Saturday, May 12, 2012

Strong YA Heroines

Helpless No More
Strong Heroines in YA

It never ceases to amaze me when you mention YA, some people automatically think of the book Twilight by Stephanie Meyer.  They think all YA books have what I call the Bella syndrome—a teenage girl that whines about how life means nothing unless she has a guy in her life.  In the second book of the Twilight series, Bella spends most of the book in a depressed funk after Edward leaves. She even tried to jump off a bridge to end her life.  She did all of this because her life meant nothing if she didn’t have Edward.  In other words, life without a boyfriend means you are nothing.
What a bad message for teens out there.
Another heroine had to be Buttercup in The Princess Bride, who besides being annoying, waited for love and kind of gave up toward the end.  It was Westley who saved the day.
Thankfully not all YAs do this.  The teens I’ve spoken to love strong heroines that are happy with themselves with or without a significant other.

In TV one strong heroine has to be Buffy the Vampire Slayer:

She’s the one who kicks vampire butt and doesn’t mess around with anyone.  Though the TV series came out in 1997, she now has a cult following.  It’s so big that there’s now a comic book series that can expose a whole new generation to her.

I admit I’m more of a Faith fan:

Yes, she’s slightly disturbed but she’s also multilayered with her own vulnerabilities. The last season of Buffy showed this.  And yes, even Faith now has her own spin-off comic book series where she’s the one helping Angel find redemption.

Hermione in the Harry Potter series is another strong protagonist who doesn’t wait for Harry but rather does her own part of standing up to the dark side.

In recent YA novels there’s some great strong heroines:

One great example of this has to be Katniss in Hunger Games.  She’s not only strong but it’s not a guy but rather the love of her family that motivates her. She volunteers to be a tribute for the games so her younger sister won’t have to do it.  There is a love triangle but only later on in this series.

Tamora Pierce’s books alway have very strong heroines.  One of my favorites has to be Beka Cooper:

She’s a rookie with the law-enforcing Provost's Guard, and she's been assigned to the Lower City to help fight crime.  She’s tough but also has her own vulnerabilities.  Got to love that!

Another outstanding heroine has to be in the recent YA release Grave Mercy:

Ismae flees a brutal arranged marriage and goes to a convent where she’s trained to be an assassin nun.  This is in 1488 when most women didn’t have choices.  An amazing tale.

In my own story Crossed Out, Stephanie doesn’t wait around for someone to help her with her little ability of helping guide the dead to the Otherside.  Even when she does get sidetracked by one hot guy, it’s up to her to stop evil.
With the recent influx of stronger heroines has also come an argument.  If a heroine is strong, will this put the rest of the story in the background? On a Twitter chat the other day, I asked author Robin LaFevers how to take care of this from not happening. She said, “Make sure and give the heroine vulnerabilities and areas in her life where she isn’t strong and in charge.”  Basically give the character layers.  This is one reason why I love these characters so much.  They’re much more than one dimensional.

Are there any other strong protagonists in recent YAs you can think of?

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  1. You've named some very strong protagonists. Great post.

  2. Besides The Hunger Games, no one is really coming to mind, but I'll tell you what. The change to really strong young women is so very welcome. When I was a kid listening to fairy tales, I always wondered why the princess never got to rescue the prince. I always thought that was both annoying and unfair. It was a great day for me when I stumbled across Mrs. Peel in The Avengers! (And I'm glad you're adding to the role models out there.)