Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Boy Next Door or Girl’s Next Bore?

Young Adult literature is peppered with boys - they are hard to avoid. But the truth is we don’t want to avoid them... (with the exception to those who prefer a different gender). Bad boys are fun; they stir up drama and leave heaps of sex appeal, smirks and thinly veiled insults in their wake. They get our pulse thumping wildly as we hate to love them. The boys on the other end of the spectrum, the good guys, are often less compelling simply due to the fact that they are less challenging.

One of the oldest stories told is that of the boy next door and the unrequited love that finally is well ... requited. Whether childhood best friends finally shaking their lack of awareness of one another from their foggy brains, or a walk on the wild side bringing an understanding of how valuable a reliable person is in one’s life - it’s a tale that hasn’t gotten old, though the characterisation tends to. Good guys don’t often have the overtly dramatic arc that bad boys get. Even when they try to “act out”, it’s not all that convincing. Their dialogue can be too self aware, too squeaky clean or just plain oblivious and in our cynical times, it’s a boy that doesn’t float most boats.

Good guys don’t usually have a snarky bone in their body - I cherish the snark. If you think of Sarah Dessen novels, Nate (Lock and Key) doesn’t seem to rate a mention in the top guys - though Wes (The Truth About Forever) and Owen (Just Listen) do. Yet they aren’t even that bad - Wes is just an artistic with a juvie record and Owen used to have an anger management issue but they are less obvious good guys. The same can be said for Harry Potter - he’s definitely a good guy, as is Ron - yet girls fall for Malfoy for a reason even I can understand...apparently tortured is sexy. (Wait...a memory of Richard Armitage in North and South reminded me that yeah, tortured is lovely.)

One of my first good boy loves was Gilbert Blythe from LM Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. He was a typical lad from Prince Edward Isles whose staid existence was enlivened by the addition of Anne Shirley. He was delightfully normal, battling with the pressures of wanting to succeed from a relative backwater. He’s means of getting a girl’s attention was to pull her braids and tease her about her red hair - I blame Gilbert for the theory that a boy likes you if he’s mean, though in this case it was true. Yet even when she smacked him over the head with a slate, he apologised and liked her even more. This very normal guy is made more interesting as he could recognise how fantastic Anne is, regardless of her melodrama.

Gilbert always did the right thing. He was chivalrous but bull headed. Impish but responsible. He shows his care and regard through noble acts like giving Anne the Green Gables School so she could stay near Marilla. There’s no litany of insults, flirting with floozies or acts of inebriation with this fellow. Educated, handsome and (my Achilles heel) tall, Gilbert refused to settle for friendship even when Anne was being an idiot - “your friendship can't satisfy me, Anne. I want your love -- and you tell me I can never have that". Gilbert’s not wasting his intelligence like many bad boys; he’s motivated and ambitious and actually ends up with an actual profession (medicine) - something I don’t see many bad boys doing. He’s steadfast in his ideals, has a good sense of humour and loves an impossible woman - kudos to this “good” boy.

It’s telling that I had to reach back through the cobwebbed shelves to find a good boy that I like as much as the overwhelming bad boys that get my pulse racing. If I think far enough back I am sure I could think of a few that I enjoyed (and were three dimensional) - Luke (Teen Idol, Meg Cabot), Jesse (The Mediators, Meg Cabot), Lucius (Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side), Adam (If I Stay, Gayle Forman), Tristan (Song of the Sparrow, Lisa Ann Sandell) and for a very short time, the ultimate cardboard good boys Logan (The Babysitters Club series, Ann M Martin) and Todd (Sweet Valley High series, Francine Pascal). Note that a few of them don’t possess a pulse through ghostification or vampirism - death as a relationship impediment seems quite effective in making good boys a more exciting romantic ideal as it makes them a challenge! In Adam’s case, his girlfriend is having an out of body experience but even he bucks the good boy conventions as outwardly his look and interests (a rock band) seem bad boyish but his actions are anything but.

A quick twitter poll proved that it is a lot more difficult for people to think of YA good guys (thankfully after six hours I got more responses):
• Clay Jensen (Thirteen Reasons Way - Jay Asher)
• Adam (The Secret Circle - LJ Smith)
• Ponyboy and Johnny (The Outsiders - SE Hinton)
• Jerry Renault (The Chocolate War-Robert Cormier)
• Carlisle (The Changeover)
• Simon (The Mortal Instruments series - Cassandra Clare)
• Seth (Georgina Kincaid series)
• David (Uglies series - Scott Westerfeld)
• Peeta (The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins)
• Po (Graceling - Kristin Cashmore)
• John After (Going Too Far - Jennifer Echols)
• Sam (Gone)

We should probably give the boy next door a little more credit. It’s hard being understated and calm. It’s hard not being the one that girls obsess over, even intelligent girls like Jo from Little Women ignore obvious catches like Laurie. However as an ardent member of Team Gale, I do understand why Peeta has his attractions. A good guy is all in how the author writes him - there are two dimensional guys (whether good or bad) in every literary genre. Too often nice comes across as boring and it’s always exciting to find a good guy that can get one’s hair in a tizzy - just check some of the above suggestions out. I haven’t done the best job in selling Good Guys, I don’t think they are a bore....I just wish I could find one myself.

