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YA Fiction and the Likeability Trap

Every day I get these emails from Bookbub in which they feature ebooks that are on sale for cheap. 

One of the categories I subscribe to is YA. I clicked on one of the YA titles a couple of weeks ago and saw that the book had a whole bunch of negative reviews, most of which cited the fact that the characters weren't likeable.

This is a criterion that many people seem to use when reviewing YA books.

And it's not necessarily bad--certainly one of the things that we read for is a certain amount of wish fulfillment.  We read at least in part because we like the imaginary friends we find in books--people who are as competent and smart and together and awesome as we wish we were.

I just don't think this should necessarily be the overriding criterion when you're reviewing a book. Because books are about people. And people screw up. They act selfishly; they don't think about consequences; they let down the people who love them.  And these actions are actually what make people interesting!  And they make for interesting stories! 

It really bothers me to see a book get dinged by a reviewer because you might not want to be best friends with the character. (Or maybe you would in real life, because your best friend isn't perfect.).

I'll give one example of how this has happened to one of my books. In Tessa Masterson Will Go To Prom, Luke, the character whose POV I wrote, acts like a total asshole at the beginning of the book. He betrays his best friend.  If he pisses you off, I've done a good job. He's supposed to. 

And yet some reviewers have cited the fact that Luke is a dick at the beginning as a reason they didn't like the book. 

To each her own, certainly, but I would just say that if you're only going to read books with likeable characters, you are going to miss out on a lot of good books. 

And if likeability continues to be a big criterion that people use when reviewing YA fiction, we're all going to miss out on some cool books because they won't get published.  Some editors will pass on books because the characters are complicated and/or authentic and might not be the greatest imaginary friends.

And then we'll have YA fiction populated entirely by Mary Sues and Jack Ryans (I've seen some suggest that Mary Sue can apply to male characters, but I prefer to call a male character that is an obvious author wish fulfillment a Jack Ryan, and if you've ever read Tom Clancy, you'll know why.).  And that would suck.