The Jane Eyre Complex

 

 

The Jane Eyre Complex: Or, books that aren’t afraid to have average looking main characters. 

Ugly Main Characters

So lately I’ve been reading a lot of those books where the lead female thinks nothing of her appearance, but everyone else is quick to describe her as “like, ohmygosh, one of the most beautiful creatures that has ever graced the planet, in all time, ever, wow,” while the lead male is the kind of guy that causes heart problems, he’s so hot. Now before I start, let me say this: I don’t have a problem with pretty protagonists. I don’t.

I don’t even have problems with gorgeous characters. Although it’s weird, I actually like when the main character is attractive, because for whatever length of time that I’m reading the book, I am the main character, and I feel the pain, pride, and other emotions of that character. Being sort of shallow, I like feeling desirable and appealing, and I can certainly see why so many authors write beautiful characters. I do. There’s nothing wrong with a character being pretty.

That said, I wish there were more less-than-idealized protagonists out there. Because just like every book is different, and every protagonist is different, shouldn’t their be some diversity in appearance? It’s so refreshing to find a main character that has frizzy hair and a crooked nose, especially in the YA fantasy world. Especially, especially in the werewolf-vampire-witch-o-sphere. I have a whole shelf of YA paranormal books, and although I scanned it twice over for this post, I could not find a single one where the leading lady or leading lad was a bit below average. I’m not talking Hunch Back of Notre Dame or Phantom of the Opera here. I’m just talking chubby cheeks, knobby elbows, or an outcropping of zits. Things that we have all experienced at one point or another.

YA Paranormal  (what is going on here?!)

Now, I know that these books aren’t meant to be reality. Books are fiction for a reason, yada yada. But with all the books out there, you’d think there be at least a few shelves of books that have gals and guys dealing with appearance issues. I don’t know if I’m searching the wrong library, but in my reading, I’ve really only encountered a handful. But I’ll stop myself there. The point of this post is not to question why there are so many beautiful characters in novels. It’s to take a look at the ones who don’t (in all genres), and give them a shout out for being the diverse, beautiful er, great, books that they are.

  •  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

It would be a shame not to start with Jane Eyre. Because to me, she represents the original ugly but absolutely fierce protagonist. Jane Eyre is one of my all time favorite novels, and Ms. Eyre proves that you don’t have to be beautiful to be a role model. She ends up with the money, the guy, and her morals, even though she started out with nothing. It’s so refreshing to read Jane Eyre. Jane knows she’s not beautiful, and she accepts it without complaint. She has been dealt her hand of cards and she never once loses her hope or her values. Go Jane! (Also, Mr. Rochester is ugly as well, but he makes my Top 10 list of Fictional Guys ever, so make of that what you will.)

  • The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong 

The first book in the Darkest Powers series, I commend the Summoning as having a male romantic interest who does not have a “panty-dropping smile” or a beautiful, exotic strangeness about him. Derek is described as having greasy hair, body odor, and a legion of other unappealing traits. He’s also cold and gruff, but still manages to be the guy you end up rooting for. Derek proves that you don’t have to be hot to get the girl.

  • Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding 

Bridget is a thirty something singleton whose book actually revolves around her flaws. She’s overweight, and is convinced that by dropping just a few more pounds she’ll achieve self actualization. I love this book, and I love Bridget Jones. She is the woman in us all. The one who is convinced that by changing your appearance, you can somehow change your self. Going on Bridget Jones’s journey is not only hilarious, it helps you appreciate yourself, and realize that maybe, just maybe, losing that five pounds isn’t the answer to the universe.*

  • The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot 

Another series on my favorite’s list. (Hmm…I’m noticing a pattern.) Although Mia may be a princess, she’s still going through the awkward stage of growing into herself and her imperfections. Her hair is shaped like a triangle, she bites her nails, and she sees herself as freakishly tall. No, Mia is definitely not perfect, but that makes her even more endearing, more relatable, and more awesome. Cabot is really good at giving her characters flaws. Another one of her books, Airhead, takes a plain character and transplants her mind into the body of a supermodel. It examines how differently people treat you when you’re beautiful, and is a fun book for when you’re in the need of a relaxing read.

  • Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire 

Although I’m only halfway through this book, I put it on here because the main character, Iris, is, indeed, ugly. And two, because there were so little books with plain characters that I couldn’t find anymore, and thought five was a much more satisfactory number than four. 🙂 In any case, Maguire is known for writing about characters that don’t fit the pretty mold, such as our friend Elphie from Wicked. For writing not one, but two books with homely characters, he and his books deserve to be put on this list. I love how Maguire really digs deep into the old tales that say ugliness is synonyms with being evil, and uncovers the gritty truth.

So, tell me: what do you think? Do you think there should be more average looking people on our reading lists, or do you think we have enough already? And if it’s the latter, please drop off some suggestions! I love hearing from you all.

