save the world than one or two family members who “don’t understand,” and absent parents aren’t going to try and stop the child/take the risks upon themselves, which is what a loving parent would do their best to do. Plus, in YA, absent parents = insta-angst.
    It’s a shame – some authors that I’ve found do still take into account families and other adult characters, and take time to flesh out those adult characters and give them lives independent of the protagonists, and the stories are always the richer for it.

  • Erin Pascal

    I also am a book lover and I have read all the top selling books there is. But now that you have pointed it out, I realized that yes, being an orphan and acting out of revenge tends to be trend nowadays. It makes the story more challenging though. But I also think that it will have a great effect on how teenagers might think. i just hope that when reading books, parents are there to guide their children and children would be more open to what their parents have to say.

  • Minimully

    Vindication! Indeed, I noticed these trends growing up. Living in a whole and average family, not to mention having a built-in confession tendency whenever I stood too close to an adult, I sensed and resented the implication that I could never be great because I my past aparently lacked “character development.” I was vindicated when I read the book When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, and the main character thought the same thing. She then proceded to escape with her brothers from Germany without parental help, so the author just rubbed the point in. There are very few books I can think of in which whole families are involved, or where adults are not portrayed as inhibitive.

  • Ann Roth

    As the parent of a 13 year old girl, I have noticed these same trends. It is the cumulative effect of these stories that concern me. It is not just some of the YA novels but almost all of the YA novels published recently are dark and/or dystopian or are too mature for the age group. Compounding the problem is the the move of schools away from recommending or requiring students to read classical literature. Correction-schools are not moving away from classical literature they have abandoned it completely. You might find this interesting: http://www.hillsdale.edu/news/imprimis.asp

  • Johnny

    How we got from The Outsiders to this I have no idea. We need a revival of good books.

  • antisinecurist

    I recently came across an interesting example in the form of the video game “Rogue Legacy”. (spoiler alert for those who care, I reckon!)

    The game tells the story of a man, Johannes, the son of a king. Johannes goes on a quest to cure the king, abandoning his family and driving them to poverty, never to return.

    He does this by entering a cursed castle, which steals away all wealth from those who enter. It also contains many lethal traps and monsters, though Johannes does not succumb to them.

    The player takes on the role of many successive men and women who cast away the family fortune and enter the castle, dying inside. Each time you play, you take on the role of the previous character’s child, entering to avenge or make right the actions of their parent.

    Eventually, you encounter Johannes, gifted with immortality and made monstrous. When you defeat him, instead of drinking from the fountain of youth, your character walks away, returning finally to their family.

    I found it an interesting and slightly disturbing look into the cost of obsession and the cycle of familial abandonment.

  • MandyS

    I was at Books A Million today and was shocked at the sea of dark novels my daughter was looking at. Every books seems to have witches, demons, vampires, etc. We ended up heading over to the non-fiction and getting a few books there as well as a teen magazine for Christian girls. My question is, whatever happened to being creative and original? These books all seem to be the same.


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