Beware Boys Bearing Gifts

My best friend’s older brother sat next to me on the sofa. Right up next to me as close as he could. I didn’t want him that close. I was in the 4th grade. He was in the 7th.

“What if I gave you a present?” he said. He had white blonde hair feathered back like Leif Garrett. I got up and moved to the end of the sofa. He got up too and sat down too close to me again.

I shook my head and wished my friend would come back in the room. She was in the kitchen making us a snack. “Why do you want to give me a present?” I asked.

He reached in his pocket and pulled out a necklace–a blue and gold lady bug dangling from a gold-plated chain. “Do you like it?” he asked.

4th grade--surely you can find me
4th grade--surely you can find me

“It’s all right,” I said. “But don’t you want to give that to someone else?” I didn’t want to take it. My mom had already given me several talks about the dangers of boys, not to mention what I heard at school and from my step-sister. But I didn’t want to hurt his feelings either. I was a polite girl and a guest in his home.

He lifted the necklace and put it around my neck, asking me to move my hair. I did, and when he was done he kept one arm around my shoulder. I sat up straighter. He started talking about different things, but I didn’t listen because I was trying to think of a way to get rid of the necklace without annoying him. How was I going to explain the necklace to my dad when I got home? Or my step-sister.

My friend walked into the room with a tray of food and sodas. She looked at us and I burned red. The necklace itched. “I gave her a present,” her brother said.

“No.” I had to fuss a moment with the clasp but I took it off. “I’ll get in trouble. I can’t take it.” I handed it back to him. He refused to take it. “Keep it,” my friend said, letting the tray smack the coffee table. “If that’s what you want.” Unsure what to do, I put it in the pocket of my jeans.

He called me almost every day for two weeks. If I agreed to talk to him, I ignored his invitations to go on a picnic or go swimming. My step-sister told me I should go with him. “He’s cute,” she said.

“I’m in the 4th grade! I don’t go swimming with boys.”

“You’re so stupid,” she said. “He’s not always going to like you if you keep saying no.”

I figured she was right and that I was being rude to him. What could it hurt? He was my best friend’s brother. I resolved to say yes the next time he called. But I still said no.

Finally, one morning when he got on the school bus, he stopped by my seat and punched me in the arm.

My arm still aching when we got to school, I made sure to get behind him as we exited the bus. He looked over his shoulder at me and I shoved him as hard as I could. He left me alone, and his sister and I were no longer friends.

In fiction, bad things happen to characters, but if they are seen as mere victims, they aren’t that sympathetic. Your character has got to do some shoving back even if you keep throwing things at her. Right? I know I have trouble with this in my stories. As the evil author, I do wicked things to my characters, but I have trouble figuring out how far to push them before they get in their punches and jabs. I want readers to cheer a character on, not shout at them to get some backbone.

What stories have you read where the main character was too much of a victim, a big whiner that made you want to throw the book across the room? What makes a character too victimy for you?

6 thoughts on “Beware Boys Bearing Gifts

  1. D.F. Rucci

    In some parts of the Harry Potter series, Harry seemed a bit too victimized. Seeing as all the events that had transpired directly affected him making him weaker, both mentally and physically. However, eventually in the stories he finally gets courage. The one thing I hate is when characters are given a thousand faults and no perks in themselves, when all they have is excessive negativity.

  2. Tom

    The first example brought to mind isn’t in a book, but in a movie translation. The character is Frodo in Jackson’s cut at Lord of the Rings. Tolkien handled the balance of push-push back with a master’s touch, while Jackson created a world-class whiner. I found myself wanting to grab Wood by the shoulder and shake him, screaming “You’re better than this! I’ve read it!”

  3. 1. What is with all the perv boys around you? Why is a 7th grader bothering a 4th grader?

    2. I laughed when you pushed him, so that was a good pushback. It definitely gave a backbone to “the character.”

    In most horror movies, the characters, especially the women, run around screaming. Stop screaming and pick up that axe/baseball bat/gun that is lying there and blow that mofo away you stupid twit! I know that’s not really the question you asked, but it’s what popped in my head, and partly why I don’t like those kinds of movies.

    Actually, I’ve seen so many examples of this issue, not just in fiction, but in life, too, that I’m having a hard time separating them out.

    The victim mentality is a common one. But it is not a heroes mentality, unless the hero overcomes said victimhood. Then you have a story. Someone finding strength inside of themselves is always a good story to me.

  4. Oh, rowena, I’ve thought the same thing (regarding question 1). In fact, my experiences made me reluctant to get involved with the fellow who would is now my husband because I thought–okay, what’s wrong with this one? Nothing so far! Whew. But I do seem to give off a vibe. As for why a 7th grader is bothering a 4th grader, wish I knew. Or maybe I don’t.

    And I’m with you on horror movies. All those stupid screaming women. Ugh.

  5. Wanted to wait to see if someone else would take the plunge on responding to the photo’s caption. Damned if I’m gonna be the first.

    Anyhow: horror movies + victimhood. Yeah! (Thank God the first Scream movie took that stereotype on — even if it did eventually turn into what it was parodying.)

    The whole shoving-back thing is why I find straight-up adventure stories hard to stay interested in. Plot: (wo)man vs. nature. Well cripes; who can shove back at NATURE and win? The best they can do is a standoff. I don’t mind a little irresolution but “…and I’ll never go back there again” doesn’t quite have the ring of conclusion for me, y’know?

    (Now having said that I’m panic-stricken that I might have ended a story pretty much that way in the past.) (Even worse than man vs. nature: man vs. his own memory.)

  6. Pamela

    Reminds me of that phase where I shoved boys who picked on me into lockers.

    I’m annoyed by anyone who doesn’t stand up for themselves, which is interesting when you consider my profession.

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