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The True and Better YA Hero

Guest Blogger: Shannon Stewart

Sometimes I feel like my husband can read my mind. He can ask me, “Do you want McDonald’s or Burger King?” and tell which I want by the expression on my face. It’s nice.

Of course, he loses this ability when my thoughts are hormonally irrational or so tangled up in emotion that even I can’t see the way forward: in other words, at the times I want him to read my mind the most.

Which I guess is why it struck me, as I read through Kristin Cashore’s Graceling, that the love interest can tell what the female protagonist, Katsa, is thinking about him. The love interest in one of our culture’s more rabid recent fads, Twilight, could do the same. These YA novels speak something profound about our desires: a man that can read our minds (and still love us). Shameless wish-fulfillment for women like me!

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Photo by Katinka Haslinger • FreeImages

At first I only used this as a fun party observation to tell other women who would laugh and say, “I know, right?” But as I try to write a mind-reading character myself and read through the Gospel of Luke at the same time, I realize: A man that can read my mind (and still love me)? That’s Jesus.

There’s a great quote I originally heard from Tim Keller (the original source of which is ambivalent) that explains how Jesus is the true and better Adam, Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Job, David, and MORE. All these biblical men foreshadow him or typify him in some way, but all fall short somehow. Jesus perfects their stories.

I got to thinking: how do the love interests we see in YA literature, the ones who draw us so deeply, point to desires that are actually fulfilled in Christ?

The True and Better Mind-Reader

Jesus reads minds all the time. Matthew writes, “But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?” (9:4). Luke relates, “But he knew [the scribes’ and Pharisees’] thoughts” (6:7-8). He often tells parables in response to questions or responds in ways we could never expect, answering the true intent of the heart rather than the literal words spoken.

I realize from writing a mind-reader that it’s incredibly hard not to make her cynical. Think of how cynical I would be if I could read everyone’s thoughts. Yet Jesus was no cynic. He fully knew us, yet truly loved us. He always had the right answer. Even if they don’t read minds, we like our heroes perceptive, sympathetic, wise, clever. Jesus fits all these bills.

The True and Better Prince

Another impulse I’ve noticed in YA novels, especially in romantic ones, is to have the hero be, well, awesome. He’s a prince, or super-talented, or even supernatural—and yet interested, for some reason, in an “average” girl. Twilight milked this to the extreme with the talented, athletic, immortal, handsome, wise, mindreading (bloodsucking) guy who falls for the quite honestly bland Bella. And I love a good prince-falling-for-a-commoner yarn like Cinderella or any of its multifarious YA remakes.

What thrills us about these heroes is the concept of, “How could someone like that love someone like me?” It’s romantic to dream about. It creates a sweet humility, an air of breathless disbelief. And Jesus, infinitely higher than a Disney prince, infinitely more talented than Edward Cullen, infinitely cleverer than Po, is interested in us—even unto death.

The True and Better Sacrifice

No one can resist a sacrificial hero. It’s not only in YA novels, but also in myths from all over the world: the best kind of saving that shows the truest love, is the one that exacts a price most people would find too high to pay. But because of the goodness of that hero, or the great love that he has for the heroine, or both, he makes the sacrifice.

Jesus sacrificed not only rank, but also his very life to win his bride the church. And, though sacrificial deaths leading to miraculous resurrections leading to golden endings are common fare in Disney love stories, they’re popular for a reason. That’s the narrative of history, woven into each heart.

The True and Better…Antihero?

Are antiheroes more what you’re attracted to? Well, Jesus doesn’t have the dark past, the broody personality, or (in some cases) the twistedness. BUT, even with all his aforementioned golden boy qualities, he was still the hero no one expected. He pitted himself against the religious establishment; he ate with sinners. He remained on the fringe his whole life, never accepting the earthly kingship his followers wanted to give him. He was “despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isa. 53:3).

The Truest and the Best

The Jesus Storybook Bible illustrates everything I’ve been saying with beautiful simplicity:

No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne—everything—to rescues the ones he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!

You see, the best thing about this Story is—it’s true.

All these things we find so magnetic in our fictional heroes are already ours in Christ. He didn’t have to make himself available to us this way, but he did. He loved us. And so, to love him is no trifling thing. It’s more exciting than even the best spec fic YA novel: more countercultural, more breathless, and infinitely more real.

Shannon StewartShannon Stewart is a high school English teacher with an MA in English Literature still curled in its mail tube in her closet. The real prize, her love for British fiction, is on exuberant display in her classes each week. So far, she’s completed several of her life goals: naming her two children after fictional characters, getting her husband to play The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and completing her first WIP, the fantasy Callia-Born, this year.


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