You Know You’ve Read Too Many Contemporaries When…


You start looking for your mum’s secret coke stash

I get that some parents are alcoholics and drug addicts, and that some parents leave. However, from most YA contemporaries, you’d think it was all of them. You could easily believe that there is an entire generation of young people currently pulling themselves up by their boot straps while their parents drink themselves to death in the next room.

I’m also bothered by characters who respond to their parents’ addiction by never touching substances. While this is absolutely true for some, it is by no means the rule. I would just like a YA book to address the fact that making the same mistakes as your parents doesn’t make you a bad person. Addiction has a genetic component, after all.

You think it’s totally normally to never ask your friends how THEY are doing

Have you ever noticed how self-involved most contemporary protagonists are? I know that we’re often experiencing the world from their perspective but… seriously. It’s a problem.

As much as I loved Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda, when he talked about not knowing the story behind his best friend’s absent dad I was like SERIOUSLY? Are you that consumed by your own drama that in ten years it’s never occurred to you to ask the girl who comes to your house every night after school where her dad got to?

While Simon does come to see the error of his ways, most of the time this sort of shitty behaviour is never addressed. It’s kind of like how in Isla and the Happily Ever After she got everything she wanted despite being selfish and awful the entire book.

It’s not satisfying.

You can only think you’re pretty when a boy says you are!

Despite all YA ever, it’s actually true that you are allowed to think that you look good because you think look good, not just because some guy suddenly saw you. This annoying, and seemingly unavoidable trope grinds with me so much because it’s just another way of telling girls that they don’t have ownership over their own bodies.

What most books preach is that you become pretty when a guy says you are. And I’m supposed to think that’s romantic?

Um, no thanks.

I am here to tell you some revolutionary: You are allowed to think you look good because you think you look good.

(also because you finally figured out how to do that thing with your hair)

Romance is the LITERAL be all and end all. There is nothing else. Nope.

I’m adding this one somewhat tentatively.

Put your pitchforks away please.

I love a romance. I really do. I spend as much time on tumblr as anyone.

But, that said, there is more to character development than falling in love. Yes, it’s an important part of your life but it is just that. A part. I would love to read a contemporary where I felt like self-development was the main aim.

Life has many facets. It turns out that romance is just one of them.



Author: Lydia Tewkesbury

27. Loves a good story.

9 thoughts on “You Know You’ve Read Too Many Contemporaries When…”

  1. Great post. I agree with everything, everything on your list. Yep, I loved Simon, too, but how could he not have known about Leah’s most traumatic event?! I want more books about MCs learning how to become great humans, not just half of a romantic pair!


  2. “Despite all YA ever, it’s actually true that you are allowed to think that you look good because you think look good, not just because some guy suddenly saw you. ” JUST YES. I’m going to print this up and frame it and say this to everyone. I love contemporary, I love romance I loved Simon vs. but I definitely agree with what you said here. I would love to hear all about self-development, and not just romance-focused contemporaries only.


  3. HAHA I love this. Your wit is sharp like knives (and I mean this as a compliment)!

    Reading this list, I really agree with all. Especially the ‘think you’re pretty only when boys think you are’ thing. It’s weird because I think girls who are confident or have high self-esteem are always written that their self-confidence is somehow a significant plot point? And it’s sad that when there are characters that think so, they are dismissed as vain.

    I’ve always disliked the romance being the end all be all thing. I think one of my favourite portrayals of romance is in the Ghibli film ‘Whisper of the Heart’; the two characters love each other, but they also inspire each other. It’s so beautiful?!


    1. Haha, thank you. It comes out when I get annoyed.

      I think it all goes back to gender norms. So much of the time confidence in women is categorised as negative, like how confident little boys are told they are ‘leaders’ whereas the girls are ‘bossy’.

      It’s especially weird to me that confidence in your appearance is so often called vanity because if anything, I feel like vanity is an expression of insecurity. It is a complicated thing.

      I will definitely check out that film when I get a chance. I’m totally with you. I like people to grow together rather than one person playing the role of facilitator.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, this article has shaken me up a bit. I hadn’t realised just how much I overlook these small but significant details like the self-absorbed-ness of some of the narrators.
    Maybe I was too busy gushing over the OTPs to notice. And I think it was always there at the back of my mind but I thought it’s no big deal.
    But it is a big deal because the target audience for these books is much younger and if they consume without thinking then they’ll slowly begin to think that whatever they read about is okay.

    Like cursing all the time or being insensitive to your friends and constantly thinking about getting together with your crush and ignoring the world around you. And it’s not okay.


    1. I know. I think – for some of us, at least – it’s only when you get older than you start to look at these narratives critically and realise that a lot of them really aren’t okay. Like, I remember reading Twilight when I was 13/14 and thinking OMG THIS IS EVERYTHING but as a 23 year old I can’t see past how messed up the dynamics in those books were.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Fantastic post!

    You are totally right about the substance abuse stand. Not that I “wish” more characters went through an addiction issue, but I find their stories are a touch more realistic when they do give into those addictions and have to battle them. You either act like your parents or you act the complete opposite and I think there are more people out there who do give into those impulses than not and I wish they were represented in books too.

    Don’t even get me started on the girls who don’t think they are anything until a boy tells them they are. They are primarily the reason why I avoid YA contemporary novels…


    1. I know. So much of the time we are presented with the same type of the protagonist, the ‘innocent good girl’ and I honestly don’t even believe that that person exists. People are always more complicated than that.

      Right?! It’s so frustrating. I hate the idea that the only way you can gain confidence in yourself is from outside influences bestowing it on you or whatever. It sucks.

      Liked by 1 person

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