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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Let's Hear it for the (Highly Unqualified) Boys

It’s come to my attention that certain YA books are flaunting female main characters who are all-around better than their love interests. Now, before I go on and on about kick-ass girls and the boys who love them, I’d like to preface this by stating the following:

Just because the two boys mentioned here are outmatched in every way by their girlfriends doesn’t mean boys in general are not also all-around awesome. In fact, men can do anything women do. (Except the whole miracle of life thing. No big.)

Right, so the boys. We have Vane in Shannon Messenger’s Let the Sky Fall and Callum in Reboot by Amy Tintera. Neither are a match for the girls they meet—one who can control the elements and another who’s the most dangerous soldier in the land.


But here’s the thing: THEY ARE SO LOVEABLE.*

Vane has just met a girl who’s lived in his dreams since he was a boy, has been told that he’s an important player in a supernatural war, and has been ordered to learn to control his ability in less than a week—or else die.

He tries. He fails. He tries harder. He can’t keep up with Audra. 

And yet it’s endearing. Vane’s sweet and imperfect, and it doesn’t make him less of a guy. In fact, his strength may be different than Audra’s physical power, but it’s no less important.

The same goes for Callum in Reboot. In a world where those who spend the most time dead before rebooting are the least  human, Callum is a lowly 22. Wren, on the other hand, was dead 178 minutes before she woke up—the most deadly Reboot out there. 

When Wren trains Callum, he’s out of his league. She could snap his neck with the flick of his wrist and he can’t even punch her. But Callum doesn’t come across as a pathetic excuse for a boy. He’s real and adorable and totally humanizes Wren. And while he’s no physical match for Wren, he’s in no way weak. After all, he’s the only lowly Reboot willing to approach scary number 178—and that takes courage Callum shows again and again throughout the book.

Reading both books, I couldn’t help but think of girls in novels who rely on physically stronger guys to get the job done. I don’t think too-little brawn or too many emotions makes for a weak female character.

No, I think it’s about more than that. Strong female characters can be physically weak but emotionally strong, like Callum and Vane. Consider Emma in Erin Boman’s Taken. She’s no physical match for Bree, who has trained as a fighter since childhood, yet she’s still a Strong Female Character. She’s took a stand against her village’s mating plans and faced possible death when she followed Gray over the wall (of her own accord, I should point out).

I think reading about boys who are physically weaker than their girlfriends is a nice reminder that Strong Female Characters—no, strong characters of both genders—are more than teens who can kill a man in under ten seconds.

Can you think of other books in which the boy is physically weaker than the girl? And do you think it makes them the equivalent of the “weak female character” we so often hear about?

*See also: Peeta Mellark

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