14 February 2012

My Imaginary Boyfriends

Calvin O'Keefe.  Jeff Greene.  Joe Willard.  Stan Crandall.

Scholastic's Blog has me thinking about my first loves.

Joe Willard was the responsible,
mature man in Deep Valley.
Even without the bibliophilic inspiration, of course my first crushes were from books.  Looking back on it, I'm surprised I can't come up with a longer list.  Whatever was drawing me into all those hours of reading must have been the plots or the themes or the settings or something, 'cause it wasn't the characters.

Except for some of them.

When I read them as a kid, all of the guys in my favorite books were wise beyond their years, masters of any situation--and this was pretty much what I thought guys must be like in general.  So, in jr high or high school, if a guy I liked didn't ask me out (despite the rumor mill's assurance that he wanted to), I had no idea that he might be shy or scared of rejection or waiting for me to pick up on some of his more obvious hints and give him a smidgen of encouragement.  No, if a guy I liked wasn't asking me out, it must be because he wasn't interested.
Jeff Greene woo'd Dicey
--and me--with American
roots music.

That must have been hella wishful thinking on my part.  'Cause I've read all those books as many times as an adult as I did as a kid--which is a lot--and what I love about the books now is how none of the characters are perfect. The guys in the stories are excellent, yes, but excellent teenage boys, not paragons of maturity and wisdom.

Jeff, the boy in love with Dicey in one of my favorite books ever, is comfortable around Dicey's family and always says the right thing--except that he doesn't; he's awkward and unsure of himself and the only reason their friendship goes anywhere is because Dicey occasionally gets out of her own head enough to meet him halfway.  Joe Willard, who ends up married to my imaginary best friend Betsy Ray, is handsome and talented--but he's prickly and officious and gets offended at the drop of a hat, which is why it takes him and Betsy five books to actually get together and stay together.

Or take Stan Crandall, the love interest in the first romance novel I ever read.  The whole point of Stan Crandall is for Jane Purdy to figure out that despite his height and smarts and charm, he's not a Lord of Creation (to borrow Louisa May Alcott's turn of irony)--he's a kid, like her, and one of the big things they have in common is an overabundance of self-consciousness.

Which brings us back around to Calvin O'Keefe.  (And Josiah Davidson.  And Adam Eddington, be still my heart, Adam Eddington.  And, oh, Queron Renier.  And almost--almost--every other young man ever thought up by Madeleine L'Engle.)

Adam Eddington somehow managed
to be the boy next door and
unattainable all at once, while
Zachary Gray brings out the amateur
shrink in all of us.
Even on re-reading as an adult, Calvin is as close to perfect as a human can conceive.  He's popular but doesn't let it go to his head.  He's completely sure of himself, to the point of being able to tell Meg "what dreamboat eyes" she has, within hours of their first meeting.  He's come to grips with his dysfunctional family at a ridiculously young age.  And while the biographical details of each differ, L'Engle's heros are the only guys from my favorite books that match my youthful idealization.

Which is why, as an adult, my favorite L'Engle Guy is Zachary Gray, who never made my list of crushworthy characters.  Zachary is, at least in the books I've read the most, a cautionary tale about the tendency to get into relationships with people who need a lot more care than a teenager can hope to give.  His function is generally to be the bad-boy temptation and get rejected--for excellent reasons--by the protagonist, and the fact that he's smart, rich, sensitive, and handsome, yet bad for a girl, makes him among the most complex male characters in the L'Engle canon.

Paying it forward: who were your teenage literary crushes?  If you've re-read those books lately, how do they hold up to your memories?


  1. Yes, Zachary Gray is really one of those characters that gives you new insight into Madeline L'Engle's genius when you re-read those books in adulthood. Brings out the amateur shrink in us is right!

    Gilbert Blythe (from Anne of Green Gables and the sequels) will always have a special place in my heart. Though his carrots comment still gets under my skin...

    1. Elizabeth, Gilbert was in this post originally! Then I realized my love for him came more from the movie versions than from the books, so he didn't really count.

  2. You're so right. Movie-version Gil is the true charmer. I saw that actor more recently in the fabulous TV show Slings and Arrows (about a Shakespeare festival in Canada). His character was so (hilariously) different!