Five Things YA Books Get Wrong

City 2

1. High School Cliques

Going to the cafeteria for lunch in a YA book is like walking into the jungle. Everyone has a group and a table where they belong, and it’s survival of the fittest out there. Try to take the cheerleader’s seat, and you’ll find yourself the target of bullying for the rest of the year, if not your life. In reality, most teenagers probably couldn’t even identify the cheerleaders or the skaters or the whatevers, and would describe themselves as floating between multiple groups of friends.

2. Teen Slang

Book teens are all up on the latest slang. It peppers their speech, their texts, and their thoughts. Real teens tend to think all those “cool” words are just as embarrassing and awkward as their parents do and claim to use text abbreviations mainly facetiously.

3. The Love Triangle

Some lucky real-life teens probably do have multiple guys or girls fighting for their love. A few of them may even have a hard time choosing among all those suitors, and spend countless hours making lists of pros and cons for choosing a date. However, the average teen’s love life is not so exciting. Those who aren’t in a nice, normal relationship are either not looking for love at all, pining fruitlessly over that cute girl in chem, or just trying to avoid that creep who keeps stalking them in the halls.

4. Prom

Fiction prom is a magical night for teens, the night when adoring high school sweethearts get to celebrate their perfect love together while wearing designer evening gowns and dancing gracefully in a ballroom that has been glamorously decorated to look like a palace on the moon. Real life prom is a night that is mildly more fun than an average night when teens get to eat mediocre food in a local hotel’s conference room and attempt to dance to the current Top 40.

5. College Applications

The average fiction protagonist will apply to an average of three schools and get into all three, including their top choice, even if that top choice is Yale. The average real teen will be instructed by their guidance counselors to apply to an average of 8-12 schools because the risk of not getting into any of them is all too real, even for students with high grades and strong extracurriculars. True story: The salutatorian at my friend’s high school applied to 11 colleges (including a number of “safety schools”) and was rejected from every single one.


12 thoughts on “Five Things YA Books Get Wrong

  1. jubilare says:

    Definite food for thought for both YA writers and readers. If fiction influences reality, (which, I think it does) then it is good that it hasn’t influenced it in terms of cliques.


    • Briana says:

      That’s a really good point! I’m so glad people, especially middle schoolers, haven’t read all this (and seen all the teen movies) and gotten the impression they’re only allowed to hang out with people who are exactly like them in high school!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Briana says:

      I also love it in movies, where everyone dresses stereotypically like their clique, too. Is there actually any school where cheerleaders where their uniforms all the time???

      Liked by 1 person

      • Krysta says:

        I also find it funny that all the characters are always stylishly and expensively dressed. What about the teens who have less money or like to wear t-shirts? But, yes, the idea that cheerleaders wear their uniforms every day all day is the most amusing costume choice, in my opinion.


  2. Zoe N. says:

    YES TO THIS x 1000! As much as I love YA, there are so many times that it feels stereotyped and almost overdone. Like, how many times has an actual teenager been the center of a love triangle? *sighs* I wish authors would see this post – it would make stories so much more accurate. Thanks for sharing this!


  3. Every Book a World says:

    I love this list! For #1, I think that high school cliques are DEFINITELY way too unrealistic in YA. I think that groups can be identified, but they are much more subtle and undefinable, and the drama is blown out of proportion. But maybe otherwise a realistic “school” type of book would be too boring?

    For #3 — I’ve probably thought a lot about this before, but what you said really made me think about it again. Love triangles are quite rare in real life I would think, especially among teens just beginning dating. In real life, I think it would more be adults, and it would be painful to read about, and it wouldn’t be about people trying to start a relationship, it would more be about breaking up a relationship. But really, I think so many love triangles aren’t in realistic fiction but in fantasy whee the MC is thrown into so may strange situations with people. Does the suspension of reality make love triangles ok? Tough to think about…

    For #5 — this is too true. Often I feel like MCs just get into their dream school because they “worked hard” and so everything works out for them. But really in some ways I think unless it is the central topic of the book, college applications are too complex to really tackle in a book otherwise. You might want to check out an adult fiction book called “Early Decision” or the Tina Fey movie “Admission” and the similarly-titled book it was adapted from. I don’t know if I have ever read a YA book that really covers it properly, though I’m sure they exist.


    • Briana says:

      These are some great points! I guess Anna and the French Kiss would be more along the lines of the “real life love triangle.” Two people in the triangle are already dating, and then suddenly there’s a third person making it complicated. This is definitely a situation I’ve seen happen to my friends in real life, as well! I’ve yet to see someone pining over two different guys who aren’t even dating her, but just trying to “win her over” or something.

      I also like the point that college applications have gotten so complicated that dealing with them realistically in a novel could actually be overwhelming. I think I would at least like to see a nod to some complication, though. Maybe the protagonist can apply to more than two schools. Maybe they don’t get into their dream school. Right now, it just seems to me like authors are very disconnected from what college applications look like. I hear it was easier when people my parents age were applying, and a lot of those people still haven’t gotten the memo that things have changed. I think it’s hard enough for teens to deal with this in real life–the disbelief from the adults they didn’t get into their dream school or that they can’t afford any of the schools they got into or whatever–without having to deal with it in books, too.


      • Every Book a World says:

        Yea, I think Anna and the French Kiss is a good example! I guess there’s also the fact that both Anna and her friend (I forget her name) liked Etienne, but there was never any real competition and no real love triangle where the person receiving the affection can’t decide between two appealing options.

        I think you’re right, authors are kind of disconnected from today’s college admissions process, especially if they aren’t teachers or don’t have college-aged kids. It would be nice to see a little more reality in these terms when it wouldn’t be so hard to include. Haha, I actually heard that author Joelle Charbonneau say in an interview that her “The Testing” series was based off the struggle to get into college that she saw in someone close to her (student, niece? I don’t remember). There’s a rather dramatic and terrifying view of the college admissions process!


  4. Lefty Reads (@LeftyReads) says:

    Love love love this post! Especially the point about high school cliques. Like, I went to 6 different high schools and I never found cliques like YA describes. Also, I don’t think enough books talk about the college admissions process enough, but when they do it’s either made much more dramatic than reality, or super toned down.

    – Lefty @ The Left-Handed Book Lover


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