What I Want in a YA Novel

Published January 12, 2011 by LS Murphy

Laura over at Laura’s Review Bookshelf posted what she was looking for in a good YA book. Naturally, it got me a-thinking.

What do I want when I read?

The most important thing for me is the main character. I can tolerate a weak plot or holes  in a plot if the MC is someone I can relate to.

Let’s break it down to TWO wildly popular characters in Young Adult literature now.

Bella Swan – Sorry, Stephenie Meyer, to pick on you again, but there’s good reason. The first page of Twilight sucked me in because I knew Bella Swan as soon as I met her. And that fourteen-year-old girl in me knew what she was going through. I remembered that first love and how painful it was. I remembered how much I needed that jackass’s…er I mean boy’s attention. The way Meyer wrote in Bella’s perspective awaken those feelings and emotions that I knew all too well. Bella is the reason the story carried me through to the end of Eclipse.

Katniss Everdeen – While Twilight isn’t the best written book, The Hunger Games is a very well written. The dialogue flows; the scenery is vivid. But I never found anything in Katniss that made me connect to her. Katniss is a very masculine character in many ways and I never felt anything from her, and therefore for her. She was cold and distant. She was calculating. But she never seemed like a girl to me. I couldn’t get past that and, yes, I did complete the series anyway because the writing was so well crafted. I found myself waiting for another character to take Katniss’ place. Sadly, none did.

The characters I mention are polar opposites. Both are strong in their own way, but only one connected with me. There are plenty of books out there with characters that people love and I just didn’t get (Lisbeth Salander anyone?). And there are plenty of characters out there that I love and other people just don’t get.

Reading is subjective. Not everyone likes the same thing. If we did, it would be boring. We’d read the same thing over and over and over…and over. We would live in a world like Harrison Bergeron. Who wants that?



4 comments on “What I Want in a YA Novel

  • For me, I don’t necessarily have to relate to a character, but they do have at least one redeeming quality for me to be able to invest time with them. I can not read a book about a MC who I can’t stand.

  • I also have to be willing to be in the same room as the MC, although I don’t have to identify with them. I probably found Katniss easier to identify with than Bella — Katniss is more like the actual women I know, while Bella is more like a storybook idea of a girl. Maybe that’s just me and my friends, though! But I found things to admire in both of them (I’m always drawn to Bella’s homemaking skills, because I still lack a lot of those. I admire how well she took care of Charlie in the first three books).

  • As a general rule, characters should change over the course of a story – there are exceptions, especially in long running series where status quo is god – and if a character is presented with something which can only be countered by growing as an individual, or changing their stance on a subject, then the plot should not contrive to get them out of the situation unaltered. I absolutely despise the “and then things resolved themselves” endings, where the character walks out of the story without some kind of change. It really doesn’t matter to me that a character is insufferable (though this is a very subjective area), nor if their behavior is idiotic – as long as there is some semblance of the human condition on display, from which I can infer their three-dimensionality, then the novel has merit.

    If I learn something along the way, even better.

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