*No, that would be 42.

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Battle of the Bad Boys

Battle of the Bad Boys 

(Friday Fight Day) 

Damon vs. Stefan

If you’re anything like me, then you just can’t resist a ‘bad boy’ (in the book world, not real life). There’s something so frustratingly irresistible about that leather jacket and half-smirk. Young Adult authors must know this, because in no other book genre are bad boys so rampant than YA. But…why? Well, let’s look at the technical definition of a bad boy from the Oxford Dictionary.

Bad Boy: A man who does not conform to approved standards of behavior.

Well, that alone is enough to make a person in literature desirable. After all, YA books are often about finding personal identity, and pressing back against societal norms. Bad boys do exactly this, although not always in the right way. Still, that spark of rebellion manages to ignite out James Dean fantasies…even more so because bad boys in books aren’t like bad boys in real life. When a guy is a jerk to you in real life, it means he’s a jerk and you should probably stay away. But a bad boy in a YA book looks at you with smoldering eyes, trying to hide just how much he loves you and wants to be loved in return. In the YA world, you *can* change him. It’s a fantasy that exists in reality, but only really applicable in fiction.

But today’s post is not to discuss the various pitfalls and merits of the bad boy archetype. No. It’s to pit the two types of bad boys against each other, compare each, and ultimately decide which one is the Smolder King. Now, you might be thinking, what types of bad boys am I talking about? Isn’t a bad boy a bad boy a bad boy? NO. Not to me, in any case. To me, there are two very distinct types of bad boys seen in novels, set apart from each other mainly through their coping mechanisms.

Enter the ring, Bad Boy 1: The Cold Brooder

Ah, yes. The Cold Brooder. This bad boy is embodied by figures such as Stefan from The Vampire Diaries, Edward from Twilight, and (to give a non-vampire example) John from Meg Cabot’s Abandon. This dude has seen a lot in his time, and as a result has become extremely guarded. Like, brick-wall-around-the-heart guarded. He usually seeks to protect the main character from himself by acting cold and aloof, but once he falls in love, his love is irrevocable. He will do anything to protect his love (and may be overprotective), although he’s over hurting other people for kicks. He has a past, yes, but he wants it to stay in the past. The Cold Brooder is silent, stoic, and serious.

Enter the ring, Bad Boy 2: The Smirker  

I was going to name Bad Boy 2 the Joker, but I thought that sounded too Batman-ish. So The Smirker it is. This bad boy is the opposite of the Cold Brooder. Although he, too, has a scarred past, he deals with it in a totally different way. Instead of sorrow and repentance, he brushes everything away like it means nothing to him, in the hopes that one day, it will. Stealing twice from The Vampire Diaries, we see Damon as a Smirker, as well as Jace from The Mortal Instrument series, and Stanton from The Daughters of the Moon series. These types are slightly irresistible because they are naturally charismatic, have a sense of humor, and seem to be just waiting for someone to change their rough-edged/evil ways. They aren’t as morally focused as the Cold Brooder, but with the right leading lady, that can change.

Pros of the Cold Brooder: 

  • Mysterious
  • Passionate
  • Protective
  • He may be a ‘bad boy’ but he’s not evil…anymore, at least.
  • Romantic

Cons of the Cold Brooder:

  • Takes effort to get him to open up.
  • Sometimes too protective (I’m looking at you Edward).
  • That moral compass can be exhausting.
  • You don’t always want to talk about the meaning of life and love. Come on, lighten up a little!

VS.

Pros of the Smirker:

  •  Charming 
  • Sense of humor
  • Witty
  • Is more than often described with smoldering eyes and that adorable smile.
  • He is sarcastic and alluring on the outside, but on the inside he just wants a little love.

Cons of the Smirker: 

  • Takes sarcasm to the point of being an ass.
  • Less willing to reform than the Cold Brooder. The Smirker might not want to let you in.
  • Often starts out evil or with no moral idea of right and wrong. Change is a gradual thing.
  • It’s very possible he will drive you crazy before your happy ending.

While obviously each trope has their own faults, I’d have to say that my ideal bad boy would have to be the…drum roll, please…Smirker. I can never resist a laugh, after all, even if the chuckles come with some dangerous additions. The Cold Brooder can go woo some other girl with endless talks of love and life. Damon, on the other hand, is free to come calling anytime he likes.

What about you? Do you prefer the Smirker or the Bad Boy, and why? Comment below! 

For a brief list of some very different bad boys to check out, refer below:

The Cold Brooder: Stefan from the Vampire Diaries, John from Abandon, Delos from The Night World series, Edward from Twilight, Will from The Infernal Devices, Dmitri from The Vampire Academy series

The Smirker: Damon from The Vampire Diaries, Eric from the Sookie Stackhouse series, Jace from The Mortal Instrument Series, Stanton from Daughters of the Moon, Ash from The Night World series, Patch Cipriano from Hush Hush.