Random Tuesday: Thinky Thoughts on Male Character Types in YA Fiction

Wow, that blog title sounds like an academic paper I wrote in a parallel lifetime where I didn't write research papers on the sociological reasons behind fan fiction. Anyway...

I don’t know if it’s because I read a lot of YA and YA tends to have female protagonists, but all these girls are starting to run together. They almost always fall squarely into one of two categories: the strong, determined type or the whiney, please-save-me type. Sometimes the strong ones have moments of weakness, but they rarely fall at the feet of a guy or wait around for someone to solve their problems (even if this leads to bad decision making). They could be further divided into other categories, sure, but the differences start feeling like you're splicing hairs to create diversity that isn’t really there.

Guys in these same YA books are harder to fit into just two categories. Yes, there are the strong ones and the whiney ones, but there seems to be more variety involved in creating love interests and/or side characters to support the main female protagonist that isn’t shown as often when developing a leading female. I suppose I could easily split the boys into two categories – asshats versus not asshats – but not being an asshat can come in many different forms.

Luckily my recent reading streak has led me away from the insufferable asshat love interests that drove me crazy in Hush, Hush, and of course, Twilight. Even Jace became more tolerable during the fourth book in The Mortal Instruments series than he was in the original trilogy. I also have a hard time loving the too perfect, can-do-no-wrong love interests like Xavier from Alexandra Adornetto's Halo series. Instead I’ve been presented with a fairly varied group of guys that range from sarcastic sidekick to loveable zombies (seriously). So here I present to you a recently compiled list of my five favorite types of male YA characters.

1. The Geeky Nerd – Even though pop culture seems to be overrun with geeks and nerds these days, they’re still the go-to stereotype for a character that an author generally wants to be overlooked until some indeterminate time in the future when something happens to make them cool. Lance from Illuminate is a prime example. He was just the bookish guy obsessed with Chicago history until suddenly… he wasn’t. Simon from The Mortal Instruments is just the sarcastic best friend that makes Star Wars references all the time until suddenly… he’s a badass. I always have fun trying to figure out what the “coming out” plot device will be to turn a geek into a viable love interest.

2. The Secret Softy – Like most other character types, this can go oh-so-wrong when given the chance. There could be such drastic difference between the hard-nosed public face and the creamy center hidden sensitive side that it’s hard to buy or seems to induce whiplash. Four from Divergent is a prime example of how this can work right. He’s the intimidating boot camp instructor that secretly wishes his home faction went back to a time when bravery was closely connected to selflessness. Then there’s Samm from Partials who just wants everyone to get along, but he’ll happily beat you senseless if you decide against him. And of course there’s Ky from the Matched trilogy with his drawings and pretty words in a world empty of beauty.

3. The (sometimes literal) Prince Charming – This particular archetype can become tiresome, bland and boring in the wrong hands. You don’t want someone who is too nice and can be walked all over but you also don’t want someone so entitled that they’re the epitome of spoiled. The first that came to mind was Prince Kai from Marissa Meyer’s Cinder. He’s literally a Prince, but a smart one that isn’t confined by his princely-ness and still recognizes that he’s not above his subjects. Alek from the Leviathan trilogy is a displaced prince ready to right the wrongs of his people even if it means joining with his sworn enemy. Sam from Jodi Meadows’ Incarnate isn’t literally a prince, but he holds an esteemed position within his society and tries to always do the right thing by everyone. He also fights dragons. Princes should fight dragons every now and again.

4. The Smart Ass – I probably love sarcastic male characters because I’m kind of a female counterpart in real life. I am a fond friend of sarcasm and can appreciate someone with a dry wit and a quick comeback even if they are fictional. Simon and Magnus Bane, my two favorite characters from The Mortal Instruments series, fit squarely in this category. Strangely enough I haven’t come across this archetype very often lately. It’s been supplanted by the female best friend smart ass, which can work too.

5. The Fish Out of Water – And this is the character type that had me thinking up this list in the first place. I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed reading about someone dropped into a world they don’t remotely understand until I started giggling at Kale trying to figure out where the plant was in an empty vase in Touch. It makes sense, what with my all-consuming love of Castiel from Supernatural and the number of giggle-inducing scenes he participates in, but it wasn’t a conscious thing. Now it’s a conscious thing. Recommend books to me!

 

Special Runner Up: The Loveable Zombie – Why did no one warn me that reading Lia Habel’s Dearly, Departed would have me routing for someone alive to kiss a dead boy? I am both fascinated at the story constructed by Habel that it could bring up such a disturbing and conflicting set of desires within my head. I didn’t have that same sense of conflict with Warm Bodies despite a similar dead boy/alive girl pairing up. But man, Bram the zombie soldier? Be still my heart.

And I still feel weird about it. Thanks, Lia Habel.

 

So how about you? Which type of male characters do you inevitably always fall for? The bad boy (who I usually refer to as an asshat because I do not understand the appeal of bad boys)? Besotted poetry spouting lover boys? The fearless hero?

Do tell. And give me book recs for fish out of water stories.