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Thursday, January 13, 2011

WTF, YA?: Relationships

I've been talking for awhile about how I want to start having more discussion based posts, and discussion starters.  Sometimes, there are just those things you come across in YA books that make you stop cold what?  I like to call them 'wtf ya' moments, and I'm hoping we can talk about them.
But this idea is highly dependent on all of you -- otherwise I'm just talking to myself -- So if you have an opinion, please share it!  And remember, too, that everyone is entitled to express their opinions, too, in a mature fashion; all trolls will be sent back to their dungeons.  You have been warned.


So this first one I want to talk about is the state of relationships in YA these days.  There's this unsettling trend in some of the most popular and acclaimed YA books lately where the relationships seem borderline abusive, yet are presented as desirable.
It's one thing to write about an abusive or questionable relationship, and make it clear that there is an issue -- whether the main characters seem to see the issue or not, the relationship is presented in such a way to make it clear to the reader that something is not right.

But lately, it seems that the popular tactic is to take the bad boy stereotype to such an extreme that the "love interest" of the book may be extremely controlling, violent, degrading -- at times he may even confess murderous intentions.  I am not exaggerating.  But because he is dreamy and smarmy, and either says he'll change, implies he'll change, or, you know, the girl really thinks he'll change, well -- then it's okay, right?
At least, that's what the books seem to imply.  Don't get me wrong, I am a fan of a good antihero story.   But these bad boys take it well beyond "bad" into creepy territory, and yet are set up to be the hero of the piece, the guy girls squee and swoon about.  And this isn't helped at all by the wilting female leads, who are too willing to fall into damsel in distress mode, and far too forgiving of -- and even inviting of -- bad behavior.

I have a lot I want to say on this, but first, I just want to get the ball rolling by bringing the question to you.


 Do authors have a moral responsibility to represent appropriate thinking and appropriate relationships, especially in YA?  Do publishing houses?

Are there lines that shouldn't be crossed, and if so, where are those lines?

Many of these books are defended very strongly by teen girls, and many of these creepy characters are becoming the figures of their fantasies -- what do you make of the trend in over the top, borderline abusive bad boys?  Is this a reflection on our society?  The age group?

Where do you stand on some of these stories (like Hush, Hush, et al), and their dangerous male leads and less than strong female leads?



Please, leave your thoughts on the matter in the comments; let's get a discussion going!
I'm planning a little discussion piece (aka rant) on the matter as part of my Valentine's Day Love Bites event, and I'd love to be able to quote some of you in the discussion!
:)

Also, if you have anything you'd like to see discussed in an upcoming post, let me know in the comments!

19 comments:

  1. Sigh... These books frustrate me. I would also like to add the- Boy: I know everything about everything going on, but I am intentionally going to keep you in the dark about what is really going on, because I think, somehow, that uninformation/misinformation is going to protect you and keep you safe, and hey, I am the boy/man HERO of this piece, and what I say totally goes.
    Girl- Okay, ~swoons, pants and sighs~.

    Ahem. It really bothers me. A lot. I'll read and (sometimes) enjoy them, especially if I don't think about the in any context related to me (because I'd totally emasculate a guy who tried that crap with me) but I do get annoyed with them, and I worry about the teenage girls who are growing up thinking this is an acceptable and desireble relationship.

    As for the moral obligation of the authors- something tells me that if they are writing these males these way, with the females acting so gush-love! about them, that they themselves think this is acceptable/desirable, which scares me and makes me sad inside. Didn't their mothers teach them that it's okay to tell a guy to drop the bulls**t or you'll drop him?

    (sorry about the length/excessive usage of the /. This post hits a nerve, but I love it and am excited to see more replies.)

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  2. I haven't read much of the recent (2010) YA romance first-hand, but I've gleaned a lot from reviews and I too am a bit disturbed/ticked off.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm all for a little fantasy. It'd be great to think that there's this perfect guy who will do anything for you. But the trending notion is that good boys are boring, so give the prince charming a dark side.

    On the one hand, no guy is perfect so adding some flaws to the 'hero' makes it more realistic. But I think a lot of authors have ramped things up a little too much. Sure, give the guy some flaws, don't make him a mass-murderer who has to constantly keep himself in check before he kills his love interest.

    And speaking of love interests, the girls seem to be painfully underwritten as of late. You have one HUGE hit and everyone thinks it's okay to have a damsel in distress. And anytime a strength is shown, it has to be overcompensated by a weakness so that the guy is still her hero. Have a blackbelt in karate? Too bad, this villain uses magic! Good thing you have a boyfriend (who's proficient in magic) to protect you. Urg!

