The YA Mary Sue Conundrum

One thing that I’ve come to notice about a lot of the YA books that Cheri and I have endeavored to read lately is that there are a lot of Mary Sues.

Mary Sue (n.) – Started in fan-fic, a

  1. Self-insert (of the author) that is typically the ‘perfect’ character with no flaws; or
  2. A character that is perfect with no flaws and is the idealized character.

throne of glass and author

The problem with Mary Sues is that they are boring in their perfection – there is no way to improve so readers are left with a sense of detachment because of the way their situations are handled. Each person and character have inherent character flaws which should be overcome as part of their journey through life and through the plot. While a lot of these can come from external sources, some are internal which often are harder to overcome.

Take Harry Potter for example. We know at the beginning of the book that there is some great evil in the world (external conflict), but he also has unresolved feelings about his parents and being a wizard and has to deal with the mental abuse that comes with being an unwanted child in an abusive family. These are all internal conflicts that affect him time and time again. He grows throughout his journey in the series, which serve to connect the readers to his character.

From Divergent to Red Queen (which I am currently in the reading), from Storm Dancer to Throne of Glass, the protagonists are beautiful and athletic and unstoppable and perfect.

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Now, some could argue that they aren’t perfect – that they do have some growth to their characters (they overcome different things such as traumatic stress and abandonment) to which I reply: Pshaw. When the main character is pretty, popular with key males, and can do everything right the first time and has no significant struggles with anything, that is a Mary Sue. Reactions to external situations are normal — they’re expected — but it’s the internal struggles that makes us human and relatable.

In Throne of Glass, the protagonist is the perfect assassin as well as beautiful, and the prince and head guard are both in love with her. She loves to read and knows almost all the books anyone ever mentions to her. And she is great with multiple weapons and is the chosen one. Mary Sue.

In Divergent, the protagonist is divergent and learns fighting with ease and shoots naturally well and is everything she needs to be in order to rise to the top of the new faction. All the guys fall in love with her; she is beautiful and popular. She is the key factor in a ‘battle’ situation and is in the right places at the right times and everyone who is ‘good’ is nice to her. Mary Sue.

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The great thing about stories is that you can experience things that you never would in real life. You can also find that you are not alone in your problems and watch as others fight through some of the same issues you have while also dealing with the government or…you know what, actually all of the stories I named have protag vs. governments (which may be interesting to explore in another post).

Why is the Mary Sue trope so popular in YA literature? Isn’t it more exciting and involving to read about someone more complex? A while ago, I read the Uglies and that seemed to personify the problem with perfection.

In the Uglies, everyone is born and then at a certain age, they undergo a surgery that makes them physically perfect. They then spend the rest of their lives going to parties and being popular and beautiful with a single mindedness that brings to mind the perfection of these Mary Sue characters. With the perfect lives and skills and mental health, don’t these stories become repetitive and boring? Isn’t it unbelievable and hard to digest because they’re unreasonably skilled and unshakable and everyone just happens to love them?

In conclusion…why? Why do the Mary Sue? (Haha, that rhymed.) Stop it. I want to read about three-dimensional characters.

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2 thoughts on “The YA Mary Sue Conundrum

  1. I love this post, because it highlights one of the many reasons why I am very selective with my YA fiction. Mary Sues bore me to tears, and if the book has even one I will put it down, 99 percent of the time. Out of curiosity, when you read adult fiction, do you find as any Mary Sues?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’ll definitely find some. Throughout the books I’ve read there have been some. There is a smaller percentage though. I’m not sure if there are less out there or if I put them down sooner, but I have never read as many Mary sue characters as in this new wave of YA. -Chebk

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