YA Fiction Disillusionment
The other day I was leafing through a blog that reviewed YA fiction. I was looking for realistic fiction to read. I haven’t read anything in a long time; currently I’m reading a collection of Sartre’s essays
As usual, I found nothing interesting in the YA fiction department. Am I just picky? All I want are books that don’t revolve around the need to fit in, to find romance, escape abusive relationships, deal with dysfunctional parents, and/or be abducted by a secret organization. And no boarding schools either. I get too jealous – no parents and tons of teenage drama! I want in!
Adolescence is often an incredibly self-centered time. I want books with people who are like me. A teen with a really smart brain who has trouble finding friends, and who wants to donate to charities instead of buying makeup even though there’s nothing wrong with makeup. What I want are books about some kind of teen who never fit in and who doesn’t really want to; who finds people like her/him and doesn’t need to save the world. Someone whose abilities set him/her apart and (s)he can’t find such similar people.
When I find a hero(ine) I can identify with they usually end up committing acts of great heroism. I can’t compete with that kind of courage. I’m not brave enough. Or at least I don’t think I’m brave enough. In my disillusioned state, such acts of valor usually turn me off.
The protagonists don’t have to be white either. And if they’re not white then the story doesn’t revolve around the protagonist “discovering his/her ethnic roots” because all the white people clearly have none of this ancestral searching to do.
A round-up of three books I can relate to and love!
- Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Seraphina is the best dragon book that I have ever read. It’s like the finest chocolate. Bittersweet, rich, complex and deeply satisfying, the story reveals multiple layers as you experience it and lingers for a long time after.
I identify with the main character Seraphina for a few different reasons. She has a talent that keeps her somewhat isolated from the rest of the world. Seraphina is an accomplished musician; I have a rambling philosopher’s brain that keeps me from easily identifying with others in school. I’m not trying to be elitist, but it’s true that there aren’t that many people who I find similar traits in. They are difficult to find. In both cases some innate ability keeps Seraphina and I somewhat alone in our respective worlds.
Seraphina is also introverted, complex, and passionate. She likes to spend time alone with her music, and shows multiple facets of her personality throughout the story. She feels things deeply. Her passion shows up in her musical training, helps her mission to unite the dragons and humans, and affects Seraphina’s drive to learn about her parents.
Lastly Seraphina knows little about her family. Of course her case is a little extreme since she knows only of her uncle, but I too have a very small family that I know little about. It was refreshing to see a teenager learn about her family which, unlike Harry Potter, the rest of the characters didn’t know too much about either.
- Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Not too surprisingly, it’s Hermione who I identify with the most. I used books as an escape mechanism, and in elementary school prided myself on my vast collection of knowledge. Nowadays my trove of information has lessened, but I still smile whenever I see Hermione’s know-it-all eyeroll at her friends’ stupidity. And I groan in sympathy when people try to copy her work! If anyone asks me for answers I want to punch them.
Plus Hermione runs on logic, which is what I run on. Our brains work in a very similar way. I’ve heard she is an INTP if you are familiar with Myers-Briggs typology.
Hermione is also passionate about house elf rights. I’m not sure if I would found a club and threaten people into joining, but hey, maybe I would. She threatens Rita Skeeter on a regular basis and shows great bravery especially towards the latter half of the series. Ms. Granger is a force to be reckoned with!
And yet she is not the greatest at actual fighting. In this age of kickass female heroines, it’s nice to see a girl who uses her brains over her brawn. Not everyone has to be a superb fighter to excel in fantasy worlds.
- Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Of course, being adept at combat is always a plus! Katsa from Kristin Cashore’s Graceling is quite literally invincible. It’s impossible to kill this woman because her Grace is survival. A Grace is an ability that normal humans have which is amplified to superhuman levels. Graces are found in some people in Katsa’s universe, one Grace per person.
I identify with Katsa because of her asynchronous development. Her physical abilities far outmatch her emotional and mental states, which leads to a pretty rough time. Her pride in her fighting abilities is mixed with confusion about how to best use her innate power. Katsa tends to doubt her morality as well. She wants to right the wrongs that exist in the world, wrongs that she fears she has contributed to. And she often feels alone in her world – most people are afraid of her prowess and, let’s face it, Katsa is not the most amicable person to be around. She is pretty oblivious to everyone’s emotions, including hers.
I can totally relate to those feelings. The angst over what to do with my brain that’s productive kills me sometimes. I want to make the world a better place. I don’t want to waste my abilities and I fear above all doing something that’s not in line with the better person I need to become. And my EQ needs work.
But I could truly empathize with Katsa when she finally gets a challenge! When Katsa meets someone who can fight her as (almost) an equal, both of them are ecstatic to find someone like themselves, someone whose abilities offer opportunities previously unknown.
I know a few people who give me that challenge and that enthusiasm. I treasure every moment with them.
Do you see a pattern here? All the books I can truly relate to are fantasy books. Is this just a coincidence? I read quite a bit of realistic fiction but all the books I thought about did not upon closer inspection have that many relatable characters.
And right now I’m looking for people I can identify with. I have never seen a book explicitly about a gifted kid, except for Freak the Mighty which was over-exaggerated.
Maybe I’m just picky.