Saturday, May 18, 2013

YA Epidemics #8 - Everyone Loves An Average Girl

YA Epidemics is an original feature in which I rant about discuss a different one of the
numerous trends and cliches plaguing the YA genre. The Epidemics are posted most Saturdays.

Comments and discussions are encouraged!

Brown hair.  5'5.  Neither skinny nor fat, curvy nor flat.  I have one best friend, she's so much prettier and more charismatic than I am.  I am average Jane Doe, Everywoman.  Never even been on a date.  I am destined to live my life on the sidelines, alone.

300 pages later....

Every cute guy in my school is in love with me.  Huh.  Must be the new shampoo.

If only life were like YA novels.  We girls who happily trade looks and popularity for intelligence would have all the boys worth lusting over eating out of our Plain Jane hands.  Our biggest problems would be whether to choose the newcomer who makes us swoon with one crooked grin or the loyal friend who's secretly always had a bit of a hard-on for us.  (Can I say that?)  We could sit back happily and let the world deliver these tasty morsels of man-meat right to our laps, because in YA, one thing is abundantly clear; Everyone Loves An Average Girl.

It makes me wonder what some of these YA guys see in some of these YA girls. "Oh, baby, your plain appearance and statistically average home life turn me ON!"

"I'm too gorgeous and smart and capable, I need you to balance me out or it'll just be ridiculous."

"That girl was too perfect.  That girl was too flawed.  But this girl is just right!"

I wonder sometimes if this trend was born out of daydreams and fantasies.  In my mind, I get all the hotties drooling over me, waiting on me hand-and-foot...and usually without a shirt on.  But in reality, let's just say there's a reason I spend my Friday nights blogging every week.

Do you ever get the feeling these authors are so busy making their protagonists ooze averageness that they forget to make them stand out?  That a lot of these girls could be clone copies of each other, thrust into a different setting and given a different name and minor differing physical traits? (I'm sorry, you have me confused with someone else.  I'm 5'3, and my hair isn't brown.  It's dirty blond.  Duh.) As a huge fan of characterization, it's not a good sign.

Which brings me to my big question; why would every single guy in these girls' lives want an almost painfully average girl?  Why would so many of these guys, who can get pretty much any girl they could possibly want, choose Jane Doe over the beautiful, funny, smart best friend?  Well, because it's a book.  Books are escapism.  Books are where the impossible happens, and where Jane really can turn into a boy-magnet overnight.  I get that, I really do.  I completely understand why it's so popular, why so many readers love following their Plain Jane heroins' adventures in life and love.  But personally, I'd rather read about a character who actually has a strong personality than a blank screen on which I can project myself, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

But take aside the absurdity of the "average" girl getting about ten times her cosmic share of love.  Forget for a moment that the school wallflower almost never walks out of school hand-in-hand with the sexy rebel senior boy.  It starts to get plain annoying after awhile when every single book tries to thrust its protagonist's average averageness in our faces.  (Especially when, in half of these YA books, the author mistakes "average" for "flawless with straight brown hair instead of bouncy blonde curls".)  I mean, these books are literally making their single most important characters the most cliche, redundant aspect of the story!  Bella, Violet, Nora, Katie, Morgan, Lena, they're all the same character.  They're nothing but a blank canvas on which to paint a picture, a vehicle to take us from opening to conclusion.  They're not driving the story, they're being driven by it, and quite often it's painfully obvious that that's the case.

As you know by now, these YA Epidemics posts were born out of my exasperation with trend-hopping over originality in popular Young Adult fiction.  What illustrates my point better than a legion of clones for our protagonists?  In my opinion, an average main character will rarely deliver more than an average reading experience.

Now for your take.  What do you think of the sudden influx of "average" YA protagonists?  Why do you think they're so popular?  Are you a fan, or do you want to see more of those distinct voices in YA fiction?  As always, leave it in the comment!