    But back to the mega-bad boy trend.

    I like the idea - hell, I love it - of a surprise repentance. When a villain (not the big-bad, of course) realizes that what they're doing isn't making them happy, or when that good-for-nothing tag-along (who is usually geeky) suddenly shows that they're worth something after all...and out of the blue they help the MCs - that is what I LIVE for!

    The problem with the bad-guy-turned-good scenario in these books is...WE AREN'T SHOWN ENOUGH! We're seeing everything through these (clueless) girls' eyes and so we don't have any reasoning behind WHY the guy isn't evil anymore. Besides what they tell her/us. And nine times out of ten, it's some corny statement like, "I knew the moment I saw you that I loved you," or "There's something...different about you. I can't explain it, but you make me feel alive/warm/good/protective/etc."

    Yeah...and we should believe you because...? *insert threat (about villain)* Right! I love you too!

    In my opinion, the formulas have become stagnant. This is what's selling, so everything* is matching it. This is partly because of the authors, partly the market, and majorly the publishing houses.

    I don't know if I can assign moral responsibility to any of the above, especially since these aren't marketed as anything other than romance fantasies. I would like to enforce healthier relationships...but at the same time I don't agree with censoring or banning books because of their content. It's an especially hard call to make regarding teens, who don't always discuss relationships (or books) with parents...but I think it's ultimately in their hands. As Ashley said, shouldn't their moms be teaching them better?

    Sorry about the long rant-like response. Looking forward to more discussion!

    ~Vicki

    *Okay, not everything. I've read a few refreshing examples that break the norm, and I hope to find more.

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  3. Because I work with teen girls and have witnessed abuse in teen relationships, I feel like I am sensitive to the trend of "bad" boy behavior/ excuses for such behavior in YA.

    I know that this is an archetype that exists in literature and not just in YA, so I don't think it's going to go away. And I wouldn't want authors to feel like they can't write the books that choose to write. What I would like to see are more books like Swati Avasthi's Split and Deb Caletti's Stay (coming in April--And awesome) where they deal with abusive teen relationships as a major part of the plot.

    YA is full of topic books, but given the amount of time spent on jealousy and controlling behavior, you'd think it wasn't a "topic" in YA life at all. There are more dead mothers, brothers, sisters, fathers, etc than there are issues with isolating significant others from peers + family, dangerous jealous, controlling via suicide threats, obsessive stalking, breaking into social networking accounts, etc. I see these behaviors EVERY DAY. Boys and GIRLS.

    Maybe I've just decided on a "topic" for my YA book? I don't know. But what I do know is that I would love for people to say, "Uggh. Why are so many YA books talking about teen dating violence?" Because right now there's not enough!

    Love this idea of having discussions on your blog!

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  4. I don't mind bad boys. I hate bad boys with nasty attitudes that treat the girl badly. (Example = Patch in hush, hush)

    So yah, I totally feel ya! ;)

    Personally, I think the trend is driven by a small part of many women that wants to fix a man. Icky but I have always found it to be true ;)

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  5. I don't really care for the swoony bad boy types. I mean, occasionally, they're alright but when its an abusive situation its just annoying. I find that the type of heroes I like are found more often in historical fiction (not always, of course). But take movies like The Young Victoria and The Wild Girl (Yes, I know. Both guys are named Albert!) the male lead in those movies absolutely make me melt. But they aren't controlling, they don't always have something "sexy" to say. However, they are the friend that is there when you need them and they would do anything for the girl.

    I don't know. That's just me. And yes, I think that authors shouldn't put these crazy ideas of abusive relationships and weak heroines into stories for teens. I don't think they're really doing it because that's how they see the character, but because that's how society sees the hero now and, of course, they want their books to sell.

    Great post! (:

    ~Arya
    http://seaofpages.blogspot.com

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  6. Great discussion, Misty!

    I don't read a lot of YA, so I don't have a lot of first hand experience with these scenarios.

    As a general rule, I feel that authors should be free to weave their tales anyway they choose. As a reader, I can make the choice to close the book. Parents can also make the choice to close the book for their child - on a case by case basis, of course.

    From personal experience, I was a very serious and mature young adult, and my parents were not concerned with my reading material too much. I think they knew I could handle it without getting carried away.

    The thing that sits funny with me is that these books are specifically written and marketed toward young adults. Are they showing characters that are appropriate for the age level? (I wonder about this with teen pop stars too).

