Friday, April 2, 2010

Leading Ladies in YA and Trend Changing

There’s been recent talk around the blogosphere about, well, for the sake of niceties, weak female protagonists. A group of us got together this week and decided to add our thoughts to this subject, so be sure to check out the other links below for some more discussion!

I’m not going to name anything specific, because I respect every author out there, and despite my personal opinions, have enjoyed most of the books that have been under examination. But I do want to talk about why it would be nice to have more active, kick ass female leads. Because that’s what I, as a YA reader, enjoy reading about most.

Sure, relating to characters is great. I’m all for that. Being realistic, that’s good too. But can we not have a relatable character that is someone who inspires you? Who takes the lead (even at times, with guys)? Who steps up, works through her flaws, maybe kicks some ass on the way (in my books anyway, hee!)? There are some great books I’ve enjoyed that do this and I’ll talk further about it in other posts. But this topic is something I’m really passionate about: strong female leads. When I say strong, I don't mean physically, and sometimes not even emotionally. Sure, the strength factor is always good depending on the kind of story and character you have, but I am drawn to female characters who elude a sense of “I’m going to get through this no matter what” attitude, have their mental/emotional breakdown somewhere in the midst of it all, pull themselves back together, and plod forward. And the big thing for me? Have actually changed through the arc of the story. For the better, or for the worse, there is some significant, obvious difference in the way that girl is at the end of the book, and it has to do, of course, with everything that has happened to that character. Active, not passive.

I am bothered by how some leading ladies allow things to happen—bad things, uncomfortable things—implying that it is okay. Yes, I’m being vague. And yes, I know, these are just books. There are books with murders, books with mobsters, books with things blowing up . . . and some of us like to say that it has no affect on youth. Maybe it doesn’t, maybe it does, I know there are studies out there, but these types of examples are abstract. Murders, mobsters, explosions….that stuff isn’t every day stuff.

But boys and the type of relationship they have with girls?

The image being portrayed with these female protagonists is concrete stuff; stuff that happens on an every day basis to some girl somewhere around the globe. It may not even be a blaring neon sign above them as they read, but if we keep banging them over the head with these types of characters, to the point they are the only types of characters in the young adult market (I’m being general and exaggerating), then subconsciously, it will seep in. What that “it” is, I’ll let you figure out (or assume) because “it” is different for all of us.

Have I been vague enough for you? :D

All of that aside, I enjoy what’s out there in the market. I think it’s good to have a variety of characters. I’m not saying what I think is a “weak” character constitutes a bad book. Because goodness knows, I’ve devoured a lot of books with passive characters in a day. What I am saying is, I really enjoy reading take-charge, work-through/overcome-the-flaws leading ladies (of course, with romance and stuff) and feel we need more of that in the market today.

I’d like to know, what kind of characters are you drawn to?

For more on this subject, check out my lady friends:

Gretchen McNeil

Jennifer Walkup

Shveta Thakrar

Tracey Martin

Debra Driza


  1. Well said, yes - passive characters can be interesting to read about. Why is Cinderella so popular anyway? Because we like to think that good things can happen to people simply by virtue of being good. It's natural.

    But Cinderella as she's portrayed in the movie Everafter is far more interesting. Good things do happen to her, but it's because she makes them happen.

  2. Oh, great example. I LOVE Everafter. And that's exactly why. You want to root for that character, not simply "because", but b/c you see them taking an active role and hope that their determination will pull through.

  3. I agree with you. It's the passivity that rankles me the most. Be good, be bad, but BE SOMETHING! Don't just let your "fate" overtake you. That's so freaking boring.

  4. Awesome post! And totally agree on the passive thing--not only does it make for a weak character, but an exceedingly dull one.

  5. As a teacher, there are certain books I won't even stock in my classroom because of the underlying message they send to kids. I think it's really important to look at that when we're writing books for kids.

  6. I think there are really two types o' females in books these days. type one is passive girlie and, I hate to say it, weak. Type two is basically a boy with *ahem* "different equipment". To be honest both drive me nuts. Its finding the balance that is the tricky part.

    My main may start out passive-ish, but she certainly doesn't stay there. This is after she gets a handle on her new job and her personal life.

    Her constant internal monologue is "Oi! Seriously?!" Short and simple :P

  7. You know, I have LOVED the past 4 or 5 YA books that I've read and I'm just realizing right this second that it's probably because they all had kick ass female protags. No weak, simpering ladies for me.

    If you haven't read them yet, you must check out THE BODY FINDER, BEFORE I FALL and SOME GIRLS ARE. Freaking amazing books.

  8. Great post--and I totally agree--characters that are proactive are always more fun to read about. My MC starts out feeling a little weak, but her strength grows as the story continues. That was kind of the point. Her story is secondary to the main guy MC,but almost just as important, so I definitely didn't want her to let anyone walk on her.

    I agree about the types of books girls read being important. Someone like Katniss (The Hunger Games) or even Clary (Mortal Instruments) is awesome..and much better for young girls to emulate than a passive character.

  9. I agree that a character needs to be taking her own life in hand no matter what is happening. My MC also starts out passive, but an incident changes her and she does change drastically during the book. it was hard keeping the balance between her becoming too aggressive and overbearing and her passive beginning. But the story moves her along while she finds her own groove. There is no violence and she doesn't have a huge blow up, but there is an understanding that is reached at the end that makes all the characters stronger.

    I am happy to say that my publisher, MuseItUp Publishing loved it and it will be out in September, 2011. I think my MC kicks ass because she influences everyone's life with her essential goodness. But she is not perfect and that is okay too.:)

    Also read BEFORE I FALL and it was just chosen as one of PW's 10 Best Children's Books. Though the female character's choices might be counter to what we want our kids to read. I think the male character's development is probably more central to the story.

  10. Hi ChristaCarol
    Good post! I'm glad that you like strong female characters. Me too, and mine often take the romantic lead with their shy guys. Fun to write the protags that way, and I was that way as a teen. Don't wait for something to magically float your way. Stand up and take action.
    I'm following your blog now. Check mine out if you want! I'm at

  11. Great article. I'm working on a YA novel, so this is good to know.

    I'm your new follower. I hope you'll follow back. :-)



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