Navillera and the beauty of generations in stories

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Navillera is a love story.

But not the way we usually think of love stories. This 2021 K-drama is about a 70-year-old man wanting to learn ballet — the childhood dream he was never allowed to pursue. At the ballet studio, he comes under the tutelage of a 23-year-old dancer, who is going through a series of his own struggles. There’s a beautiful friendship that grows between them over the course of the drama. There were some scenes where I thought to myself, “this could have been a cliche romantic moment in another show, but it’s a friendship moment here”.

That’s the beauty of the show — several generations coming together and learning from each other, appreciating each others’ struggles, taking care of each other.

That’s something that stood out to me as something that I wish I saw more of in stories. My comfort book genre is Young Adult fiction, and though I read it almost exclusively for the past five years, it’s felt like a bore recently. If you read too much of a genre, everything turns into a cliche. I started consuming other forms of stories and entertainment, but even so, in the back of my mind, I watch and read everything through this lense of “what can I learn from here and import to the YA world and use to write better stories?” Navillera suggested this idea to me — one thing that would widen the scope of YA would be a greater age range of characters.

In Navillera, we have three generations — I call them the “kids” (in their early twenties), the “parents” (in their forties and fifties), and the “grandparents” (in their seventies). The main characters are two generations apart, from different eras, in different life circumstances, with different worries, and yet they are more similar than one might first assume. Besides them, we have an array of middle aged couples and young people trying to figure out life. But no matter their age, all the characters are treated the same way — no one is written like a stereotypical cardboard cut out just because they are not the same age as the main characters. And there’s something valuable about the perspectives offered by people of different ages, and it feels very fulfilling when a story can capture that.

To say that there are no adults or children in YA wouldn’t be true. But overall, the treatment of those characters isn’t the same as the treatment of the usually-teenaged protagonist. Adults and children are often written from an outside, third-person like viewpoint, regardless of whether the book itself is in first- or third-person. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it misses the sympathy and empathy that is evoked when characters of other ages are given a point of view.

We interact with people of all ages in real life (at least, I hope we do), and the older I get the more I find that I have the wrong conception of people who are not the same age as I am. My view of adults was out of whack when I was a child and a teen — not because I viewed them negatively but because I somehow didn’t think that adults would face fears and struggles and all the same emotions that young people do. As I get older, I’m starting to grow into a more stereotypical view of children, which I’m terrified of. I used to be a child; I never want to lose the ability to see children as my equals. Stories can help remind us of this and shape new perspectives in us. The thing is, teenagers (the supposed main audience for YA) tend to get a bit wrapped up in their own world and own views. It would be especially nice for them to be reminded that adults are ordinary people too.

And no, it doesn’t take away from the young adultness of the genre. It’s been done before by others, and done very well. For one, Studio Ghibli often has young people as the main characters of its films, but their older characters are still portrayed with the exact same quirkiness and humor and beauty and gentleness. And then there’s Eva Ibbotson, whose Middle Grade books are so spectacular that my mother wants to read them all. Her stories bring in adult characters and perspectives alongside the children, creating a wonderfully colorful and rich storyline. A YA example of this would be one of my favorite books, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. It’s funny. It’s funny in a way it could never be if the story had only focused on teenagers.

To write with a wide age range in one’s cast is to look at the same world and the same experience through different lenses, and bring a greater appreciation to those of us who happen to be stuck at a certain age (as we all are, after all). I don’t think we need to change YA and it’s cliches totally, but sometimes bringing in more character age diversity could really bring a fresh new side to the genre. It broadens perspectives. It’s more encompassing of life’s experiences. It’s funnier. And just like Navillera, it’s touching and precious.

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I read books and watch films & write about the things they made me think about.

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Lisa Elis

Lisa Elis

I read books and watch films & write about the things they made me think about.

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