Young Adult novels these days have taken a bad rap for being superficial, and overly simplified, and while this is far from the truth for all books in this genre, the argument does have some merit.
One of the key issues I’ve noticed these days, beyond the formulaic plots these books tend to have, are the leading heroines themselves.
Most Young Adult books of this day and age in the fantasy vein feature leading ladies, or occasionally small, closenit groups.
The issue I find with these characters is not necessarily a lack of depth (though some books certainly suffer from this as well), but the fact that these heroines seem to have no flaws beyond those that can easily be overlooked.
The most common flaw to be found in a YA heroine is clumsiness. Obviously this is supposed to be seen as cute and quirky, and far from anything the reader can frown upon. Other than this, the heroine is most of the time stubborn and helpful, without suffering much (if any) backlash for these traits.
This lack of any real flaws creates an image and idea in the readers mind of a stark contrast between right and wrong, good and evil.
The heroine has no flaws that aren’t quirky, so she is good and right, while the obvious baddy (often attractive in some way or another) is bad because he has no redeemable qualities whatsoever.
Not only can this make for a predictable book, but is also far from the truth of reality.
The world is a mixtures of gray, and presenting world after world in which the heroine (or hero, though I’ve found this issue much less with male protagonists) has no flaw that gets in her way or any aspect of her character that can be criticized is unrealistic and persists to young readers the idea of being flawless, which magazines and movies already tunnel down their throats.
It’s inadvertently done, but no less happens frequently.
In Harry Potter, the biggest example of Good vs Evil besides maybe Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, all of the main characters have flaws that can be criticized and often get in the way. Harry’s obtuseness often makes him miss clues, and keeps him from solving issues that could otherwise be solved immediately. Also his unwillingness to let people help him often puts himself and others into even more danger.
In Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, a band of six very different characters form an alliance on common ground. All of them are criminals in their own right, and each of them have different flaws that they must overcome later on.
But characters should not have to be criminals in order to have bad qualities.
One of the best written characters of all time, Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, is the heroine of her own story yet reprehensible for the better half of the novel for her misinformation due to her flawed reasoning.
She is a well written character because she is realistic.
Readers can relate to her initial attitude and opinion towards Darcy, though as the book goes on it is revealed that Elizabeth made many miscalculations about his personality.
Young Adult books need more heroes and heroines with legitimate flaws, not simply clumsiness or awkwardness, that they must overcome and the reader can relate to. The protagonist does not always have to be right: they only need to be interesting.