Thursday, October 17, 2013

Outcasts in YA

Quick, name a YA book where, at some point, the main character is treated like / feels like / literally is an outcast.


If you named any YA book ever written, you're probably right. Harry Potter, Bella Swan, Katniss Everdeen, Eragon, Beatrice Prior, Tally Youngblood... they are all outcasts at one point or another. So are characters other than the main character: Tom Riddle, Neville Longbottom, Luna Lovegood, the Cullens, Peeta, Gale, Shay... all outcasts at one point or in one way.

But I'm so awkward and unnoticeable...

This isn't to say that anyone using "being an outcast" as a theme in YA is unoriginal. It's a very popular theme in the genre, and with good reason.

Either you are a teen or you remember being one, right? For most people, it's a weird time. You're awkward, you're figuring out not only who you are and how you fit into the world but about fifteen thousand other things at the same time (like calculus and which bands are socially acceptable to be a fan of at any given minute and how to make your hair do what you want it to do).

Show a character in a book who has it all together and is on top of things, and teen readers will probably dislike them. Show a teen a clumsy, goofy, nerdy, "weird kid" with unusual quirks/tastes as your main character, and they're engrossed. "They're just like me! I'm clumsy/weird/smart/awkward/disinclined to adhere to social norms!"

While adults tend to prefer reading about someone they aspire to be, or someone they're attracted to: suave and debonair (James Bond) or smart, able, and empathetic (Alex Cross) or sultry and desirable (any paperback romance hero/heroine), teens would generally rather identify with a character that matches how they feel now, because they seek validation ("Am I normal?").

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