    The freedom to create becomes a little iffy when your intended audience is young.

    This may be the most non-committal post everrrr.

    In a nutshell:

    1. It kind of bugs me when authors write for young adults and then use material that may not be appropriate for young adults.

    2. That being said, I think it's their right to be free in their writing. No regulations or censorship!

    3. When I (eventually) have kids I'll be sure to be in tune to their reading material and make my OWN regulations depending on an individual basis.

    Once again, great topic - great discussion!

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  7. I don't read much YA (at least not of the contemporary variety), but as Mrs. DeRaps pointed out, this is not only true in YA fiction. When I was a teenager I was obsessed with Mr. Rochester of Jane Eyre, who is, frankly, a horrible man. I feel fortunate that after enduring only one relationship with a man of his ilk, I learned my lesson and began to see what was sexy in the good guy paradigm (hence my obsession with Mr. Darcy). I know a lot of women who never get this through their heads and continue to fall for one awful man after another, well into their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. What disturbs me in the trend you point out is the notion that more and more teen girls are embracing these ideas, which only lead to romantic lives that yes, may be passionate, but in an extremely negative manner that in no way resembles happiness. I fervently believe that writers should be uncensored, but when your target audience is young adults, authors need to be mindful of the example their characters set, a thing publishers should be conscious of as well. Most of all, parents should be aware of what their children are reading and do their best to counteract the influence of such negative representations. As I am about to have my first child, this is something I think about everyday - setting an example in my marriage of the happiness that can be attained in a loving, respectful, and equal partnership.

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  8. In general, bad boys don't bother me, In fact, I think you have a few ruffled feathers to keep me reading; however, mistreating another person isn't something that I think needs to be encouraged in YA.

    I think that the entire industry has to be able to entertain (I mean that's what we pay for), but that shouldn't forgo encouraging healthy relationships or just decision making in general. As a parent of a tween (crap, shut up) I know it's easy for younger readers to get consumed by the characters. Heck, it happens to me and I'm an adult.

    That being said, I think that it's ok to write an abusive relationship, as avoiding them altogether would be unrealistic. But life is full of decisions, support systems, and different methods of coping with all the bs life throws at us and THAT really needs to be represented better in YA.

    As someone who mostly reads YA by suggestions, I've grown a bit bored with the predictability of it all. I would think that the industry realizes that the YA audience grows up and some still continue to read these books, but I wonder if they think they can recycle the themes because they get another shot at it every few years.

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  9. It seems like the bad boys are everywhere these days, and it is a bit disconcerting. These bad boys seem to attract the girls because they are dangerous and the girls in the novels see that dangerous quality as desirable and protective. Dangerous, in real life, doesn’t equate with protective. If a guy is dangerous, he is often dangerous to everyone including the one he loves. We can’t always redeem these bad boys, and trying to do so when our very life is threatened by them is foolish.

    I am worried by the message this is sending. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be with a good guy—I know I married one. To me a relationship should be comfortable, and safe. The person you choose to be with should value you and your opinions. It should be an open and honest relationship where you work together to be happy together. I know it sounds a bit idealistic, but after 8 years of marriage, I can say it has worked for me. That doesn’t mean the couple always agrees—we have disagreements, but we both know our goals are the same. (By the way I did marry my high school sweetheart, so I was a teen when first met.)

    It is so hard to find YA novels where girls are attracted to “good guys.” That is one reason why I loved Kimberly Derting’s The Body Finder. Jay is a good guy, a good friend, and really did want to protect Violet. They do have disagreements, but his goal is her safety, because he cares for her.

    I know books can be an escape, and they don’t have to always reflect what you really want. I realize that these books provide an element of fantasy, but when fantasy becomes a reality we need to be very careful. We have to be wary when teenage girls go seeking these bad boys for the romance of it. Fantasy needs to stay fantasy.

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  10. First, thank you ALL for joining the conversation and expressing yourselves so well! Awesome!

    Ashley and Vicki: Exactly! I guess the dickhead character wouldn't be so bad if the girl gave it back, or stood up to it, but this submissive, swooning shit is too much.

    Mrs DeRaps: Agreed. (And YOUR book? Intrigued...) But I think even if you're not writing a "topic" book, you can still take these things into consideration, and at least have an idea of balance.

    Juju: Agreed. But should authors be perpetuating that "I can fix him" thing? Especially in such bad cases?

