Then and Now is an occasional feature on Christina Reads YA in which I pick a topic or a book and discuss how my feelings for/thoughts on that have changed for whatever reason. Many thanks to the readers who helped me think of this feature!
To frame this discussion... here is my experience of one YA book (that shall remain unnamed) which has a "bad" boy as the primary love interest:
***he is generally referred to as such by various members of the publishing industry
Then: Huh, I've never read about bad boys before. I've never met one before. Danger, huh? That's sexy. He knows everything about her already too? He's reading her that well? Wow, they have good chemistry. Wow.
Now: You called that chemistry? He's obviously a CREEP. How does he know about her trust issues? It doesn't come off as sexy. Christina, WHAT. WHUT.
Then: Oooh, I like how their legs are flush, like their bodies are in sync. Also a lot sexual innuendos. Interesting how that scene went from suspicion to fear to defeat to trust and sweetness.
Now: He cornered her in a parking garage! He's stalking her! This is meant to show his dangerous side - that she doesn't fully trust him - and you LIKED that scene?
Then: Future-Christina, you are just no fun! I lent this book to some friends and even reread some choice scenes. If you don't like it, why do you own the entire series?
Now: Look, Then-self, just answer me this: what makes a bad boy "bad?" The first thing that pops to my mind is the stereotypical image of a guy clad in leather driving a motorcycle and smoking a cigar. Obviously this is not the case, just a superficial pop culture (???) inspired reading, but it did make me wonder. Who do you consider a bad boy?
Is it the guy who you never should date? --> In which case, why is he being sexualized? Why is he actually presented as a viable romantic interest?
Is it the guy who you would never bring home to your mother? --> Well, why don't you want to? Because she'll disapprove or because he treats you like crap? Because you're not on the best terms with your mother?
Is it the guy who has a tortured past? --> Why does having drama in his past equate to being bad? Is it because of something he did?
Is it the guy who exudes a dangerous vibe? --> Is he a danger to you? What makes him dangerous? Is it something that's not "bad" but stupid?
I'm totally analyzing this too much, but I honestly no longer know what constitutes a "bad" boy. YA especially has a broad way of referring to them. From players to smokers to assassins to warriors to stalkers to rock-stars to paranormal creatures, bad boys could theoretically be in every single YA book.
Potential "Bad" Boys that I've Liked to Read about:
-Not from YA, but Barrons from the Fever series --> Barrons is kind of a jerk in the beginning. And during some other parts, but he redeems himself as an interest to Mac by protecting her from various threats and later supporting her in tough times. Yet, even though I wrote that he "redeems" himself, he doesn't pretend to be an anti-hero. He's killed and he has few regrets... but here's a question with regard to him: are "bad" boys usually alpha males then?
-The Darkling from Shadow and Bone --> Before S&B, I'd never read about a villain seducing the heroine into complaisance, but I tell you: it made for quite a compelling read. Still I don't ship him and Alina; when he hasn't shown that he's really and truly capable of love, I probably should not root for him to get with the heroine. He's probably the closest example I can think of for a "bad" boy in nearly all aspects without actually being a true love interest.
-Sapphire from Bitterblue --> I didn't quite like him as much as Cashore's other love interests, but I'm thinking that he probably qualifies for the category more than the prince and commander of the army. A thief, a fighter, a truth seeker, a spy - he doesn't quite have one particular label, but am I to consider him "bad" because of his thievery or because of his later actions in the book?
-Raffe from Angelfall / Akiva from Daughter of Smoke and Bone / Warden from The Bone Season (Not YA) --> Do they count if they're all otherworldly warriors with tortured pasts and a high death count?
-Adrian Ivashkov from the Vampire Academy and Bloodlines series --> Does he still count as a bad boy if he's not actually a player and stops drinking and smoking for Sydney?
-Adam from If I Stay and Where She Went --> He's an angsty rock-star ... but do his angst and rock-star status cancel his touching decision in IIS in terms of whether he's a "bad" boy?
I suppose my main problem now with bad boys is that if they're presented as viable love interests, they've got to do something good that contradicts whatever reputation they have (the "badness" so to speak). Do we forget about that then? Some guys, like the Darkling, are also clearly sexualized but are so not going to end up with the heroine (probably past redemption now). So are they the prime "bad" boys -- if they're not true love interests? PLEASE HELP ME FIGURE THIS OUT SO I'LL STOP ANALYZING THIS OVER AND OVER. My "Then" self clearly had an easier time of this.
Who do you consider a "bad" boy? Who meets that category for you and who are your favorites? Do "bad" boys ever make for good love interests or okay characters? How have your feelings on "bad" boys changed over time?