Early YA was a wild ride. Many of the books were a product of their time full of slut shaming, stalker boyfriends (because apparently how well he can stalk you directly correlates to how much he loves you), melodramatic love triangles, and guys who think “no” means “yes” (and apparently that’s “sexy”). As YA has grown and evolved (especially after the #MeToo and #WeNeedDiverseBooks movements), sometimes revisiting older books makes me realize just how dated they truly were. I’m glad YA is changing as we as a culture progress to be a more accepting and consciences society. So here are five YA plotlines that are so wild they could only exist in early YA books.
City of Bones (2007): Pseudo-incest
This book. Luckily I was one of the people who didn’t start reading TMI until after the first few books were released so I could google and find out that they weren’t actually related. But the whole, ‘we think we are brother and sister but are going to make out anyways’ was such a weird fucking take. I get the appeal of a ‘forbidden love story’ (although this is too forbidden for my taste), but this is a YA novel, not fanfiction or some taboo erotica. And then no one ever really addresses the fact that for like a year, they thought they were related and still tried to bone. Everyone just moved on sooooo quickly. And Clary also still kissed her bio brother at one point. So….awkward all around. Nowadays, I think an editor would be quick to cut out an incest plotline in a YA book unless it was an issues book that involved grooming/sexual assault or something of that sort.
Vampire Academy (2007): Student-Teacher relationship
Ahhhhh. The 2000s. A simpler time where YA authors thought it was appropriate for students to date their teachers. Yuck. What adds to the creep factor of this book is that the author was a former teacher herself…. Vampire Academy is one of my guilty pleasure reads, but still….Rose and Dimitri’s relationship is messed up. He is her instructor. He is 7-8 years older than her. She is a minor. She is his student. I know that JLA’s The Covenant series has a similar student/instructor relationship, but that one has a 2 year age gap (I think?), and they both went to school together. In that series, Aiden is more like a tutor than an instructor. It’s significantly less creepy. Plus Dimitri always is going on about how immature Rose is and belittling her. Like no shit dude, she’s 17 of course she’s going to be immature and jealous and impulsive. Just like you’re going to be creepy for wanting to date her. Also no one thought their dynamic was weird. It was….gross. Plus idk why all of Rose’s love interest were significantly older than her. Because Adrian being 21 and wanting to date a 17 year old is also pretty weird. If a similar plotline existed today, the editor would probably have Dimitri be aged down to 19 to make it less creepy. Or if it was a New Adult book, then age up Rose to be 21 or something and keep Dimitri the same age.
Chosen (2008): Student-Teacher relationship
And we have another student teacher relationship. This series is also written by a former high school teacher…so….there’s that. This one is extra gross because Zoey is literally groomed by her teacher, is then victim blamed by her boyfriend who basically calls her a lying whore after he walks in on them after they had sex (they imprinted which makes you have a lust craze, so she was like magically drugged or whatnot), and when her friends find out none of them find it odd that she is “dating” her poetry teacher because he’s hawt. If you’re going to include a grooming storyline in your book do it right or don’t do it at all. It’s been a decade since I read these, but I don’t recall their relationship ever being condemned. Later it turns out he was told by the bad chick (who’s name I forget) to seduce Zoey and isolate her from her friends. Which is fucked up. And makes for a great villain storyline. But the book looked at it as that being the same level of bas as if she was seduced by a peer rather than an authority figure. It was a bad take that probably wouldn’t exist today unless that grooming aspect was further explored.
Breaking Dawn (2008): Jacob Imprints on Infant
I don’t think words can express how freaking weird this choice was and how much fanfiction it spun off. Not only Jacob/Nessie’s relationship fanfics, but other shifter imprint storylines of meeting their ‘soulmate’ and then having to wait until she came of age to be with her. These were seen as romantic that he waited for her to be legal but in reality that’s just gross and feels very groom-y. The imprint makes them have a pull to this child and the child to them, so the kid dosen’t even have free will to date and explore anyone else at any point in their lives. Pretty fucked up imo. And how the fuck will Jacob explain to Nessie: yeah, so I made out with your mom once but it was only because I imprinted on her unfertilized egg, so it meant nothing. I don’t think YA today would allow something quite so weird just for shock value.
Falling Kingdoms (2012): Pseudo-Incest
Again with the incest! In this book (because I only read the first book in this series) Magnus has a crush on a girl he was raised with at birth that he believed was his biological sister. He tried to kiss her once and she is totally repulsed (for good reason). Then they find out she was actually adopted and he is like ‘sweet we can be together’ and his sister is like ‘uhhhhh no’. He is devastated, and pissed that she doesn’t like him the same way and she feels violated after the incident. If I recall correctly, the book writes him so he is the hero of the story too? It is a very odd narrative choice. This is one of the most recent books on the list, but I haven’t really seen (pseudo)incest YA plotlines since then.
Sweet Evil (2012): I don’t recall exactly which book in the series this was, but in one of them you find out Kaiden (under direct order of his demon dad) used his ability to “seduce” (and I cringe even writing that word, but basically his power makes you horny and think you want sex) to “train” children (I think as young as like 11) to be sex trafficked. And….it was never fully addressed? Other demon off-spring under orders from their parents would seduce married men to cheat while they were underaged. The series had some interesting themes, but the whole ‘yeah my boyfriend raped children because his daddy told him to’ part was a tad much. I get that he is a victim of abuse in that scenario too, but he didn’t really have any mental health complications from it. I think if a book was written today with this same content, they would have further explored the sex trafficking, and what’s it’s like to be forced to commit a horrible crime you didn’t want to do.
Legend (2011): This is another series that I haven’t read in a super long time so I don’t recall exactly which book this occurs with in the series. But in the books June is 15. She is super smart so she always was several years ahead of her peers academically. In the books, she has a 20 year old romantically interested in her because she’s “mature” and “beautiful”. (She’s booksmart and has never dated.) To make things creepier, he comments on how much she always impressed him in classes. They graduate when they are 18 or something, so that means he was 18 and “super fascinated” by a freaking 13 year old. CREEPY. Also in the book Day was 12 when he kissed a 16 year old girl so she wouldn’t rat him out for stealing. This was supposed to be a funny/charming antedote, but it is super creepy instead. Why are so many people interested in children in this series!?! I think if the books were published today, they wouldn’t have made the age gaps quite so predatory.
Have you read any of these books?
Do you agree that these plotlines wouldn’t be included if the novels were published today, or do you think some still would?
What other older YA books have you read where they had some plotlines that you think wouldn’t be included if they were published today?