An Essay on Heartbreaking Beauty in Young Adult Fiction
I’ve read a lot of young adult fiction, and it all seems full of love intestests who are “heartbreakingly”, “painfully”, or “achingly” beautiful. If you’ve read a book with one of the above descriptions, please raise your hand.
Yep. That’s what I thought. It’s all around. And it’s overdone.
I’ll be the first to admit that when I was attempting to write my first young adult novel, everyone in it was beautiful. The girls had long, flowing hair and smooth skin, the boys were chisled and handsome. And then I took my manuscript to a professional writer and she said point blank: “Not everyone’s beautiful.”
And I realised, this is true. Not everyone is beautiful. In fact, most people aren’t. When I thought about all the boys I dated when I was in high school, they definately were’t heartbreakingly beautiful (no offense, ex-boyfriends of mine). Was a heartbreakingly beautiful boyfriend something that I wanted? Maybe—but only because I thought it would show every girl in my homeroom that I was better than them. That it would somehow prove that I was also beautiful and amazing and awesome. But what I actually wanted was to be wanted. To be loved. So why do amazingly beautiful, flawless people exist in young adult fiction? And do we need them?
My answer is no. We don’t. I mean, I don’t necessarily want a hero that’s hard on the eyes here. But I want someone with substance. And I think the problem with writing a young adult hero that is “painfully beautiful” is that it doesn’t translate on the page. For one, I have a difficult time imagining such a beautiful person, and if I do, they all look like Ian Summerhalder. But I don’t want to imagine every hero to look the same. I want my hero to be unique from story to story. I want to love someone for more than their looks. I want to love someone because they refuse to eat pizza with their hands, or make sure every cat they come across on the street has a home, or calls their grandmother every Sunday, or spends every dime they have bailing me out of jail, or wrecking their favourite pair of jeans because I’ve just gotten stuck in quick sand. I want a voice that sends shiver up my spine and a touch that lights me on cold fire and an intelligent mind that challenges me when I’m behaving like vicious, stuck-up, prideful cat.
Is it possible that characters in popular young adult fiction are beautiful because we all want to be beautiful? Maybe. But I don’t need books that make me feel bad about myself, thank you. We’re all pretty enough. I’m pretty enough. A hero with a sharp brow or an average face is pretty enough, too.
I think, in the end, that this is why I loved Peeta so much in the Hunger Games, because he was normal. And maybe why I liked Bella in Twilight—because she was average and shy and somewhat awkward (though I think she is more “beautiful” after her transition, which we didn’t really need because we already loved her at this point)(also, don’t get me started on the beauty of the vampires). I should point out that I only find such “achingly” beautiful characters in Young Adult books of certain genres. It’s pretty rare to come across a “painfully” beautiful hero in a young adult book of realistic fiction. So ask yourself, why is that? It’s because it isn’t real. It’s fiction. Keep that in mind as a reader, all these beautiful people—they’re works of art. They aren’t real. And YOU, real YOU, are beautiful enough.
And for all the writers out there, branch out! Don’t rely on the physical description of your character to interest your reader. Dig deeper. Make a regular Joe a magnetic soul, and make me fall in love with someone who truly feels, acts—and looks—real.
J. E. Hunter is the author of the Black Depths Series. Tales of a Redheaded Sea-Witch, and Broken Tide, the first two books of the series can be found on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords. The third book, Dark Shores, was released April 1, 2016. The fourth and last book of the Black Depths series, Twisted Currents, will be released in the fall of 2016, after Dead Water and Doomed Seas, two Novellas featuring Caesar.