    Kate: Absolutely. I am so opposed to censorship, but it becomes such a sticky situation when you're dealing with kids (and seeing the way these kids are reacting). That's why I don't understand why authors don't make a little effort to balance things and make their hero more a hero. He doesn't have to be perfect, but he could AT LEAST not confess to having wanted to kill you.

    Alexa: You hit on exactly one of the points I want to make (with exactly the same characters!). Mr Rochester and Mr Darcy demonstrate what I mean exactly! Mr Rochester is a jerk. Plain and simple, and he does things maliciously, just to see if he can heart Jane (and she takes it; and she is praised for it). Mr Darcy *starts* as a jerk. But he grows and we grow to love him, even if we didn't want to in the beginning. It's redemptive. Why can't that same quality transfer over to YA? It can't be THAT hard to give your character some redemptive qualities BEYOND he's smoldering and sexy.

    Evie: You said tween. ;p

    Melissa: Yes! That's why it's so scary. Teens are impressionable and romanticize things, and they are beginning to set the patterns for the types of relationships they will seek out. A bad boy fantasy is fine, but temper it with some sense of reality and strength.

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  11. This is such an excellent discussion post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Misty.

    I for one don't swoon over bad boys. I never have, and probably won't any time soon. I hate it when some girls are submissive, but maybe in some ways the author is trying to drop a subtle hint that some girls may not know better.

    I am not of the belief that YA authors, or any authors, have any responsibility to portray relationships that are perfect and idyllic. I think their responsibility is to portray what is honest and realistic, and as much as it sucks, bad and unhealthy relationships happen. I like to believe that sometimes when an author puts a situation like that into a book, it's to make a point about the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships, but in this case it seems to just for entertainment. And I don't quite get why it's entertaining. Perhaps for teenage girls who haven't dated (I didn't date much as a teen) the idea of having someone just flip out over you is quite romantic. I don't know.

    I wish I had more intelligent thoughts to post on this, but I'll leave at that for now. Thanks for getting the ball rolling here!

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  12. You know, in my last comment I talked about how unhealthy relationships seem to be there just for entertainment. I would like to point out: I love to be entertained, and doing so to others. I just think it gets iffy when we push material that could have a questionable effect on minds that can be very impressionable.

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  13. OH MY GOSH. I just wrote this huge long post in response to your question and blogger said there was an error. Not cool, blogger, not cool.

    I will make it super short now and say just this:

    What do these books tell about our social climate? Books go through trends in representing what our society, generation, whatever is going through at the time. Are these vengeful male characters and uber subservient female characters showing how we view relationships now or how we wish to view them? Are we unhappy with how female industrialism is progressing and that we no longer have the 1950s housewife model? Are we sad that the male is not the provider-- the overlord, if you will-- anymore? Just something to think about.

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  14. Oh, no! I'm so disappointed, I love a good long rambling comment. It did that to me too, earlier, and I was about to be really irritated, but the comment showed up anyway, so it was fine. But I have had that happen (and it's always when you've just thought to yourself 'Damn, I just expressed myself so well' that it decides to fail. I always mean to copy my responses just in case, but I never do.

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  15. I feel these types of books are coming up after the awful Twilight series. Some budding authors feel that's what the young girls want is a brooding anti-hero that must always save her and the end she saves him...so they get their plot from that and then add their own details. I think it is horrible this trend. Authors should be trying to set an example not just get money with a pretty cover. It wouldn't be so bad if the authors or whomever had special categories for these types of books like S&M or something...

    I literally threw a book across the room last year because the guy was a brooding jerk and still the heroine was drawn to him....grrrr.

    Hopefully more authors will write things that strengthen teen girls instead of telling them they need a man to be complete.

    Great discussion, Misty. I want to read Hush, Hush now so I can rant about it on my blog!

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  16. Hey Misty - just wanted to let you know I linked this over at Kate's Library for my Friday Five!

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  17. I agree with most of the comments here. I read some young adult books, and most of the ones that I have read lately include a girl who doesn't stand up for herself, or thinks that she must have the guy protect her. At the same time, the guys come across as controlling and possessive. The message that some of these books are sending to young girls is not a good one.

    I understand that parents can "control" what their children read, however, being realistic, teens do many things their parents know nothing about. And if their friends are reading it, they may be too. As a parent, you may be able to control things in your house...it's what is outside your house that is the problem sometimes.

    Great discussion!!

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  18. So, um...I just realized I said something about Mr Rochester trying to 'heart' Jane, rather than hurt. I definitely meant HURT.
    ;D

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