Oct 21, 2010

the nice, reliable, nice guy in horse books

Is it weird that I'm starting to think the nice, reliable, nice guy love interest in middle grade horse books is kind of creepy? Going over my posts for just about every middle grade horse book I have ever read for this blog (and the ones that I vaguely remember from yesteryear that I can't be bothered with reading again), the trend is to place the adorable, determined main character who cannot brush her hair and sneers at fashionable jeans with a boy who is two years older than her. Determined main character is always twelve to fourteen when this happens. Nice, reliable boy is always fourteen to sixteen, depending on her age. It's always a two year age difference. Occasionally three, if you count boy age confusion, because he's commonly "fifteen or sixteen." Also, you know, Brad (initially 15) and Ashleigh (initially, um, almost 12). Don't try to tell me that wasn't lust fueled madness. I won't hear it.

For some reason, it didn't bother me until the other day when I stopped everything I was doing and suddenly had to ask my mother if this trend disturbed her.

Her answer was yes. Yes, it does. And then there was a long discussion about developmental differences, because that's what I get for talking to someone who's both a mother of two daughters and in the medical field.

So I started thinking about Chris Platt's Astra. About how this book essentially gives the main character two options: aggravating, immature boy that is the main character's age (13) or nice, reliable, helpful boy (15 or 16). Of course, she's going to choose nice, reliable guy because thirteen-year-old boys are more interested in being self-absorbed, pseudo antagonists who are mean to the girls they like. But would the nice, reliable sixteen-year-old boy be interested in our thirteen-year-old determined girl? Should he be? Shouldn't someone be throwing on the breaks to this relationship? Like, say, a parent? Logically, shouldn't the determined girl be interested in the boy who is her age?

Maybe it's moot because determined horse girls basically act like they're forty by the time they hit puberty. But, it's still something that I find troubling. I open the floor to discussion.


Monique said...

Yeaaahhh... the odd thing is this never bothered me when I was twelve myself. Maybe because my young mind saw nothing wrong with being sought after by an older guy. The creepy factor only kicks in now.

Plus, the guys in horse books are smarmy morons anyway. Tor... just eww. Eww.

Anonymous said...

I think I might make my sign-in name "Determined Horse Girl" haha, that's awesome.

I actually have never read any of these books, but i love this blog!

Elizabeth said...

I thought about this a lot, trying to formulate a comment. At first I was going to say, "It seems typical in books (all books, not just horse books) for boys to be about two years older than their pre-adolescent or young teen girlfriends." (This excludes books about older teen girls, age 15-17ish, who have older boyfriends.) Then I tried to think of books that proved this and realized that I am actually wrong. I can think of a couple of examples (Here's to You Rachel Robinson, The One Hundredth Thing About Caroline) featuring a boy about two years older than a girl, but just as many (Glass Slippers Give You Blisters, Adventurers Inc., Main Street, Tales from Third Grade) where they're the same age.

So, is this a horse book thing? (My only point of comparison is The Saddle Club, which has no such older/younger dynamic until Pine Hollow.) If it were a reflection of the societal tendency for women to prefer older, taller (and thus more mature? Better caretakers? Somehow sexier?) men, I would expect to see it equally in non-horse books.

I will also point out that in The Baby-Sitters Club, Toby (age 15) is portrayed as smarmy when he's interested in Mallory (age 11). I think that's a good thing, but I'm not sure which side of the argument that supports!

Mara said...

See, I was starting to wonder if it's a Thoroughbred thing. Chris Platt wrote for the Ashleigh series, and clearly must have been exposed to Joanna Campbell, who was a romance novelist. Romance novelists commonly write about main female characters with father figure issues. Joanna Campbell's been around since the early 80s with her two year age difference gap of awfulness. I'm wondering if this doesn't trend all the way back to her The Thoroughbred, or whatever it was called.

Although, then I think back to Ride a Dark Horse by Lynn Hall, where the teen main character suddenly falls into a crush with someone who is easily 15 years older than her. And I just think what the hell?

Maybe there's a parallel to be drawn between romance novels and horse books. They seem to have the same time of "determined girl" protagonists meeting the same type of male love interests, be they supportive and dull or love/hate pseudo antagonists or what have you.

Vexing said...

Huh - I also never thought about this, but I do think it's a trend in horse books. I know the Saddle Island Series has a 12 year old female protagonist (Kelsie) who is in love with a 17(ish) boy who would rather hang out with her than his girlfriend (creepy!)And wasn't the jockey in Darkling that Jenny (15) ends up having a relationship with in his late teens? Or how about Heartland - Amy is 15 and Ty is 17 (which is less creepy, but still a huge difference at that age).

The trend is also evident in "adult" horse books. Laura Moore's Chance Meeting has the two main characters meeting when the female lead is 15ish and the male lead is 23! She has a huge thing for him, but nothing happens (other than her making an ass of herself) until later in life for both of them. Yet the age difference is still there.

It did always seem so natural for me - I guess that I assumed non-frivolous horse girl would always go for more mature guy. But from the male perspective, it seems less innocent and obvious and more "chester the molester."

Although if I had to choose between serious horse girl dating an older nice guy and something like Canterwood Crest, where the girls and guys are the same age but so vapid and ridiculous I want to grab a gun and blow them all away, I'll take the creepers!