10 Things that I love in YA novels

Saturday, May 19, 2012

I am always talking about the things that I do not like in novels for teenagers (e.g. threatening vampire boyfriends, threatening fictional boyfriends generally, etc... I don't imagine I would be cool with threatening fictional girlfriends either but I never come across those). There are, in fact, many, many plotlines and literary devices that I love, and that I will never tire of. Behold - stuff that improves YA novels tenfold (well, for me, at least)... or any kind of novel, really:
  1. Time travel. Especially when I have no idea there will be time travel! Surprise time travel is the best kind. As long as they don't go back in time to try and kill Hitler. Really, guys. Assume you failed. I do love it when people travel back in time and have to avoid their younger self/have to save their younger self from forces of evil!
  2. This is really an extension of the previous point, but: alternate universes! Especially if there are two timelines occurring at once.
  3. First person, present tense. Technically two things, but I like the two together. I like the immediacy of everything is happening right now! Will the protagonist die? What's going to happen? and being in the head of the character. Third person reminds me I am reading about fictional people. I don't want to be reminded of that!
  4. Endings where it turns out everything was in the narrator's head. 'It was all just a dream' is actually one of my favourite lines. I am not sure when people decided that these sorts of stories are cliche, because I think they are awesome. I enjoy reimagining novels and films as if all the events were in the head of one character and no-one else was real. You know, like Harry Potter is just Ginny Weasley's coma dream.
  5. Unreliable narrators. Especially when those narrators are so unreliable that they're actually serial killers. You know when you get to the last chapter, and all of a sudden everything makes sense. And you sit there with the book closed for a solid five minutes so it can all sink in.
  6. Multiple narrators. I like being able to imagine the story from the point of view of every character. (This is a good measure of whether secondary characters are realistic, I find - if you can't imagine the story from their point of view, or have some idea of what else would be going on in their lives, they are not very well thought-out.) It is even better when the author writes from the perspectives of various characters.
  7. A real-world setting. So many novels I read - particularly those of the YA paranormal romance persuasion - have this vague, kind of American but nowhere specific, maybe it's a bit rainy and green setting. I think this is why I like a lot of very Australian novels - the setting is specific, there are references I recognise, I can clearly imagine it. Even if a novel is set in another country, I like it when it's a specific, real place, with local references. And if it's a made-up place, I'd prefer it not be generic and Forks-esque. Oh dear. Talking about what I don't like in books again.
  8. Realistic conversations. Sometimes characters have this odd, stilted dialogue that no one would ever really speak. Sometimes characters are ridiculous witty and composed to the degree that it's totally unbelievable. Of course, it's fiction, everything must be a little more fantastic than reality, but I don't want them to be too intelligent. That's just suspicious. I'll think they're 110-year-old vampires that only look sixteen. (I suspect this of real-world people I meet who are overly charming, too.)
  9. Parent-characters that actually parent. Imagine that. Everyone's always so dysfunctional in books, functional characters, especially functional parents, are a real delight.
  10. Dead characters that are not actually dead! Whether that's by zombification, conspiracy, or because they're actually an evil mastermind, someone who was supposed to be dead turning out to be alive is always my favourite twist.

What events and/or literary devices do you love in novels?
(e.g. the appearance of aliens! the use of second person! incredibly sarcastic characters!)
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