I think it’s easy to mistake ‘trends’ with ‘cliches’, especially when it comes to fiction and YA fiction. A trend is something like ‘vampire boyfriends’ –
the stream of books that came after Twilight about brooding, handsome, dangerous boys and their quiet, shy, clumsy paramours. Yuk. (Also, this would be the moment where I put a little footnote in to say Buffy the Vampire Slayer did it first, and with more class).
A cliche is something within the narrative which makes you roll your eyes because you’ve seen it a hundred times before. Eg. ‘Love triangles’, ‘opposites/enemies falling in love’ or ‘the old crazy guy is really the mentor with all the skills and knowledge you’ve always needed’ (we’ll come back to that last one because it’s kinda specific.) These tropes are meant to signify to the audience a potential outcome that either drives them to read/watch further or at least challenges them enough that they want to know the outcome. A good use of tropes makes the reader feel intelligent for ‘solving the mystery first’ or concluding a satisfying ending. Bad tropes make your eyes roll into the back of your head and become cliches.
Another thing that separates trends and cliches are – cliches can be fixed with sincerity, trends can’t. The longer you hold onto a trend, the more ridiculous it gets. If someone were to try and write a story now about a teenage girl in love with a vampire – well, it probably wouldn’t get published. It might, if the writing was good enough. But the trend overextended itself, and died out. Now it’s all about ‘estranged friends’ and ‘cinematic fantasies’, which can be full of cliches.
I’m currently reading Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi. I can’t remember if I chose it, or if it was bought for me by a friend – but it ticks a lot of the boxes which should make it one of my favourites. The problem is, it’s ticking boxes – and it feels cliched because of it. You have a mentor in the opening chapter, who knows more than she’s shared prior and basically sends the protagonists on their journey, once the inciting incident has made it impossible for the protagonists to return home. Can you say The Hobbit? Eragon? Narnia? City of Ashes? Harry Potter?
Then you’ve got the McGuffin chase x3 items – all in different locations, with varying degrees of difficulty for retrieval. See the list above.
Then you’ve got conflicting love interests – he likes her, she hates him, but is also attracted to him? But is conflicted because he’s evil, and none of her friends understand, but she can see the good in him because he sees something in her…
You’ve also got a tyrannical king, a cruel step-mother, and equally cruel mother, a whole bunch of antagonists who don’t last more than a chapter each.
And I’m only halfway through!
And possibly I’d forgive all these elements if they felt more sincere, or were given the time to be fleshed out in a way I find satisfactory. Or maybe my MA and the fact I write YA myself has made me a snob. Who knows. But it can be incredibly frustrating when all books in a genre feel cliched because they’re caught in trends and tropes.
So if you’re struggling to find a YA narrative that doesn’t feel cliche, look for stories outside the current trends – either narratives supported by smaller publishers or by debut novelists who haven’t yet got caught in the tide.
Non-cliched YA novels exist, of that I can be sure!