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Guest Post: I l Love You and I Want To Kill You; Let's Make Out by Catherine Egan

Today we have a guest post by author Catherine Egan exploring the lure of the bad boy, in life and in YA literature. Leave a comment on this post and let us know who your favorite fictional villain is to be entered to win a set of Catherine's The Last Day of Tian Di's series (giveaway ends Friday).

I love you and I want to kill you; let’s make out

My first real crush – and easily the most powerful movie-star crush I’ve ever had – was on David Bowie’s Jareth, King of the Goblins, in the movie Labyrinth. I was ten, and I was smitten. Yes, he was evil, and I cheered when Sarah defeated him at last – You have no power over me! – but what I remember best about the movie are his eyebrows, his ineffable cool, the spinning crystal balls in his hands, and how amazing it was that he seemed to be in love with her, this ordinary girl not so unlike me. How do you like my Labyrinth, Sarah?

Three years later, I kissed a boy for the first time. A bad boy. He found me in the halls and told me he liked me and he wanted me to be his girlfriend. I stood there stunned, thinking I don’t even know you, but also, swoon, because I was just thirteen and he was in tenth grade, all spiky hair and attitude, smoking cigarettes in the parking lot and getting suspended from school. I said OK, because if I said no then nothing would happen and if I said yes then something would happen and at thirteen I desperately needed for something – anything – to happen to me.

He took me outside to make out and then gave me a cigarette and I felt sick all afternoon. Why he had picked me out in the halls to be his girlfriend was a total mystery to me at first. Later, he told me the story of how he had fallen for me at the bus stop: He saw me looking at him and so he stared back, but I didn’t flinch or blush or look away, I just held his gaze. He made faces, and I stared him down. He gestured for me to come over and join him. I looked at him steadily for a few beats more and then looked away. “You were so cool,” he said, already so disappointed by me. “Why aren’t you like that anymore?” I didn’t tell him the truth: that I was not cool, I was shortsighted and too vain to wear my glasses, so I hadn’t seen him at all or registered any of his faces or gestures – he was just another boy-shaped blur at the bus stop. Love is blind? The relationship ended two weeks later, when I wouldn’t put out and he threatened me with a curtain rod in my friends’ parents’ bedroom. It put me off bad boys in real life – there was nothing to like about this messed up kid yelling at me and brandishing a curtain rod. He was no Jareth, King of the Goblins. He was no Heathcliff, roaring, “If he loved with all the powers of his puny being, he couldn’t love as much in eighty years as I could in a day.”

Of course, it’s a sort of horrible cliché, the bad boy character, whether he is anti-hero or full-blown villain. He’s dark and brooding and secretive, he wants to devour you but the point is that he wants you more than anyone has ever wanted you, and there is this connection you can’t explain, you are destined for each other, you can save him from himself, maybe only you can save him, etcetera etcetera. But if it has become cliché, that’s because we respond to it over and over again, and each generation encounters it anew. Fantasies aren’t always pretty but the glory of them is how dark and uncontrolled and unrepressed they can be, and, sure, sometimes it takes an encounter with a mean kid brandishing a curtain rod to help a girl recognize that she might want something different in real life, but that doesn’t temper the power of the fantasy.

Because it’s such a popular trope, the Bad Boy thing gets done very, very badly all the time, but on occasion it gets done really well, too. My favorite bad boy in recent YA fiction is the villain of Leigh Bardugo’s riveting Grisha Trilogy, the Darkling. He looks young but he is ancient. His power is such that everyone fears and respects him. We first meet him lounging on an ebony throne, controlling the scene completely. He gets a lot of great lines. And he fixes on our girl Alina – in the beginning an ordinary enough girl, like Sarah from Labyrinth. Her first glimpse of him leaves her “torn between fear and fascination.” There is something wonderfully cinematic about him, darkness unspooling from his hands.

In a brilliant touch, the Darkling is an amplifier, meaning when he lays hands on Alina he amplifies the power to call forth light that she has hidden inside her all these years. As well as being a fantastic plot point, it’s a very effective analogy for sex. His touch makes her powerful, light pouring through her. Afterwards she is stunned and amazed at herself. His power is darkness and hers is light – they are opposites, but twinned too. They complete each other, they belong together – or so the Darkling would have her believe. His allure is sexual on both an explicit and a metaphorical level. Becoming adversaries also makes them equals, and the connection between them, the twinning and the attraction, becomes all the more intense. Leigh Bardugo puts all the old clichés to fresh use – the connection between hero and villain, the possibility or impossibility of redemption, the tangle of sex and power and love – and complicates them by making her characters complicated.

