I was particularly excited when I saw the prompt for #BroodyBFF Challenge 6. I’ve been wanting to talk about what Young Adult Contemporaries lack in representing the High School Experience for a while now.
Now, let me start off by saying that I don’t ever expect any book to depict what my high school experience was like. I was in a very….. unique situation. Without getting too much into it, I went to a tiny private, christian high school. It was regarded as THE joke private high school of the county. I either got two responses when I told people I went there: they mispronounced the name and had never heard of it, or they apologized because they felt so bad that I went there. The only way I can describe the experience is that it was like going to Greendale Community College but in high school form.
I still have a hard time believing my high school experience wasn’t some mass hallucination brought on by the nearby landfill leaking toxic fumes. But I digress. Despite not expecting to see my exact high school environment replicated in a Contemporary Young Adult novel, there are a ton of experiences from it that I’d love to see represented in YAs more often.
So much of the teenage experience can be filled with worrying about homework, AP classes, and tests. However, a good deal of Contemporary Young Adults don’t seem to reflect that.
While reading the common denominator Contemporary Young Adult novels, you wouldn’t even know the main characters were attending High School beyond the fact that they’re worrying about Prom. The typical high school student is at school from 8am-3pm five days a week. And that’s if they’re not in clubs, sports, or other extra-circulars. Today, teenagers have to deal with an incredible amount of pressure at school and spend most of their day there, not having that aspect of teenage life in Contemporary YA doesn’t feel realistic.
When I say “school type diversity” I mean having Contemporary Young Adult novels that focus on other schooling paths for teenagers besides the traditional public high school path. Despite there being a ton of alternative means of education, I rarely see them represented.
It could be a teenager taking classes at a Community College to get ahead or do a high school completion class like in the upcoming book Nice Try, Jane Sinner. It could be an online or blended school with protagonists who are going there because they are elite athletes, child actors, or are dealing with chronic illness. It could be going to an international school set in places other than Europe. It could be an arts schools like in I’ll Give You the Sun or Noteworthy. Or it could be a religious school with queer protagonists who have to navigate their faith (or lack their of), sexuality, and gender in a setting that can be restrictive (as a bisexual kid who went to private christian school their entire life until college, I would’ve love to read something like that).
There’s room for so many different narratives and interesting dialogue about how the different schools we go to impact us.
My school, much like Greendale, was obsessed with group projects. During my senior year, I had maybe 2 projects that weren’t group projects. There aren’t any Young Adult Books that I’ve read that revolve around or heavily involve a group project. I find this unfortunate because the potential with group projects plots is ENDLESS (not to mention there’s always Group Project Drama).
Need a way to force two enemies together in the long term and then have them fall in love? Do a Group Project Plot. Need a way to reunite former Best Friends and then have them come to terms with what tore them apart? Do a Group Project Plot. Need a way to gather a band of unlikely misfits all needing to work together to meet their different end goals? Do a Group Project Plot.
For teenagers who play sports, the high school experience cannot be separated from sports. LITERALLY everything is tied up in it. It’s hard to relate to Contemporary YAs when they don’t have athlete protagonists because of how influential it was on every aspect of my teenage life.
When I have read Contemporary YAs that feature athletes, it seems like sports are only mentioned off handedly, which isn’t anything like what playing high school sports is like. My days in high school were filled with leaving school early for tennis matches, staying at school until 5pm for soccer practice, and chaotic bus rides to swim meets. Then, there was club practice on top of it. It was definitely not just an afterthought.
Some recent Contemporary Young Adult novels like I Believe In a Thing Called Love & Ramona Blue feature heroines who play Soccer and Swim. I would love to see more Contemporary YA protagonists, especially heroines, playing lesser focused on sports. I mean, I’ve never read a Contemporary YA novel about a Water Polo Player or a Rowing Team (or a Break Dancing team like my high school had).
And don’t forget to add Brooding YA Hero: Becoming a Main Character to your TBR!