Read my thoughts on Bad Boys here.


Karen (miscmum) said...

Gilbert was one of my first loves. But I suppose it's fate because I was named after Anne (it's my middle name)


Vanessa said...

Hmmm... can't tell if you're pro-good-guy or not. Just because guys are good, doesn't mean they have to be boring. I'm a little surprised no one mentioned Edward Cullen as a Good Guy of YA. He's chivalrous, he makes sure you get your homework done and apply to a good college. He's basically every parent's dream. Other than the whole vampire thing, that is.

Adele said...

There's also the small matter of his stalking, lack of pigment and his liking for raw meaty blood...why did Bella never get ecoli or salmonella from kissing Edward?

Karen Mahoney said...

Great post, Adele!

I have a good guy in my book that's on submission. I really, really want that book to be published just so readers will meet him! *sigh* I love my good guy... (Is it uncool of me to like my own character? *g*)


Rebs @ Book-Rants said...

It's funny you should mention Todd from Sweet Valley High, just the other day my sister calls me up she says "remember SVH?" we used to fight over Todd..crazy.

My fav good boy character right now is David from Wings by Aprilynn Pike.

The good guys always seem to get the short end of the stick when they are up against a bad boy, where as in reality every girl is really looking for a good guy that will treat them right

La Coccinelle said...

Lucius from Jessica's Guide as a good guy? Hmmm... I think I would have put him on the naughty list. But then again, when you make a character more three-dimensional, they're a little more difficult to box into any one category.

I think good guys in literature can be a good thing... if they're done right. If they're not fleshed out enough, they can be boring. Bad boys are less likely to be boring (even if they're one-dimensional), simply because of the nature of the "bad boy" and their negative character traits.

prophecygirl said...

See, I don't mind good boys, but they're definitely not my favourite.

My new one at the minute is Greg from Troy High - he's lovely.

However (and no surprise here) Edward is still mu ultimate good boy. I know he's a vamp, but he's a damn good one!

Anonymous said...

OMG I feel so neglectful! I had no idea things around here had changed so much! You're one of the first bloggers I followed so it's kind of surreal. I like it though!

missus b said...

I must be the exception, but I like reading about the boys who 'prefer a different gender'. They are complicated, and always behave unpredictably.

So, here's my shout out to Ely ('Naomi and Ely's no kiss list'), Sprout from 'Sprout', Link ('Measuring up'), Paul ('Boy meets boy') and James ('Someday this pain will be useful to you').

Adele said...

Trish - I musn't have been too clear, I mean that girls who prefer girls probably don't care much for the bad boy or the good guy lol.

MeganRebekah said...

I don't often good for the good boys in my books, but Gilbert and Peeta are some of my favorites!
Even reading that quote from Gilbert here made me swoon!

You also mentioned Adam from LJ Smiths The Secret Circle. I never liked him because he ws so boring and good. It's annoying. But I loved Nick because he had that bad boy edge.

Pissenlit said...

Gil!! *happy sigh*

Steph Su said...

I still love Gilbert, especially as he is portrayed by that what's-his-name actor. I mean, I like him as a character in the book, but when that actor goes off with his Canadian accent, that's just a total *SWOON* for me.

That being said, it IS kind of interesting to note how many of our favorite "good guys" are not of the mythological sort. Very true that the "magic" element adds danger and seductiveness to a boy!

Anonymous said...

Gilbert still makes me swoon. I rewatched the Anne movies over the summer and my heart was just breaking all over again, even though I knew it would end happily anyway. Each time, I wish Anne would wake up and see what a great guy Gilbert is. Gilbert is definitely my first literary crush. What a fantastic post! Really liked the Bad Boys one as well.

Rebs @ Book-Rants said...

Steph Su, I think its funny you like the Canadian accent, I'm from Canada so it's just normal for me, although I'm from the west coast, and east coast canada accents are different than west coast

Anonymous said...

This title is an adolescent fantasy for bookish boys who must also contend with their hormones. Even reading that quote from Gilbert here made me swoon.
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Sarahbotbonkers said...

Interesting post, Adele.

I for one, always root for the underdogs, the good boys like Po from Graceling and Adam from If I Stay. Yet, in terms of Gale vs Peeta I am Team Gale all the way. Like you said, I honestly think the likeability of the bad boys and good boys depends on how they are written.