The Friday Five: Popular Book Cliches

As I work to complete my 50 Book Challenge of 2011 (in which I’m lagging a little behind, so feel free to send me book suggestions!), I often begin to group some of the books I read together. Because I’m a fellow writer, this isn’t always the nicest thing for me to do, but I can’t help but pick up on the similarities I find between genres. These similarities come up for all age groups, but many of the clichés I’ll bring up are especially prevalent in the young adult books. Some of them are common among particular authors.

This is in no way meant to be offensive. Each of these books/categories has its own place in my heart, and I appreciate all of the hard work that each author puts into writing and publishing his or her writing. Without further adieu, let’s discuss five of the common book formats and clichés that the literary world runs into.

The Friday Five: Popular Book Clichés

1. The Meg Cabot.
Meet Awkward Girl, whose photo would be displayed next to “Self-Deprecation” in the dictionary if there was such an entry. Sometimes she’s actually fairly normal and popular, while other times she’s a total clod, but regardless of how the rest of the world sees her, she generally describes herself in negative terms. She tries to avoid attention, but somehow attracts it nonetheless. Awkward Girl is your every-girl, someone you definitely went to high school with and who is surprisingly abundant in personality and wit, but who also finds herself in bizarre situations. She generally pines over someone slightly out of her reach and has some offbeat interest that sets her apart from the majority of her peers. As a reader, you have difficulty deciding how you feel about Awkward Girl and whether or not you’re rooting for her — on the one hand, you can kind of relate to her, but on the other hand, she complains way too much.

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2. The Fashionista Manual.
Usually taking place in a glamorous big city (New York or Los Angeles, for example), The Fashionista Manual contains just as much designer name-dropping as it does actual substance. The characters are usually petty, immature and vengeful, but also extremely attractive, with enough disposable income to go wherever they want, buy whatever they want and do whatever they want. The main character is usually female, with a coterie of frenemies who sort of idolize her, as well as a main rival and a dream guy. As both a book series and a TV show, Gossip Girl is notorious for this, but Zoey Dean’s The A-List series is another huge culprit, and Lise Harrison’s Clique books appeal to this market for younger audiences. If you want to look like an intellectual as you sip your coffee and read a book in Starbucks, The Fashionista Manual is not for you. Bring this book to the beach instead for some guilty pleasure reading.

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3. The Pseudo-Victorian Romance Novel.
After thoroughly researching this genre (or rather, reading the summaries of these books with my mom and laughing at the absurd plotlines), I have The Pseudo-Victorian Romance Novel down to a science. The Pseudo-Victorian Romance Novel consists of three parts: an innocent young woman who holds some sort of power over men that she might be unaware of, a devilishly handsome rogue with an impressive title and an infamous reputation, and a healthy combination of sexual tension and “unbridled passion.” To create a proper Pseudo-Victorian Romance Novel, sprinkle the following buzz words throughout your novel and summary: rake, russet curls, ravishing, wicked, irresistible, desires, scandal, etc.

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4. The Utopian/Dystopian Trilogy.
This collection of novels takes place sometime in the not-so-distant future, after America as we know it has failed and somehow our world has become something entirely different than what we live in today. Book 1: Our hero/heroine, a semi-obedient but still somewhat rebellious character, discovers some horrible government conspiracy. Book 2: The hero/heroine becomes even more exposed to this conspiracy and learns some of the darker secrets behind it, beginning to break some serious rules and become part of some greater rebellion. Book 3: The protagonist is now past the point of no return, so he or she leads some epic battle scenes and undergoes major character development. The ending is ultimately bittersweet, with the bad guys sort of getting defeated, but the general gloom of the war looming overhead for the years that follow. (Both The Hunger Games and Uglies series are excellent examples of this!) A more stretched-out version of this can occur in larger book series, or it can compress into one dystopian novel, but this is the formula for such a genre.

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5. The Sarah Dessen.
I will be the first to admit that I grew up on Sarah Dessen novels; her work was my inspiration when I was in middle school and in my early years of high school. I still admire many of her works (some more than others) and think that every girl should read This Lullaby, the one novel of hers that does not conform to the model I’m about to share with you. Although I have a soft spot for some of her books, most seem to contain the same elements: An introspective girl as the main character, one who has very little personality but is fairly neutral toward everyone and everything, is dropped in a new location where she doesn’t particularly want to be. There she makes friends with people who are generally more outspoken and interesting than she is, as well as a boy with a unique past and a fresh outlook on life, and a mother hen figure to make up for her own broken family and stilted relationships with her parents. The book as a whole is usually tied together by a different theme — restaurants, college basketball, music, jewelry-making, you name it — but the types of characters don’t vary all that much by book. Often the main character gains a greater insight through some sort of project she is reluctant to undertake, and gains a better appreciation for friends and family along the way.

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What are some of the common types of books you’ve read? Feel free to share yours in the comments!

8 thoughts on “The Friday Five: Popular Book Cliches

  1. Jeffrey Arnold says:

    I love dystopian novels! They make you think about the world in a different way once you are done reading. Like the classics of ‘1984’ and ‘Brave New World’ they can show us what ineptitude can ultimately lead to.

    • Valerie says:

      I totally agree! I loved Brave New World especially… it was really great for discussion my freshman year of high school. The dystopian novels are awesome – even the young adult ones – because they really make us think and reevaluate the world we live in now (for better and for worse!). 🙂

  2. Karina Creative says:

    Oh man, I totally love this. It’s so true. It’s funny because I was a sucker for Sarah Dessen. I just bought her new book, ‘Lock and Key” and I have struggled SO much to finish it. I started reading it like a month ago and am finally at the last 50 pages or so. Goodness. I finish most books in a few hours (Hunger Games I finished the series in 3 days) but this book has taken me forever. It’s cute, but so dramatic.

    I cracked up reading this post. Great job!
    Karina~

      • Valerie says:

        I really liked that one 🙂 “This Lullaby” was my favorite, but I also really liked “Along For The Ride,” which I read recently. I liked the whole insomnia theme a lot.

    • Valerie says:

      Thank you so much, Karina! 🙂 I tore through Hunger Games too… I think I had a paper due when I was reading the first one and I ended up doing the paper at the last minute because the book was that good. Lock and Key was okay, but it definitely wasn’t my favorite of hers.

      Thanks for the comment! Hope you are doing well 🙂

  3. gabriellan says:

    I read my first ever Sarah Dessen book just a little while ago. It was Lock and Key. She has an interesting way of writing, and I like the feeling that the book left you with.

    I’ve never read the Hunger Games trilogy, but I definitely see the characteristics of #4 in this Dystopian trilogy that I just started reading.

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