February 20, 2019

Rehabilitating YA: 20 Trope-Free Standalones/Series to Read if You've Given Up on It (Pt.1)

Hello sweeties!

I've been wanting to write a post like this for a while. Every now and then, I hear someone say they've given up on YA (or are reading much less of it lately) because they got fed up with the tropes that come with the "genre". Now, while of course it's not mandatory to read YA at any age, and while I'm not denying the existence of such tropes (though really, any literary genre/age range has got its share of them...), I made it my reader's life mission to discover YA books that stand out for any reason and employ as little of those overused plot devices as it's humanly possible (hence, of course, my blog's name). So I thought I'd put together a list of YA novels blissfully devoid of tropes (or employing them in minimal doses), hoping to prove those reluctant/jaded readers that there's so much more to YA than meets the eye. And I ultimately decided to make this post into a series, because my list was too long for a single one. Here goes Part 1 (broken down by genres/my blog's Reading Rooms)...
(Note: these are not necessarily my favourite books - though some of them are. I only choose them for their lack/minimal amount of tropes. Also, there are a few mature YA/NA/adult friendly books in this list).



(see my reviews of Book 1 | Book 2 | Book 3)

  • An original take on vampires, that blends urban fantasy with thriller, history, and more than anything, Eastern spirituality.
  • Romance plays a minimal role through the series, though there's a love story going on...and off (for certain reasons) in the first installments, and it MIGHT sound like instalove at first, except you'll find out that things are different than they seem. Another relationship will occur later, but then again, Thirst never puts romance at its center - and anyway, it's not your usual romance.
  • Sita is both the monster and the saviour in this story, since she feels a responsibility to save the human race from the threat her own blood poses to them. That doesn't prevent the body count in the series from being massive - but Sita does have a moral compass, thanks to her ages-old connection with Krishna.
Please note: for years The Last Vampire/Thirst has been considered YA lit, but the human age of the protagonist would place it in the NA category nowadays, and the series gets more mature - and darker - by the book.



Deadgirl series by B.C. Johnson - in progress (4 books + 1 novella)
(see my reviews of Book 1 | Book 2 | Book 3 | Daphne novella)

  • Original premise (after a brush with death, the main character Lucy comes back as a phantom who needs "essence" in order to stay solid), solid and fresh mythology, engaging writing, wonderful cast.
  • There's a dose of teen angst about first loves, former boyfriends, rocky friendships - but it's all so realistic (despite the otherworldly premise) and THINGS GET RESOLVED. Friendship and camaraderie in the face of death remain the key words. Also, the characters mature a lot through the series, without losing their teen appeal.
  • The cast isn't trying to save the world - they're sort of accidental heroes because of their association with Lucy, and their aim is to help her stay alive...and not to die themselves at the hands of her enemies. Still, they kick ass in so many ways. And they don't always win...which is heartbreaking, but realistic.

The Balance series by C.W. Snyder - in progress (3 books)
(see my reviews of Book 1 | Book 2)

  • Alice-in-Wonderland-inspired series that doesn't read at all like your usual retelling, since it only marginally relies on the original Alice mould and weaves lots of literary and mythological references into a fresh (and complex, and DARK) story.
  • Alice is a pivotal character for Nod (the afterlife), but she isn't your usual Chosen One - her peculiarity is rooted in facts, not in random gifts granted by a superior entity. And though she does pick up information and abilities that will be needed for the final showdown (and even in death, she grows up), she still manages to retain her humanity and a sense of wonder.
  • Friendship/companionship are the key words here, and despite a couple of hints about something more, the series (so far) is blissfully void of romance.

Please note: this series is marketed as NA (though the main character starts out as little girl), due to its being far more mature than your usual YA. As a whole, The Balance is complex and dark enough that it will appeal to adults as well.
Also please note: the original publisher very recently shut up shop, but since the rights have been reverted to the author, the whole trilogy should be available soon-ish via another one. Keep your eyes peeled! Of course I will be advertising/reviewing when it's time.

(see my review)

  • The book is told from the monster(s)' perspective (the lead monster being undead girl Breezy, who came back with the ability of sensing and killing...killers), and explores the forever-shifting boundaries between the once-human and the monster itself.
  • There's no mandatory romance - despite meeting other "creatures" and forging alliances with some of them, Breezy never develops romantic feelings (or lust) for anyone. And mind you, she's not asexual or aromantic (she's bisexual).
  • The main character delivers a powerful feminist message without sounding like a walking manifesto, all while fighting the monster rhetoric as well (as in, not buying into the fact that, since she's got the power to kill the bad guys, she's destined to succumb to it and turn into a vigilante).
    Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, where I'll recommend you a few Supernatural/Paranormal/Urban Fantasy books/series and a couple of Sci-Fi standalones!


    1. The Balance series has me very, very intrigued...and you know how I feel about retellings!
      This is a great idea for a post, and I'm super excited to see what else you have for part two!

      1. Thank you! The Balance series is very dark in places, but if you can handle that, I absolutely recommend it!

    2. It is nice to find books that are refreshingly different sometimes. I'm anxiously awaiting the next (final, right?) Deadgirl book!

