Wednesday, April 24, 2013

YA Novels: Where Are All The Schools?

I came to an odd realization this week ... in most of the young adult novels I've read lately (Passenger, Something Strange and Deadly, Rootless, Out of the Easy) - there are no schools. Or if there are, they are superfluous buildings, rarely mentioned and rarely seen by the reader.

How is that even possible?

Let's take a look.
  • Dystopian. In most dystopian novels the world has pretty much come to an end, and schools along with it. The plot follows survival, not education. 
  • Historical. Throw a novel into the past and education was a lot different. Sure, teens still went to school, but it definitely wasn't as a big factor in their social life. 
  • Paranormal. The schools in a paranormal world may exist, but they are either magically focused (wizards, fairies, mermaids, etc) or they are on the very fringes of the "normal" world in which the characters interact. 
  • Summer Break. One of my own manuscripts falls into this category. An easy way to get a character out of school, even in a contemporary novel, is to set the plot during summer break. 
In middle grade novels, school can be an integral setting to showcase friendships, personal growth, and education bestowed upon the characters by adults. Whether the school is in today's world, a future world, or a fantastical world - most MG books use it.

So how is it that YA books can avoid it? I think part of the reason is that YA novels are typically focused on a character's growth beyond just fitting in. It's about where a teen fits into his world. The world is a much bigger place than just school! 

Granted, many contemporary novels incorporate high school as the perfect backdrop for social issues, romance, friendships, drama, and more. I just think novels in other genres have a bigger setting to work with. 

What do you think?

photo credit: Dean Terry via photopin cc


  1. While my January release BROKEN straddles a few genres, it has plenty of school in it. I think it is as much what authors choose to focus on as genre specifics.

  2. While my January release BROKEN straddles a few genres, it has plenty of school in it. I think it is as much what authors choose to focus on as genre specifics.

  3. very true, Nikki. It's my belief that school often plays such a minor role because it's just not very interesting aside from the drama it can set up. Going to class, listening to lectures, doing homework -- who wants to read more about that? But it can be a great backdrop for a novel, like Ann's, or I think Slide used a school setting really well too.

  4. I think the school setting can be much like the parents. The characters have to find their own way, so they are diminished somehow. Like you said, it depends on what the story arc is, but when necessary, school takes a back seat. Very interesting, though. I never analysed it before. Thanks for making me think.

  5. If I may nitpick your argument, the justification for dystopian stories not having school being a major part of the setting is a little off. You're thinking about post-apocalyptic stories. Some dystopians are post-apocalyptic, but many are set in a little after society as we know it ended, once the government got its bearings. But it's different for every story.

    But dystopia does disregard school often too. In some cases, the protagonist is training for something else,(The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Selection), the protagonist has congratulated from school (Legend), the protagonist is a fugitive (Shatter Me, Starters [sorta], Witches and Wizards), or the education system simply doesn't exist in modern form (Across the Universe), etc.

    With dystopia, circumstances often give more justification to keep the main characters out of school and in other, more "exciting" places.


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