Friday, October 17, 2014

Wipe That Smirk Off Your Face

Today's post concerns smug little smiles called smirks. Maybe, right off the bat, you know where I'm going with this.  If so, you probably read a lot of YA, or possibly chick lit.  You possibly follow reader reviews of YA and/or discuss YA books online.  Smirks, you're thinking. Of course. 

If you have no idea what I'm going after, you either don't read a vast amount of girl-oriented YA books, or you do and just aren't bothered by the trend of smirking boys and girls.

Here's the point: Currently in YA literature, a vast amount of characters, particularly love interests, smirk.  It's common enough to be a trend, and a large number of readers find it irritating.

I decided to write a post on the smirking issue, when, reading the first chapter of hugely anticipated The Red Queen, I read these lines:
The tiniest pressure at my waist makes me spin, acting on instinct. I grab at the hand foolish enough to pickpocket me, squeezing tight so the little imp won’t be able to run away. But instead of a scrawny kid, I find myself staring up at a smirking face.
Aah! I said to myself. There it is again. 

Once you notice it, you start seeing the smirks everywhere — particularly in books with romantic plots or subplots. Particularly in the moments when the love interest is first introduced.

Here, from Hex Hall:
I turned. Leaning against a tree, his collar unbuttoned and tie loose, was a smirking guy. His Hecate blazer was hanging limply in the crook of his elbow.
Here, from Fallen Crest High:
Now I understood why so many gossiped and whispered about the Kade brothers. The hairs on the back of my neck stood straight up and my eyes were locked with his in some sort of battle... [He] smirked at me.

In the above quotes, including the one from The Red Queen, we see three examples of a "romantic hero" being unveiled.  This moment says a lot about a character — first impressions and all.  Why, then, is smirking considered so especially attractive that it warrants such attention?

Firstly, smirks are indicative of attitude and might thus be considered edgy. Secondly, smirking connotes superiority and is suggestive of confidence. Thirdly, a smirk indicates that the wearer finds something amusing, hinting at a sense of humor.

These are all good attributes, so I can understand why authors describe their romantic leads as "smirking" and why readers appreciate these smirkers. (This is me being fair and balanced.)

I, however, and a lot of other readers, find the word and the trend distasteful. To me, the act of smirking connotes a nasty kind of confidence — the kind that comes from putting down or belittling other people. It's mocking and douche-y and aggressive. And to top it off, "smirk," a pretty distinctive word, appears over and over and over again in YA lit.

From Gates of Thread and Stone:
“But you still suck at conversation.” I frowned, and he smirked at my reaction.
From Perfect Chemistry:
"Scratch what I said." Enrique points to me with a smirk on his face. "You're a dumbass. And you'll soon be a dumbass without a ride."

From The Book of Broken Hearts:
“Emilio took a step toward me, his smirk widening. “Whatever you say, princesa. But if you’re gonna work very closely with me, you better stop dressing like that.” 
All of the above quotations feature smirkers who are the love interests in their respective novels.  However, I would like to note that while its more common for male characters and romantic leads to offend by smirking, while I was searching for quotations, I came across many instances of female characters and protagonists smirking douche-ily.

From Throne of Glass:
“Don’t you look at me like that,” he warned, and his hand drifted back toward his sword. Celaena hid her smirk this time.
From Saving June:
“Joplin’s not so infallible after all, huh?” I smirk at him. “What’s with that name, anyway?” 

Another reason that I've come to loathe the presence of the word "smirk" in novels is because of the conversation and bustle surrounding the trend. Now, when I read about a character smirking in a book, I'm completely jolted out of the narrative.  I think of all the smirkers that have come before.  I take a moment to wonder why authors are continually drawn to the word "smirk" in describing their characters. I weigh whether the word is appropriately or inappropriately used. Smirking is becoming the Wilhelm Scream of YA lit.

What about you, readers?  Are you bothered by smirking.  Unmoved by the trend?


  1. I love this post!! There is definitely a lot of smirking and now I'll notice it even more! Another noticeable one is when the character lets out a breath they didn't know they were holding. That cracks me up everytime ;)

    1. Thanks, Eileen! I hadn't really caught letting out the breath (they didn't know they were holding) thing yet. So now it'll start popping out at me! There really are so many writing tropes that are kind of silly. Like, finding someone so beautiful, your chest aches. Find a doctor, girl, whether it be a cardiologist, psychiatrist, whatever!