I used to like Young Adult fiction. Even now, most of my favorite books are older books of the genre. These books were unique. They were exciting. They were fun and enchanting and everything I could ask for in the world of literature packed into small, easy-to-read volumes.
Then came Twilight.
I don’t blame the book itself. To be honest, it contained most of the characteristics I described above. It brought something new to the table. It took off as a cult phenomenon, attracting young girls and teenagers and soccer moms. Shoddy editing aside, the uniqueness of the story was something people craved.
Now the reign of Twilight has ended. Anyone over the age of 12 refuses to admit they’ve ever picked up the book. But the effects Twilight bore on the Young Adult genre seem to be, like a certain sparkling vampire, eternal.
Before, anything seemed possible. Wizards and muggles could coincide peacefully. Hobbits and elves could undertake magical journeys. Vampires and werewolves and creatures you hear about in fairy tales could reside next door.
Now, however, it feels like we are forced to read from the same Mad Libs structure again and again as a quiet, brooding, special boy (a vampire, or a millionaire, or the school’s popular jock) meets a plain, un-special girl. He sees this girl from across a classroom, or a restaurant, or a train platform and, despite his being devastatingly attractive and unobtainable, falls desperately and hopelessly in love with her, despite her being awkward and plain. And she, even after uncovering some dark, mysterious part of his past, learns to love him too.
That’s it. The plot of nearly every Twilight-wannabe Young Adult novel made since. Trying to ride the waves of Stephenie Meyer’s success, authors thrive on this bland structure. Even Meyer herself got caught in the Twilight-effect, writing the exact same book over again, only bothering to change the gender of the characters and barely bothering to change their names.
But why? Why subject us to reading Twilight over and over and over again? Why not come up with your own, new ideas? Why bother us with writing at all?
The answer doesn’t lie with the audience. We as Young Adult novel readers don’t ask for these sorry, fanfiction-esque excuses for entertainment. In fact, we demand the opposite. We want something new and exciting. We want to be wowed. That’s why Twilight sold in the first place. That’s why the top-selling Young Adult books since then have been The Hunger Games, The Fault in Our Stars, Divergent—because we crave the unique. These books don’t have happy endings. Katniss spends the rest of her life suffering with PTSD. One of the cancer-stricken lovers dies. The world as Tris knows it crashes around her. Tragedy sells; idealized happy endings don’t.
If actual young adults make no demand for the happy-ending fluff found in many of the novels catered to them, why then do you, authors, still insist on bombarding us with them?
I think it’s because you’re scared.
You’re scared of not writing fluff. Because not writing fluff means that you must actually delve into the depths of writing—real writing—and come up with your own plot and your own characters, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll be forced to think of something other than love interests and sex to move the plot along. You’ll be forced to look at your real life, to listen to your real interests and desires as a writer, to try something new. And new means scary. New means potential failure.
Yes, you could fail. But you could also fly. Like wizards soaring on broomsticks. And I think you will. Because we need it. We want intrigue; we want controversy.
But we don’t want any more Edwards.