  1. Oh, how I love this post! Did I mention before YA Epidemics is one of my favourite features? Yeah, I think I did. Anyway, a couple of days ago I was discussing the "Bad Boy, Good Girl" Syndrome in books. I'm with you 100% that it doesn't make sense. While it might work for other readers, having a plain Jane in which anyone can "project" themselves into, it simply doesn't work for me. I'm always the pessimist sitting at the end of the table wondering WHY the bad guy would fall for the good girl. I really try to find a reason, but being in Plain Jane's head, I barely find any. If she doesn't like herself, there's very little chance someone else will, let alone Mr. Popular.

    1. You have, but I never get tired of hearing it. ;) Thank you so much, Reem! That really made my day.

      Exactly. I know it happens sometimes, but not nearly as often as YA books will have you believe. I get that it's escapism, but come on. You don't have to have the most popular MC, but give her a personality! Average implies boring.

  2. I think 'average' protagonists exist because writers think they're more relatable and to a certain extent that's probably true - how many of us feel exceptional and special? I don't have a problem with 'average' girls getting the guy (to suggest that only super-charismatic and supermodel-esque girls get boyfriends is hardly a great self-esteem booster!) but I hate it when being average looking etc. becomes a stand-in for actual character traits and when it's used to replace real flaws. It's especially problematic when the protagonists averageness is used to judge other types of femininity in the typical Taylor Swift 'she wears short skirts, I wear t-shirts' situations! I just want protagonists with complex personalities and psychologies who have talents and distinct voices but also have anxieties and flaws.

    1. That's a really good point. And it's partly what I meant by some authors thrusting their character's averageness in our faces.

      Like I said above, I really don't mind less popular, less gorgeous protagonists. But give her something to make her stand out! I'm far from a super-charismatic supermodel-esque girl, but I'd be insulted if someone called me "average". I think most people would be.

      But what really annoys me is how often the "average" girl is utilized. Every other book these days has a bland, boring main character. Ugh.

      Thanks so much for the comment, Hannah! :D

  3. From the boys' side, I haven't seen this so much from prose books, but it shows up a lot in manga and anime with the "magical girlfriend" and "harem genre" storylines. The main dude will be painfully average or a little below average for "relatability" so that the male readers/viewers can project themselves into it.

    The girl or girls will be attracted to him because of his nice guy personality* because he's the first guy they've met who is pleasant to them (or is the first guy their age they've met period.) He will usually develop some other special qualities by the end of the story, but they won't take away his average guy aura.

    This has led to a bunch of anime/manga where the main male character is the least interesting character, and is basically interchangeable with any of the others from the subgenre.

    *This should not be confused with being a "Nice Guy (tm)" where the fellow affects niceness to girls/women in order to get laid and then gets pissy when it doesn't work. Because in real life being a decent human being towards women is minimum standard for them to even tolerate your presence. (This does not explain the "girls go for jerks" thing, but seriously dude you don't want the kind of woman who keeps falling for jerks.)

    Not being too up on the current crop of YA, have you seen one where the viewpoint character is the stereotypically hot head cheerleader who's normally the mean girl bully in these romances, and suddenly finds her looks and popularity are working against her with the boy (or girl, let's be fair)she's interested in?

    1. I'm not huge on managa or anime, but I know enough about it to be bobbing my head in agreement with the first half of your comment. I think that may be one of the reasons I'm not as into it as I could be, actually.

      I have read a few books like that, but not a ton. I've also read books where the MC starts as a popular, pretty cheerleader type, but something happens to turn the tables and she becomes an outcast type, and it isn't until then that some amazing guy realizes how great she is on the inside and woos her.

    2. Came up with plot idea...

      Jane Playne is an average girl, average looks, average grades, middle-class. The two most notable things about her are that she has a handsome, well-spoken brother--and she reads a lot of YA paranormal romance novels.

      So she's totally prepared when it turns out Broody McHandsome, the slightly bad but not too bad boy who transferred in recently, turns out to have special powers. Jane's even more thrilled when it turns out that she too has neat powers. Ooh, and now Broody is going to help train her in the use/hiding of her powers! Yay!

