I have a confession to make. I’m addicted to broken boys. Now before you start getting all “but can’t you see how BAD he is for you. You deserve better etc” let me clarify; I’m only addicted to fictional broken boys. My real life boy is actually a relatively unbroken grown man. When I was a broken girl I definitely had a predilection for broken boys but I outgrew that, along with my predilection for fingerless gloves and brown lipstick.
But, oh how I love to wallow in books about broken boys. Broken boys are like cooking chocolate to me, dark and bitter, but sweet and addictive. I could read a broken boy book every day and still not be sad enough. I’ve read so many broken boy books of late that I think I’m becoming a leading expert in the field. I’m also starting to see some commonalities with my sweet little fractured heroes. That’s not to say that these books are derivative of each other – I love all these books and each is unique – only that perhaps the authors are tapping into some universal truth about boys and angst. Maybe there are some things teachers and therapists, probation officers and judges, social workers and doctors could learn from the broken boy book phenomenon.
In this spirit I’d like to offer the below as a kind of introductory analysis of broken boys, both fictional and maybe real, for anyone who has boys, cares about boys or loves boys, broken or not.
1. Broken Boys jerk off
A given, I know. ALL boys jerk off. But for some reason only broken boys admit it. Charlie, in THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER even seems to discover the wondrous possibilities of jerking off in the course of the book. “Wow!” he writes to his friend. Josh in BOY TOY jerks off about his teacher, Matt in PERSONAL EFFECTS jerks off about his best friend and Tyler in TWISTED jerks off about the most popular girl in school. Poor armless Lucius in CRAZY BEAUTIFUL explains that he has to jerk off “very carefully”. Okay guys, we get it. You have a close and personal relationship with your family jewels. Ahem. Let’s move on.
2. Broken boys get awkward erections
Speaking of family jewels, broken boys seem to have rather unpredictable ones. Maybe this is pretty much every boy too, but broken boys angst about this. As a girl, this has always fascinated me. The only thing I can possibly have to compare it to is when I was five months pregnant with my daughter and she started moving around inside me. Is that what it’s like? Having something alive and sentient in your boxers? Broken boys usually run away or clam up when it happens so perhaps I’ll never know.
3. Broken boys have been abused or neglected
In all seriousness, it is estimated that up to 100% of boys in juvenile detention have been abused or neglected in some way. One in six boys has been sexually abused. At least 20% of boys have been bullied. Fictional broken boys are no exception. Whether sexual or physical abuse, by parent, relative or other trusted adult or the abuse (sexual or otherwise) that we euphemistically call “bullying” broken boys make it clear. Abuse breaks boys just as much, maybe more than it does girls. Neglect breaks boys too. All the boys in my broken boy list have been victims. Josh in BOY TOY is molested, Jason in CRAZY is bullied, Matt in PERSONAL EFFECTS is beaten up by his dad. Many fictional broken boys carry a terrible secret about abuse that they must face in the course of the story. Many of them are so neglected that they have converted that loveless existence into crippling self-hate.
4. Broken boys have experienced death
Death is a common theme in YA fiction but never more painfully so than in broken boy books. Breckon in MY BEATING TEENAGE HEART is grieving the death of his sister. The titular BOY21 witnessed the murder of his parents. Matt in PERSONAL EFFECTS lost his brother in the war. CRAZY’s Jason lost his mom. Death hurts everyone but broken boys’ grief is debilitating.
5. Broken boys make mistakes
All boys make mistakes, but broken boys make doozies. TWISTED’s Tyler gets busted for vandalizing his school. PERSONAL EFFECTS’ Matt gets into fights. CRAZY BEAUTIFUL’s Lucius blows his own hands off for god’s sake. Mikey in YOU AGAINST ME makes questionable choices when it comes to sex. There are a lot of ways to screw up as a teenage boy and broken boys take advantage of pretty much all of them. And they know remorse too. One of the things that make broken boys so lovable is that they are not afraid to express their emotions, on the page at least.
6. Broken boys are on the run
Maybe my favorite broken boy of all, UNWIND’s Connor is literally running for his life. We never really learn why and how Connor became the screw up that his parents decided to “unwind” but we certainly feel his fear. “I’ll do anything you want,” he says to a trucker who finds him stowing away. Older readers understand what this means, even if the author doesn’t spell it out. Miguel in WE WERE HERE is on the run too, from the past, from juvie and from himself. Some broken boys don’t literally run. THE SPECTACULAR NOW’s Sutter numbs himself with alcohol so he doesn’t have to face up to his life.
7. Broken boys have bad dreams
Recurrent dreams form a big part of some broken boy books. In EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS, Lucky repeatedly visits his POW grandfather in dreams, trying, but never quite succeeding in rescuing him. Josh in BOY TOY has repeated wet dreams about his abuser – that would mess you up wouldn’t it? And in CRAZY, Jason has terrifying dreams of drowning or being buried alive that make him wet the bed.
8. Broken boys have bodily functions
Speaking of wetting the bed, broken boys are not shy about sharing their bodily functions with the reader. While broken girls seldom seem to even eat, much less pee or poo, broken boys do all of the above. BOY TOY’S Josh pees in the laundry sink. YOU AGAINST ME’s Mikey claims he can think better after taking a dump. Ew. TMI, guys, really.
9. Broken boys are healed by love
Maybe this isn’t always a feature for real-life broken boys. The reality is that a lot of real life broken boys end up in jail, or dead from suicide or drugs. Some end up on death row. But stories often have happy endings. BOY TOY’s Josh is healed by his loving girlfriend. Charlie in THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER and Jason in CRAZY are both healed by new friendships. Breckon’s life depends on a ghost. Miguel learns to love and forgive himself. This is the one time I wish broken boy book boys were real. So I could tell that that I love them too.
I love you Connor; I would never unwind you! I love you Charlie, even if your breath smells like smoke. I love you BOY21 and I believe you! I love you Breckon, Tyler, Sutter, Josh, Jason, Lucius, Mikey, Miguel, Matt, Lucky. I love you all! I want to bring you home and make you soup and tell you everything will be all right! I love every broken little thing about you!