Just as we must choose our lovers and our enemies with care, we should demand a high standard for our fictional heart-throbs and our villains alike – especially when they happen to be one and the same. Now that I am old and jaded, I chip little hunks of ice off my heart to put in my G&T in the evening, but some corner of said frozen heart will always belong to David Bowie’s swaggering Jareth – while also declaring You Have No Power Over Me – and in that spirit, I nominate the Darkling as this generation of YA readers’ most crush-worthy villain. 

This is one in a series of blog posts on villains; you can check my blog for a list of villain-posts. Let me know in the comments: who are your favorite fictional villains? Choose villains from books / movies / comic books / TV – just not real life! A winner will be selected by random number generator (I’ll post a screenshot) and I will send you a book bundle – all three books in The Last Days of Tian Di series – chock-a-block with villains and their villainy. 

About Catherine

Catherine Egan grew up in Vancouver, Canada, and wrote her first novel at age 6. It was about a group of kids on a farm who ran races. Each chapter ended with “Cathy won the race again!” Since then, she has lived in Oxford, Tokyo, Kyoto, a volcanic Japanese island that erupted and sent her hurtling straight into the arms of her now-husband, Beijing, an oil rig in China’s Bohai Bay, and now Connecticut, where she is still writing books (but Cathy doesn’t win every race anymore). Her first novel, Shade & Sorceress, won a 2013 Moonbean Children’s Book Award (Gold) and was named an Ontario Library Association Best Bet for 2012 in the Young Adult Fiction category.

The Last Days of Tian Di book 3: Bone, Fog, Ash & Star

Eliza hoped she could start a new life and avoid the Oracle’s terrible prophecies. That hope is dashed on her sixteenth birthday, when her best friend Charlie is nearly murdered. To find out who tried to kill him and why, Eliza must return to the life she swore she’d left behind forever in the Mancer Citadel. Soon, Eliza is pushed to her very limits, struggling to protect those she loves and pursued unrelentingly by powerful enemies as she undertakes a quest to collect four ancient treasures with the power to change the world. Impossible choices and shocking truths lie in wait as Eliza and her friends band together for a final confrontation in this conclusion to the series.

The opinions expressed in guest posts are the views of the designated authors and do not necessarily reflect those of YA Highway members.

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Stephanie Kuehn

Stephanie is the William C. Morris award-winning author of Charm & Strange, Complicit, Delicate Monsters, and The Smaller Evil.

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  1. Some bad boys/anti-heroes know they are bad, glory in it and attract the heroine through that. But what of the sympathetic ones? The sad ones? I suggest that they are more dangerous because they really do seem redeemable.
    Dr. Horrible for instance. We pull for him, we want him to get the girl but he is not a good man. He wants to take over the world.

  2. Great post! I have that series on my shelf but haven't cracked it open yet.

    And your story of the secret to your seeming-cool made me laugh--I once had someone tell me they thought I was stuck up because I never acknowledged them in the halls. I said, "Unless you talk to me, you're all various colors of moving blurs without my glasses."

  3. Your story about the bad boy who mistook your poor eyesight for cool is hilarious, until it turned frightening. (curtain rod? why? but still scary) My favorite bad boy is Boromir. He isn't that bad, really, and he redeems himself eventually, but damn, did my thirteen year old self find him sexy.

  4. Curtain-rod boy wasn't as scary as that may have sounded - my friends were in the next room. And YES to Boromir - and Dr. Horrible in a less-swoony way!

    Angelica, you MUST read the Grisha trilogy. So much fun!

  5. Sounds like I need to read the Grisha trilogy, too... I am wondering to what extent PT Michelle's Corvus character is derivative of the Darkling... Slightly embarrassed to have enjoyed The Brightest Kind of Darkness and its sequels (up until the conclusion of book 4--the latest--in which the author oh-so-very crassly leaves us with an inexcusable cliff-hanger). Ethan, the protagonist, is the definitive bad-boy: powerful, attractive, possessed by a raven... Honestly, though, it works. The premise of the series is engagingly unique--its saving grace, as the writing is only slightly above mediocre and the fact-checking unacceptable. Ethan exhibits both the power of his "corvus" spirit and vulnerability in his lack of understanding of what that really means. It's actually fun to stand back a bit from the books and be able to both be engrossed by the narrative and understand exactly how the author is being emotionally manipulative. Not the best advertisement for the books, but I really did (do) find them fascinating on a number of levels. And Ethan IS hot...

  6. I'll have to look for those - I don't know the series. Thanks for commenting everybody! I'm posting screenshots of the random number generator results on twitter (@bycatherineegan) but this time got number 2, so the winner is Angelica R. Jackson! If you send me your address at bycatherineegan [at] gmail [dot] com, I'll send you your books! Thanks everyone!

  7. Oh, how exciting! I love winning books! thanks, Catherine and YA Highway. :)


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Item Reviewed: Guest Post: I l Love You and I Want To Kill You; Let's Make Out by Catherine Egan Rating: 5 Reviewed By: stephanie kuehn