In reading YA lately, or trying to while job hunting, caring for a 13 month old, and writing my own YA, I’ve noticed a problem. I don’t like how guys are portrayed. Particularly love-interest guys for female main characters (FMC for the rest of the post.) For the rest of the post I will refer to male love-interests as Hunky Man Flesh (HMF).
I’d like to thank Allie for giving me the idea to write this article.
Team I don’t Care!
I read some of the more romantic stuff so I can have a better idea what exactly ladies look for in good YA books. Tell me if you’ve heard this one before:
So there’s this guy. He swoops in out of nowhere saving FMC from some kind of disaster, only to disappear. He is one nice piece of HMF. But he won’t talk to FMC. He’s dark, mysterious, and under some evil curse or something. Or worse, yet HMF is another species/being. HMF should stay away, but he’s drawn to FMC.
I think I’ve described four books I’ve started in the past few weeks. Also, nothing in the beginning half of that description is a problem for me. There are three problems I have with these kind of stories.
1. The girl needs saving. In many good books, someone will eventually need saving. But it becomes a problem when the FMC is dependent upon HMF for this saving feature repeatedly. I have a daughter, I don’t want her reading a story that makes her believe she needs a Hunky Man Flesh person to complete her. I think if more romance stories were about how to love than about being in love, they would do a better service to young women everywhere.
2. The HMF is unrealistic from a male perspective. If the only mistake your male protagonist makes is falling in love with FMC, your story has a problem. Boys can be stupid, insecure, and inconsiderate jerks. We don’t think how women think, or feel the same way. In particular, we don’t have the same attitudes about smells women do, whether the smell is ourselves or something else. YA authors, let your boys make mistakes. Let them stink.
3. There’s only one flavor of HMF. Dark. Tall. Handsome. Muscular. Is it just me, or does no one in YA suffer from acne? Particularly a guy? Rarely does a young man come fully equipped like an SUV. My early-to-mid teen years, I was looking up to make eye contact with 90% of the girls in my class. I was bookish, quiet, and was half proud and half embarrassed to be on the swim team. I was proud because it was hard work and embarrassed because I knew that a picture of me in a rather revealing bathing suit would wind up in year book. (Yes, boys have body images, too, ladies!)
A friend of mine, John (@aboredauthor), put it this way: “The key to writing a good male teen character is having a mostly carefree exterior, but a vulnerable, compassionate interior. We all feel vulnerable and compassionate on the inside, but not many show it; when writing a male teen, especially in romance, it’s important to show the inside as well as the outside.”
So, YA writers, remember: teen guys are not just for eye candy. Please stop staring at our sparkly chests (our eyes are up here, not down there!) and look at the person outside of our physical features and bravado.