Thursday, July 7, 2011

Where the real men are(n't)

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I'm sure there's more to Mr. Ackles than this,
You know what I love most about writing YA? I can continue the tradition I began when I turned 13: I can talk about boys all-the-time. I like to focus on the cute boys because, the way I see it, if I'm going to fantasize about a boy, he might as well be cute. Other YA authors also seem quite fond of this pastime. That's one of the many wonderful things about writing. As a writer, you can go back (or forward---for the young writer set) and make-up that dream date you never were able to have in real life. That first boyfriend goes from the guy who sat behind you in Chemistry and kissed you over a bunson burner--pizza breath and all--to a blend of the Mentos guy, the Old Spice guy and Ashton Kutcher (or Jensen Ackles--sometimes I change it up, for flavor.)

Correct me if I'm wrong on this one, but I believe the New York Times ran a column on the current stereotypes in YA literature and one of the worst offenders they cited was green-eyed boys. (Digression: can someone please explain why boys are always the ones blessed with pretty eyes and the best eyelashes? It's so unfair!) At least we seem to be out of the Sleepless in Seattle phase where men everywhere were upset when they realized that women do notice their physiques, specifically, le derrier. I don't think an obsession with eye color is so bad, as things go. Another trend I've seen is green eyes paired with wavey dark hair. In short: YA authors everywhere seem to have a thing for my husband. Ladies and gentlemen, I want to be clear: he's mine! Stay away.

Anyway, we seem to get a lot of information about how YA male love interests look and how they interact with the female protagonist, but after the guy has "served his purpose" he tends to disappear. It's unusual to see a book where it's easy to believe that the boyfriend (or crush) has a life outside of his interactions with the girl. Before anyone gets too excited, I'm not saying it's always like this in YA books, but it's a common phenomenon and male writers have been doing the same thing to the ladies for decades and continue to do it. What brought this up for me though was my husband questioning a tag for The Hunger Games on Goodreads describing the work as a novel with "strong male characters." Many things come to mind when I think of Peeta, but aside from physical strength, he doesn't seem like that much of a strong character to me. So if he's a strong male character in YA fiction, that's not saying much; unless the protagonist of the story happens to be male.

My husband never cared much for Peeta, so he wasn't happy about that tag. However, he mentioned that on the bright side, maybe this is a sign that we're achieving gender equality in literature. Men/boys are being objectified the same way women have been for years. That's interesting, but it seems like a missed opportunity to me. For one thing, I find it extremely annoying when a female protagonist has a thing for a guy who seems like a total douche, or worse, is totally boring.

Does anyone have favorite examples of YA books with flat male love interests (or particularly good ones)?