Full disclosure: I don’t know that any of these qualify as actual tropes. They just happen to be in my mind, okay? Anyway, these are just a few things I have seen in books- not once or twice, but more often- that have left me scratching my head, wondering why is this a thing? So, here they are, the random things that have made me twitchy while reading lately!
What it is: Well, as the name suggests, it has to to with Nirvana. You know, the band with that dude who died before you were probably even born? (Seriously Val, you haven’t seen him since 1994. Too soon?)
Anyway, it’s these guys. And more specifically, it’s featuring them when they have no actual business being in a book. Look, if you’re writing a book set in the 90s, please, have at it! Don’t let me ruin the fun. And hey, maybe I am just an old lady who doesn’t know anything, and everyone actually does still love Nirvana?
Why it Doesn’t Work for Me: Well, it most famously grabbed me in Love Letters to the Dead. Which I didn’t like, so that could be part of it? I have seen it since in other contemporaries, to a lesser extent. And I think there is actually a whole book about someone wanting Kurt Cobain to be their dad or something? So, I guess it’s mostly in contemporaries. Because I really can’t see this being a “thing” anywhere else. But it’s generally some young person having a pretty solid idolisation of Kurt and/or Nirvana. For reasons, but likely ones that aren’t fully explained.
I guess I frankly just don’t get why a bunch of kids would be obsessed with a band that their parents were probably obsessed with? I don’t know about you, but me and my parents weren’t exactly frequenting the same concerts back in the day.
When it Works: Again, the 1990s. Any book set in that decade gets a pass. I was actually too young (yes, I was too young for something once) to really be interested in Nirvana, but I was aware enough to know it was a huge thing- and a super sad thing when he died. So yeah, Nirvana- and Kurt Cobain- totally have a place in books, but it’s called “twenty years ago”. I can also tolerate it if there is an actual reason for the inclusion (but it’d have to be a good one!)
What it is: Sad, newly parentless young person gets shipped off to live with someone they’ve never met (and in some cases, haven’t heard of) in a place far, far away. This place seems to be Europe, for the most part. But cross-country United States works too. The young person generally knows little more than the name and location of the randos who will now be raising them.
Why it Doesn’t Work for Me: Because I wouldn’t send my kid to live with strangers in a land far, far away? I mean, the weirdest part is that in a lot of these cases, there are logical alternatives. Crazy choices like grandparents are overlooked for the far more reasonable choice of “that guy I used to know from college”, or “cousin I met that one time who seems extra shady”. Look, this makes sense never. Your kid is already probably unsettled since you’re, you know, dead and all. So why not uproot their entire lives? That totally won’t fuck them up until the end of forever.
When it Works: I fantasy situations, mainly. When I am already suspending my belief, or when there is just a different set of social rules and norms, it can work. For example, in Into the Dim, I was able to buy it, based on the storyline. But in a modern day contemporary? You’re never going to sell me on this actually happening.
What it is: Like the name suggests, this is a character consuming lunch in the bathroom, much like Lindsay Lohan’s Cady Heron in Mean Girls. A twist on this is lunch consumption in other non-cafeteria locations, but the toilet one makes me the most stabby.
Why it Doesn’t Work for Me: Because it isn’t normal! It’s a joke in a movie, written by Tina Fey, who called and wants her trope back. Plus, and again, maybe this is just me, but teachers would probably have frowned upon students randomly ditching lunch? And they’d sure notice if someone walked out of the cafeteria with a lunch tray and headed to the damn bathroom with it. I read a book recently where the character takes their lunch the library, and again, I must ask how? Because again, I don’t think that the librarian is just going to let some kids come traipsing through with some ramen noodles and a Diet Coke.
When it Works: Literally never. Please can I never see this again, ever? Thanks.
What it is: A character not being liked by a friend/significant other’s parents for the sole reason of being in a lower socioeconomic class. Inversely, a character’s parent not liking their friend/significant other for this reason.
Why it Doesn’t Work for Me: I mean, I guess people exist who are that rude and misinformed, but I don’t think on the level that this trope assumes. I am not talking about the parent not liking the kid because they’ve screwed up, or are in trouble with the law, or anything like that. Just random, nice kid; happens to not have money. That…that is awful and infuriating! And it is often just for the sake of convenience, to create some kind of rift between the characters. Find a better way than poor shaming. Is poor shaming a thing? I don’t like it.
When it Works: I guess if the point is to illustrate what complete douchecanoes the parents are… well, then you’ve certainly achieved that goal.
What it is: This can happen in any book with any sexual identities and orientations and such, but since this is the way I usually see it go down, I’ll use this example: Boy and girl have known each other forever. Girl smiles at boy. Boy suddenly proclaims “I had never even thought about Sally in that way until that moment”. Boy pines away for Sally until Sally realized that she now looks at him “in that way”. Happily ever after ensues.
Why it Doesn’t Work for Me: Because of course you noticed each other. Maybe you were not interested in each other, but if Boy likes girls, and Sally is around… he’s noticed Sally. To say he hasn’t is absurd. Maybe he thought “Sally is my friend, I shall not view her in a sexual way”, but that’s as close as it gets. When we’d be introduced to a new batch of swimmers on the guy’s team every year, I noticed them. I didn’t have feelings for them all (that would be kind of odd, no?) but I took notice. How do you not? Isn’t that kind of how you find someone that you are interested in? Not by going around with blinders on?
When it Works: I…. don’t think it does? Because it’s simply not believable! See Game On for a realistic way to address “someone I’ve known forever”. Realistic and still keeps with the same plot! A win, yes?