I've noticed a trend in YA of the "never good at anything" protagonist. And when I say trend, I mean it's in like every book I've ever read in YA. Well, maybe not EVERY book, but it's pretty damn prevalent. To the point that I roll my eyes when I read book descriptions that say something like "Swiggy Figglebottom wasn't very good at math/sports/ladies/basketweaving, but when a mysterious blue haired stranger showed up on his door and informed him he was the lost prince of Swiggy's Swag Palace, he found an awesome power that made him superly awesome and awesomely super."
And look, I get it. Kids want to be empowered, and most kids think of themselves as ordinary or no good at sports or whatever, and this is their escapism to be something great and amazing. It's inspirational and uplifting, and for some kids (like little JEM back in the day) it is a way to cope with the less than satisfying world around them. I'm definitely guilty of the same tropes in my own writing, and have crafted more than one story where some weird little forlorn girl in a seaside town is discovered as princess of the universe. So I realize the hypocrisy.
But what annoys me about this trend and the concept behind it is that it reinforces that someone really can be "worthless." That because you're not the star basketball player or head cheerleader or editor of the newspaper, you're nobody. That what you do, or what you're good at, is what defines your worth. Not who you are or how interesting you can be or how awesome your knowledge of trains is, but what you can demonstrate. And that's just not true. In fact, the most fascinating people in my life are not the ones who can jump the highest or fly planes (fine, ONE GIRL flies planes), but the ones who can keep me engaged in an interesting conversation. And it was the same in high school. I didn't collect my friends based on what they could do, I collected them based on how interesting I found them to be. Sometimes that translates into awesome skill sets, but sometimes it translates into perfectly ordinary skill sets. Luck of the draw.
My point here is that I'd like to see the genre move away from the Swiggy Figglebottoms into more complex characters. It's an easy out to write the characters who were terrible at everything until they drank the magic potion. I want characters who come from all walks of life, and who are interesting even if they can't shoot hoops or don't live in the rich neighborhoods. And sure, they can have a chip on their shoulder about it, but I don't want their lack to be what defines them.
I read a great piece of advice once (maybe Maggie Stiefvater?) about your characters: they shouldn't necessarily be who we are, they should be who we want to be. A kid who doesn't live on the right side of the tracks but can still hold his own with the rich kids without being a douche about it? I like him way more than Swiggy Figglebottom, and that's a character I would want to watch over 400 pages.
How do you feel about the "no good at anything" protag? Do you like this concept or are you fed up with it like me? What kinds of characters do you like to follow in the books you read?