      1. Ah, me too, but I don't want it to end LOL. Neither does Bobby, it seems 😉.

    3. This is impressive. Though, I must admit, I love the tropes. I am reading a book set in Trope Town and it's hilarious, but also quite insightful.

    4. I must admit I so totally expected to see Christopher Pike and B. C. Johnson in your list ahahaha :D It's amazing that these are devoid of the usual tropes- Shallow Graves has been on my radar for quite a while now and I neeeed to get around to it some time soon!

      1. Shallow Graves is a bit darker than your usual books, but I do believe it might work for you!

    5. Ooh, these are a great start to your list! I agree that they're all well off the beaten path for YA, and I'm so glad you introduced me to the Deadgirl series! Shallow Graves is still on my TBR. I don't know how I missed that it was from a monster's perspective, but I'm even more excited about it now! Looking forward to the rest of your recommendations!

      Also, on a side note, I think you read a lot more horror than you credit yourself for. I would probably shelve all four of these in horror, or at least horror-ish. 😂

      1. I do think Shallow Graves suits you. Also, I'm kind of mad because it's so underrated, despite its ticking all the right boxes...sexuality, feminism, ethnicity. If it were a straight-up fantasy book, people would be over the moon about it (or maybe not, because we all know publicity is the key...).

        Ha! I probably do. But I still think I'm no expert, maybe because I haven't read any "classic" horror.

      2. I hate it when wonderful books don't get the right publicity. Meanwhile, so many popular books don't deserve their hype. I'll never understand marketing over quality.

        Classic horror is such a mixed bag though. For a long time, I thought I preferred horror movies to horror fiction because at least the bad horror movies are still entertaining. It turned out I was just reading the wrong stuff. Frankly, there are scenes in Pike/Snyder that are WAY more horrifying than anything in The Haunting or Interview with the Vampire. I think you've hit almost all my favorite YA horror novels, or have them on your TBR this year. <3

      3. Quote: "For a long time, I thought I preferred horror movies to horror fiction because at least the bad horror movies are still entertaining."
        Haha, I can see that - though my only experiences in B-movies and B-series...so to speak...are Fright Night (the one with David Tennant of course 😄) - and Buffy...

        Even with the books I've read lately, I still can't see myself as a horror expert...I sort of feel like you need to have read some Stephen King at least, and the only horror book of his I was able to finish was The Shining...

      4. Haha, I love the Fright Night remake even more than the original, and Buffy is classic!

        You don't have to be an expert. You could be a horror dabbler? Stephen King is probably mandatory, but The Shining is a perfect choice!

    6. so christopher pike is a genre onto himself then? I have not read a single books of his. I don't like to read about vampires not even a little bit.

      'deadgirl' series - this one I might check out but there aren't zombies in there are there? if there is I would not read this as I really don't like to read about zombies either. 'Friendship and camaraderie in the face of death' - I like that. I honestly get a little sick of teenage romances but I'm always up for friendships.

      I do read ya but I lean toward fantasy and science fiction but not horror or stories that are too dark. I guess I get too scare easily so no horror. I couldn't even read a stephen king novel, although, I did read 'the girl who loved tom gordon' (I think that was the title) but that one seemed a bit depressing to me.

      have a lovely day.

      1. Quote: "so christopher pike is a genre onto himself then?"
        Haha, nope, of course. It's just that I have set a few "Reading Rooms" on my blog, one for every genre I read, and since Christopher Pike is one of my reading obsessions, I decided to give him a "room" all by himself - hence my treating him as a "genre".
        I'm not usually a fan of vampires, but there's a handful of series with vampires in them that I like, for different reasons. Pike does apply significant changes to their mythology at least.

        Deadgirl doesn't have zombies at all! You're safe LOL. The protagonist is a phantom - which is different from a ghost, because she's physical...until she runs out of her peculiar "juice", that is, human emotions (she can absorb them either from living people or objects that have been given a particular sentimental importance). I stay away from romance as much as I can, but I loved EVERYTHING about that series.

        I have the same problem with Stephen King - the only horror book of his I was able to read was The Shining. It's not about scares though - it's the body horror that's a bit too extreme for me. But some of my books are, indeed, horror-ish. I'm not a fan of high fantasy, but I love sci-fi! Anything good you can recommend me? (YA or adult).

    7. sadly, my respond comes a month later but I do read your replies if a month later.

      I'll add the 'deadgirl' to my list of books to look up.

      no matter what I do I seem to end up with books with more romance than I thought but I really do avoid reading horrors. I couldn't even watch the movie version of 'the shinning.'

      recommendations? it really depends on the day you ask. today, I'm thinking 'chime' by franny billingsley which is quite a difficult kind of book in that I'm never sure which genre it should be in but it does seems at times to be quite a dark book. there is magic and maybe witchcraft. I actually didn't like at first but after finishing it, I liked it. it's not about romance but there is a hint of it, it's more about characters and circumstances and twisted memories. I think you have to read it to really judge.

      have a lovely day.

      1. It's OK! I find myself getting back to replies that date back too.

        I hope you'll end up giving Deadgirl a chance (and I promise, its more recent installments being self-published is not a testament to their quality. Small publishers are often unpredictable, or they have to cease business). And I'll look into Chime, thank you!


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