Whew! I am on a roll with discussion posts! Okay, 2 in one month doesn’t actually count, but still…
I’m currently in the middle of reading Fire by Kristen Cashore and, like Graceling, it’s starting to make me think about female protagonists in today’s young adult literature. However, unlike Graceling, I’m not thinking about the subject of sex in young adult literature, which is good because that was a whole other discussion topic.
A while back I read something on YA Indie called Why your Female Protagonist Doesn’t Have to Kick-Butt to be Liked and it got me thinking about the truth in this. But then I thought “But I PREFER kick-butt female protagonists!” Because to be quite honest, I really do.
When it comes to my favorite female characters, I often find myself listing women (and girls) of who I think embody what we need to teach younger generations to be: smart, savvy, independent, witty, honest, understanding. Women that, despite flaws, are the heroes in their own lives, who know how to live WITH men, not FOR them, knowing that they don’t need to be rescued in order to be happy. For me, this is the woman that I have striven to be and, for the most part, am.
But then I look at 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 year old me. I look at who I was, before I found my inner girl power. I was awkward and weird, shy, stumbling, floundering. I yearned for a boy to pay half a second’s worth of attention to me and when he did, my heart leaped and I thought all would be right in my world. Okay, that was seriously lame, but it’s true; I was, in short, kind of a loser protagonist in my own world.
I know I’m not alone when I admit that I wasn’t always the fabulous woman I am today, so I wonder: why are we so quick to negatively judge characters who AREN’T kick-butt?
The post mentioned above brings up Bella Swan, who has often become the stereotypical “lame” main character. She complains, she whines, she’s annoying – have you ever spent time with a teenager? They’re all these things and more. (No offense to any teens reading this…) Although the plot is generally unrealistic, I think so many teenage girls ARE like Bella Swan. They’re shy and awkward, but then meet a guy and maybe he becomes their whole life. Do I think something is wrong with this? Of course I do – girls shouldn’t make boys the center of their lives and it be okay – but sadly, it does happen.
Sometimes I think it’s easy to say we hate characters because they don’t fit our idealistic notions of what a main character should be. One example for me is Hannah from Thirteen Reasons Why. I honestly didn’t like her – no, I think I kind of hated her for how weak she was, how she put the blame on everyone but herself, how she wasn’t strong enough to survive. My ideal character would have noticed these problems, sought help, looked at herself, survived. But Hannah is a real character. She’s realistic in that people go through these problems every day and some are like her, not strong enough to hold on.
As an adult reader I think I’m past the age where I need a hero-figure from my books, an example of who I want to be more like, so I’m a little iffy on what I’m about to say. Should younger readers be pushed, encouraged, to read books with idealistic female protagonists – those who are strong, brave, developed, etc. in the face of problems or situations- or should they be encouraged to read books that have more realistic female protagonists – those who are whiney, mean, weak, etc. when faced with problems or situations?
Please note that I’m not really talking about books where the entire premise is for the girl to “catch” a boy or date a boy. That’s a whole other discussion…
I’m interested to know some books that you would recommend to younger readers that you feel would encourage them to become more developed women. Are there any books that contain both a realistic AND idealistic female protagonists that you would suggest? Are there any books you would avoid suggesting?