Last week, I decided to do a bit of a recap on the the five themes, tropes or genres that I’d put on my wishlist back at the end of 2017. I was very happy to see that all five of the things that I’d identified were themes or tropes that I was able to see more often! In the past couple of years, it feels like there has been a lot of changes to the publishing industry in general, especially when it comes to YA. I’ve noticed a lot more feminist themes in books, and a lot more diversity in general. That’s not to say that there isn’t still plenty of room to grow and change, but it at least made me think that it was about time to update my wishlist with a few more ideas of what I’d like to see. Most of these items are themes or tropes that I’ve read and really enjoyed lately, and that I’d love to see more often!
Top 5 Wednesday is a meme created by Gingerreadslainey on Youtube, and is now hosted by Sam at ThoughtsOnTomes. The official GoodReads group with the weekly topics can be found here.
1) Books that focus on friendships rather than relationships
I think this is mostly a YA-specific problem, because I have noticed quite a few adult contemporary books that focus on the dynamics within friend groups. For some reason, the majority of YA books (or at least the ones that I’ve read) tend to focus heavily on romance or make a point of pairing off people by the end, even when it’s not really necessary. Back in 2017, I mentioned that I wanted to see more platonic relationships in books that actually stayed platonic, and I think this is kind of along the same lines. I’d love to see more YA stories where there is a focus on friendships. I do think this has been happening a bit more lately, especially because there has been a lot more emphasis on stories of girls/women supporting each other, or male friendships that break down toxic masculinity.
I think it’s important to see a variety of friendship dynamics in books and not just the typical “my best friend ditched me to become popular/because they got a boyfriend” storyline. Friendships are such an important part of people’s lives, and I find it really weird that they are rarely the main focus of the story. There are a couple of new and upcoming releases (When You Were Everything and We Used To Be Friends) that do focus on friendships, specifically the end of long-term friendships, and I think these could be a great start.
2) Academic pressure
I know there are a lot of people out there who really hate to read about school because they view reading as their escape from their day-to-day lives, but I’ve found academic pressure a strangely underutilized theme. Again, this is a topic that I have seen coming up more often lately (ie. 500 Words or Less or You Asked for Perfect), and it’s just made me realize how little this topic is addressed. In 2017, I mentioned wanting more variety in New Adult topics, and I think books involving academic pressure is one way to make that happen. Of course, it’s also a topic that would be very relevant in a lot of YA too since most are set in high school. I’m specifically thinking of books about characters who put a lot of pressure on themselves or feel a lot of pressure from others’ expectations, but it could also include things like highly competitive schools, struggles with college and a lot more.
I was definitely one of those students who put a lot of pressure on myself to get high marks in all of my classes, and I specifically remember one hellish semester in my last year of high school. It was the semester where our grades were being submitted to the universities we had applied to, and I had 4 intense subjects (English, math, biology and history), two of which had very intense teachers. I was completely overwhelmed and although I ultimately ended up doing fine, it’s an experience I’m sure a lot of people can relate to. Every time I read a book that focuses on academic pressures, it reminds me of how rarely this topic seems to be used, and I think it’s one that a lot of people could really connect with.
3) Characters pursuing a passion/dream
I put this one on my wishlist because I’ve read quite a few books in the past year where the main character has a strong interest in something and I thought it adds a whole other dimension to the story. I find it is usually art or music, but really any kind of hobby could apply. I was thinking of books like On the Come Up or Let Me Hear a Rhyme, which are about characters pursuing rap, or With the Fire On High or If It Makes You Happy, where the characters have a strong interest in cooking, just as a few examples. It could also relate to books about characters who are heavily involved in fandoms or who are online content creators.
These books can be a bit hit-or-miss if the character is interested in something that I really have no interest in reading about, but I tend to find that these kinds of passions or dreams really make the characters come alive. It also tends to divert the focus from the typical romance-centric plot and gives the characters an extra level of motivation. In a sense, it generally plays into my interest in having a wider variety of storylines and characters available across the genre. Again, this does seem to be quite YA-specific, since most of the adult contemporary books I read have characters who are already pretty established in a career and/or family, but it’s something I’ve started to notice a lot more of lately, and I’m very interested in reading more.
4) Family stories other than divorce or death of a parent or sibling
This is a tricky one to put into words because I’m not quite sure what I do want. I just know that I’ve been getting a little burnt out on seeing so many books that focus on the main character’s parents getting divorced as a central conflict, or about grieving the death of a parent or sibling. That is not to say that these topics aren’t important, because they are, or that they aren’t addressed well, because they can be. It may come down to the specific books that I’d been choosing, but for a while, it felt like I couldn’t pick up a single YA book where death or divorce weren’t a main theme. I know that both of these are real and important experiences that deserve representation, but I’d love to see a bit more variety in family dynamics. Or, if the book is going to focus on death or divorce, I’d love to see the topic handled in some kind of new or unique way, although again, I’m not entirely sure what that would look like.
It’s not necessarily a YA-specific wish this time, since there are a ton of thrillers and adult contemporary books on my TBR that are based on the premise of a main character searching for a missing sibling or parent or discovering something that changes their perceptions of a loved one after their death. Again, that’s not to say that these can’t be are aren’t great stories, because they often are. There is a reason why so many books along these lines end up on my TBR in the first place, but I would also love to see more books that deal with complex family dynamics, and especially sibling relationships.
5) Office politics
I think this one again plays into my interest in more variety in New Adult books, but I think office politics can be so fascinating (when it’s not your own office)! This one sparked my interest because I recently watched The Office for the first time, and loved the whole idea of such an eccentric cast of characters working together and having to deal with each other on a daily basis. It also made me think of how many options there could be for these kinds of stories! I find a lot of books that deal with office politics end up being romances, but I’d also love to see more stories about some of the struggles involved in the office. It could be anything from a young adult navigating their first “real” job, difficult co-workers or bosses, or any of the many challenges of having to work with a small core group of people day in and day out. There are a lot of books out there that deal with “playground politics” or neighbourhood dynamics, so it seems like a bit of an odd gap to be lacking books that focus on the office. If anyone has any specific recommendations for this, or any of the items above, please feel free to let me know!