Thursday, November 8, 2012

Let's Hear It for the Boys (& Girls) in YA

by Kathy F.

I'd use this as an example below, but to
discuss it would be spoilery.
I had another post planned and then my Twitter feed had a mini-explosion as a result of this article on the end of Boy role models in Young Adult literature.

What I got from the article is the loss of boys in a leadership role, and that male characters in YA are either alpha-holes or followers. Where girls have strong female characters to read, boys do not. Yada yada yada.

I'm going to go out on a limb and postulate that I've read more YA than the author of this article. Not that this makes me an expert, but I do have some experience with the various male characters populating the YA landscape these days.

Of course, I have read my share of bad boys, boys that are jerks but the female lead can't help falling for them, and so on and so forth. However, what I've been noticing more is that in many of my YA reads, including at least 2 of the books used as an example in this article, the female and male lead form a partnership based on mutual respect and appreciation of each others talents.

I know, I know, it sounds crazy, but really, men and women can (and do) work together without having one of them act as the submissive minion. Just because the girl doesn't outrank the boy doesn't mean that he is inferior or less important. Also, acknowledging that a woman has skills and may be better suited to take the lead in a situation is not a reflection on the loss of masculinity, it shows using your brain to go for the winning strategy.

And that, my friends, is the main issue I have with this article. We should be celebrating this development. So, instead of rehashing the points of the article (which has been done so well already, especially by Saundra Mitchell and Kate Milford in the comments of the article), I'd like to spotlight a few YA books that for me are about men and women working together, relying on each other, **gasp** being equals.

I'm leaving Harry Potter and Hunger Games off this list as I think most of us are familiar with the partnerships explored in those books. Also, in the interest of not writing an article that goes on for years, I picked just four relatively recent reads that first sprang to mind.

Tris and Four, Divergent by Veronica Roth

Four is used in the article as an example of a male character who refuses to take a leadership role. Of course, taking said role would make him a ruthless killer in a corrupt system, so I'm failing to see the problem here. He also starts out as an instructor of the new recruits for his faction. Not exactly a lesser position. As Tris and Four get to know each other and trust each other, there is mutual respect and caring. They appreciate that they both have skills that they use to survive.
[ETA: Four is also the head of security for his faction, so leadership all over the place.]
Miranda and Phillips, Blackwood by Gwenda Bond

Miranda and Phillips are both outcasts, she because of a family curse and he because he hears the voices of the dead. They have a bit of a past, but I love seeing these two come to rely on each other, accept each others quirks, and form a team. That and they battle an evil alchemist on a power trip. Win!

Deuce and Fade, Enclave by Ann Aguirre

These two have a complicated relationship and there are some (OK - many) trust issues, but one thing they can bank on is that they have each others back in a fight. They start as Hunting partners underground, then must rely on each others strengths when they are banished topside. Of course this partnership is tested (it would be very boring if everything worked out, the end), but the value each brings to the table is apparent.

Ananna and Naji, The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke

These two have more than their share of issues, especially considering that Naji is first hired to kill Ananna, but the pirate princess and mage find themselves working together out of necessity, and even forging a friendship. Each have their strengths and weaknesses, and there are situations where one has to take the lead, but it all balances out. I expect to see this trust grow as the series progresses.

Also, here's a little something I found on Sarah Rees Brennan's tmblr (Nathan Fillion & Nancy Drew FTW!)

Do you have any books you would add to this list?
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  1. Interesting topic! Off the top of my head, I would add:

    Todd & Viola from the Walking Chaos series by Patrick Ness. Each saves the other about a billion times from certain death.

    Alex & Deryn from the Leviathan triology by Scott Westerfeld. Both are equally badass, but distinct in personality and strengths.

    Any number of pairings from Kristin Cashore's Graceling books. She's definitely willing to play around with traditional gender roles.

    An interesting companion list might be non-romantic partnerships. I imagine it would be mostly filled with siblings, like the Baudelaires from A Series of Unfortunate Events. I haven't read Blackwood or The Assassin's Curse (though I'll be sure to check them out now!), so they might fit the bill.

    1. Excellent additions! It would be very interesting to have a non-romantic partnerships list. Hmmmm...**thinks ahead to future post**


  2. Great post!
    The first that comes to my mind is the Gone series by Michael Grant. It has many strong characters, guys and girls(Brianna, Dekka etc.) working together. But they're mostly "just" friends not lovers. It's an awesome series, though. :)

  3. Lots of great, strong (and complex) boy characters in Neal Shusterman's UNWIND and its sequel UnWholly.