      Thanks to her extensive research, Jane knows that Broody being aloof and rude to her most of the time, more like a drill sergeant than a boyfriend, yet sometimes turning kind and thoughtful means that it's twu wuv. Also, she will clearly turn out to be the Chosen One who will bring peace to the long feud between the mummies and the mermaids.

      A couple of chapters from the end, after a particularly harrowing event, Broody finally admits to Jane that he loves a sister. Turns out he's gay (and sharper readers will have noticed that every time he turned "nice", Jane's brother was on the scene.)

    3. Ahahaha I love it. Especially that little twist at the end. You should really write a satirical line of YA books, you think of the most awesomely hilarious twists on these cliches.

  4. Perfect. Perfect, perfect, perfect. This trend, this "Mary Sue" main character, it bothers me to no end. Characterization is possibly THE MOST IMPORTANT thing for me in a book, and crucial for the main character. That's why I gave up on Twilight (among other reasons grrrrrr), Delirium, Matched, etc. etc. etc. All these characters with forgettable personalities. Ugh. Give me a Katniss, Penryn, or Yukiko any day.

    1. Thank you!!! I wish more authors would realize this! Now that Twilight is finally beginning to die down, all you have to do is take a look at most of the mega-popular books to realize that unique characters are in. Yet we still have this plethora of, as you said, Mary Sue characters.

  5. I'm with you on this one, I don't want plastic characters that reflect the authors idea of the girl next door. I want strong, passionate female characters who know what they want and who inspire me. What annoys me is that they are described as plain Jane but they turn everyone's head so obviously they are Sexy Susies!

    1. I know, right? In real life, girls like that - the ones who complain about their dullness and average looks but are really the most lusted-after chicks in their schools - would be considered an attention whore, fishing for compliments. But in books, their really an average girl who is being appreciated for her inner beauty. Psh. Please. If there's one thing teenagers are infamous for, it's being shallow.

  6. That shampoo from the beginning? Do you know where Plain Jane got it? Because I'd like some.... :P

    Okay on a serious note it, sort of, happened to me before. Part of what you said. I've always been the nerdy bookworm type. I was horribly shy never really stood out. My best friend was the living breathing version of the book bestie. She was funny and gorgeous and people loved her. So one day I was staying at her house we were like 14 at the time, and we went out to meet some friends and she wanted me to meet this guy she was interested in.

    Holy crap he was the perfect bad boy. This was back in the 90s, think hair bands and all that. He had the long hair, the leather jacket, I think he was even a freaking klepto and he was beautiful (guys can be beautiful!). Needless to say I was crushing. And he was paying ME.

    By the end of the night. I got the bad boy. My BFF kicked me out of her house (literally threw my stuff out in her front yard in the middle of the night...but I deserved that.) Thankfully, 20ish years later and I'm still friends with both of them.

    So sometimes it happens. The bad boy falling for the average girl. I know it's not like we walked off into the sunset and lived happily ever after, I mean it only lasted all of 3 months, but in a 14 year old girls view it was a lifetime.

    Anyway hope you're not keeping yourself too busy!! Good to see your post <3

    1. Haha sounds like you found the shampoo! :p

      No but seriously, I know it happens from time to time. Shoot, I once dated a guy I thought was way out of my league, too. But few can argue that it happens as often as in YA books. Anywhere near. And when the guy goes for the nerdy girl, usually she has some outstanding, fantastic personality that the books forget to give their girls.

      I've had two whole days of free time, but my internet modem chose then to stop working! We just got it fixed, but now my work week is starting and we're having a buttload of work done on the house, so I still don't have much time to use it. >:o But next week, I plan on comment-bombing all you lovely bloggers.


As you may or may not know, life is eating up way too much of my spare time right now, so pretty please don't hate me if it takes me a few days to get back to your wonderful comments. I read each and every one from my phone, and they always make my day. <3