|How we expect teenage boys to look|
|How teenage boys actually look|
So I've been thinking a lot lately about our desire as young adult readers to cast boys in the role of hero. How the way we talk about them sort of predicates this because there's frequently an element of romance in a story. But I find myself more and more frustrated when I hear readers wanting this. Particularly because, to be honest, I don't write heroes and I'm concerned that people will assign my guys those roles anyway.
Why do we expect teenage boys to always make the right choices? Why do we want them to be heroes? Is reader insistence on this a projection of the world as we'd like it to be as opposed to the world as it is? And if so, what sort of message are we sending to teen girls and boys by assigning boys the role of hero?
In thinking about this blog post, I went back and reviewed some of my favorite contemporary YA books. Certainly not everyone's favorite, but definitely books that I loved: Boy Toy, 13 Reasons Why, Flawed, Sex and Violence, The DUFF, Dash and Lily's Book of Dares (yes, I can read "light" books). I realize that one of the things I loved about all these books were the bad choices that the guys in them made. That for one reason or another, they didn't always make good choices and therefore I connected with them in a way that I otherwise wouldn't.
This feels real to me. This feels like good modeling for our teens, and for all of us. How can we get boys engaged in reading if we can't give them characters that make mistakes? I'm not talking about bad boy alphas who end up doing good (or even bad boy alphas who are unapologetically bad), I'm talking about boys who are written in very real ways as being human "works in progress". Boys who make good choices and bad choices, but in the end, boys who are doing the best they can with the resources they have.
Next time you as a reader are about to slam a male character for not being likable, for having moments of being an a-hole or making stupid decisions, think hard about the importance of the message you are sending to teenagers. By not allowing for bad choices, but insisting on heroes, we are unilaterally saying to teens that they must only ever do the right thing. Which frankly is a disservice to them.