Maybe I’m not the best person for this post. I make it known that I’m not a love story, happy ending, teenage drama kind of book reader. (There is the occasional exception, like Anna and the French Kiss) But I’m here to say, for all the shippers that like to dominate YA, your boy ain’t shit.
I feel like it’s because I’ve gotten older, because as much as I hate to admit it I was one of the girls in the background of ship wars, writing fanfic, debating love triangles, and everything in between. But eventually it lost it’s attraction. I got more and more annoyed with love triangles, heteronormativity, and badly written gay sex. This could possibly have something to do with me discovering my own sexuality, but who knows. Basically, what I’m getting at here, is it that I’m in a place now where I can call male leads (and by association their authors) out on their shit; and trust me, there’s a lot of it.
To me, male protagonists fit the same formula of semi-formed characters with no distinguishable qualities so that young readers can project their masturbatory fantasies on them. I know this because I did the same thing. The current, theme within YA is to leave the male lead mostly unformed, a clever marketing trick in order to up the sales of your books. However, this leaves little to be desired for the critical reader. When you enter into a morally grey/challenging story it is often left to the wayside in favor of the male characters that tickle the fangirls fantasy. This is an example seen in YA bestseller heavy-weights such as the Twilight Saga, the Hunger Games Trilogy, and the Divergent trilogy.
Looking at Twilight first brings discussion to the issues with having a female character arc dependent on male interest. However, I would also argue that this is one of the first instances where male character arcs are sacrificed as well. Edward and Jacob have existences that revolve around having Bella’s attention, an obsession that bleeds out into more recent YA. In Hunger Games it manifests in Gale in Peeta, and Divergent diverges slightly by focusing mainly on Four. All of these main characters share the aspect of a story arc revolving around receiving the attentions of a female character and dividing her focus from the main plot. To me, the example set up a troupe in YA that has carried on into new hard hitters such as A Court of Thorns and Roses (ACOTAR), City of Bones, Carve the Mark, Lunar Chronicles, and the majority of new contemporary romances hitting the shelves you have similar males being peddled to the masses.
I’ve spoken before on ACOTAR, but this is one of the prime examples I see of a turn happening in mainstream YA where the focus is more on the romance than anything else. For me personally, none of the male characters provided any sort of substance to this Beauty and the Beast retelling, and the focus on the perfection of such characters distracts from a storyline that has so much more potential to be thought-provoking and challenging.
In short, I’m tired. Maybe it’s the books I’m reading, but lately they seem to be feeding off the same formulas and including the same useless characters. YA is better than this, the writers are better than this, and honestly, we the readers are better than this. So clap clap bitches, don’t let your men be shit.