Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Stereotypical Villains in YA

Veering into an atypical topic for me today, but it's one that's been on my mind a lot recently.

How many of you have ever been the brunt of a stereotype? I think it's almost impossible to go through life without being classified at one point or another. Throughout Middle and High School the “teacher's pet” and “dork” labels were my constant companions.

Most teens probably get put into one category or another. So it's natural that YA books deal with the topic. Unfortunately, I've noticed lately that a lot of YA books, even by authors I absolutely love, tend to propagate certain stereotypes that when repeated so often could damage the way we think about people.

I'm not talking about racial prejudices. That's too big a topic for me to go into right now. What I'm referring to is more of a social stereotyping.

When you think of YA books, who do you think of as the hero type? Is it the average Joe? The quirky girl with a unique worldview? The nerd who is always made fun of but has a great heart?

All those people are worth time in the spotlight as main characters. I'm always glad to see them there, and I particularly love reading about the geek who saves the day.

But who does that leave as the perpetual villain? If the first people we think of when searching for antagonists are the cheerleaders and the jocks, then I think something's wrong. Yes, there may be reasons for the stereotype of the dumb jock or the catty blonde Miss Popularity, but the more I see those characters in print, the more they bother me.

Beautiful doesn't always mean bad. By making athletic and charismatic teens into villains, I think we're alienating and misrepresenting quite a lot of people.

Please understand that this isn't a jibe at any one book or author. There have been plenty of times in my life when I would have used the same stereotypes if I had been writing a scene set in a high school. But my thinking has been changing lately, and I want to challenge yours as well.

So, just as my two cent suggestion, maybe next time you start creating your villains, think about what stereotypes you might be spreading and whether you might just come up with a more complex, interesting character by staying away from them. That's going to be my goal for my next book set in high school.

1 comment:

  1. Agreeee. Plus, this "making the geek/outsider/quirky one the one who saves the day," still forms cliques, generally, as you said, against the dumb jock or Miss Popularity and their posse.