Wednesday, March 23, 2011

He Can't Handle the Truth!

Okay, so I'm terrified of today's post, but I asked for it. Give a warm welcome to Mr. J aka, my husband. I'd give you a whole bio complete with picture, but well, I don't really have one. He teaches sixth grade, and he puts up with me. That should be all the bio you need. Ha!

And he's tackling protags in YA fiction... so *gulp* here we go.

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It’s not that I don’t like teen fiction; it’s just that it scares me. Or, to be more specific, the protagonists scare me. Now I don’t mean to offend anyone here. I’m truly curious to know if my point of view is inaccurate in some way. Elana and I have argued this point many times (true) and I think I’ve finally convinced her I’m right. At least that’s what I tell myself in order to successfully fall asleep at night. (Ha!)

Why don’t I like the protagonists? Simply put, I don’t want my daughter, or the girls I teach, turning out like many of the female protags I see in teen novels. This point of view stems back to my first and only reading of Twilight. (For the record, I liked Twilight, and this is in no way a free pass for anyone to bash Twilight.) I was surprised that so many people loved a book whose main character is a young girl basing her entire self worth on the attention of a dude.

My concern is that many teen novels are filled with examples of unhappy or unfulfilled adolescent girls who are waiting for some pubescent boy to come along and make them feel good about themselves. Really? That’s not the woman I married or the kind of girl I’d like my son to fall in love with. My Elana is tough. She’s strong. She’s beautiful and quite frankly magnificent! Our lives twist and turn together as we support each other and try to build each other up. I hope to be a compliment to her. But never do I think I made her. I just try to keep up!

I want my daughter and my young students to read about girls and women like that! I want my boys to want to be around females like that! Is that so wrong?

Of course, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there are some YA novels filled with examples of strong teenage girls. Perhaps all of Elana’s loyal readers (thank ye) can help me understand if this is my problem or an actual issue with the genre. Point out the error of my ways. I CAN handle the truth!

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So...can he handle the truth?? Are YA novels somewhat centered on girls looking for validation? Someone to love them? Can they love themselves without being reassured by a boy? Lots of things here, people. Discuss (nicely).

65 comments:

Anita Saxena said...

As a teen and as a adult I read a book if I like the story. I don't think twice about the kind of person the protagonist is, nor have I ever felt that a character in a book would affect me as a person. Yes, Bella was infatuated with Edward, but I believe there was a supernatural element plus some fate involved here. Not just girl can't live without boy. Also Bella had some good qualities. She is self sacrificing (almost to a fault) and cares intensely about her family and friends. I love this topic. Great post.

LM Preston said...

Hey, I feel the same as your husband. Therefore I write strong girls are an equal if not leading counterpart in awesome adventures. But truth be told, every now and then I love to read about the clingy, need the man to save me, girly girl.

Theresa Milstein said...

1. How cool you guest posted.

2. I won't bash Twilight, but the protagonist... don't get me started. I also don't want girl when she becomes a teen to need to define herself by a boy.

I teach 13 and 14-year olds. I have this on my cart, especially for the girls:

http://celebs.icanhascheezburger.com/2010/12/15/funny-celebrity-pictures-twilight-fans-just-sayin/

3. I love how you describe Elana and your relationship. It made me teary.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I totally agree that we want our daughters to grow up as strong and independent. I am and that's what I want for my daughter.

I think you're wrong to judge all female characters by Twilight or YA chic/romance novels. The main characters in dystopian, fantasy, and paranormal are all strong characters that would be good role models. Check out The Iron Daughter series by Julie Kagawa, Paranormalcy by Kiersten White, and Elana's book. I can't imagine her main character is a wimp. In these books, there's a love interest but the main female character is still strong.

Hope you'll come around and thanks for sharing today. It's great meeting you.

Heather Kelly said...

As a teen, I needed a good escape. I needed to feel as though I could go and be someone completely different from me for a time, and come out the other side, ready to handle what life was throwing me. Being a teen isn't easy, and while I wouldn't want anyone to aspire to be Bella or whoever, I do think that it is okay to have escapism through books.

That being said, I like my own protagonists to grow into strong independent girls. And I'm a little wiggy about the whole disney, damsel in distress phenomenon that I witness with my five-year-old girl. Let's just say that I see both sides of this coin.
:)

Candyland said...

This is a great post and Twilight is a perfect example. I am not a fan of a protag who bases her self worth on a boy. I like strong characters that fight for what they want (outside of boy land) and become stronger and (eventually) realize they don't need anyone to believe in them, because they finally believe in themselves.

kellyhashway said...

There are strong female protagonists out there. I'm thinking Chloe of The Darkest Powers series by Kelley Armstrong, Max from the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson, Zoe from The House of Night series by PC Cast. I tend to read books with strong female MCs. So Mr. J, write THAT female. I'd love to read it.

Donna Weaver said...

I like strong females, too, as I am one. But I also remember those very insecure teen years, where I was full of self-doubt and had zero self esteem. Even strong girls have those moments because becoming strong isn't something that happens overnight. Life tends to force you to be strong or leaves you as chopped liver.

I've never liked liver.

As to Bella in Twilight, I think she's stronger than she's given credit for (though I hope mothers of daughters who read the series talk to their girls about the difference between fantasy and reality in the whole 'isn't it romantic that he used to watch her sleep at night' element of Edward's courtship [albeit fitting for a vampire] because if any guy was sneaking into my house to watch my daughter sleep had dang well better be prepared to deal with guns and nunchuks--that's restraining order stuff). Being strong doesn't mean you never doubt yourself. I hate the way she grieved when Edward left her, but she was in the process of pulling herself out of that and building a life for herself again. And let's be real here--she was a bit of a pit bull when it came to getting what she wanted.

Catherine Denton said...

YES!! I wholeheartedly agree! I've had this exact discussion with my two teenage daughters.
My Blog

A. Grey said...

Mr. J you are a genius!

That said, I think that there are teen book out there with strong female protags who might fall in love but aren't defined by that love (the first two that pop into my head are Kristen Cashore's Gracling and Fire) but I think they're sort of being pushed aside for what's 'hot' in the market right now.

And what seems to be 'hot' at the moment, is romance, woven into the plot of whatever story is being told. If the girl/guy isn't facing love angst, apparently they aren't a 'real' example of what teenagers go through.

Others might disagree but I'm just putting out my own opinion, and part of that is based off actual feedback from a couple of agents who said (paraphrased) 'I worry that your protagonist is not as relatable as she could be. If she had a stronger attachment to someone, a love interest maybe, she would be more relatable to your target audience. As she is, she comes across as cold and distant.'

Now, I'm still trying to get an agent. I'm not a pro. My protag got an overhaul, and the story is WAY better now. This was good feedback.

But part of me will always be subversively irked - even if I sell this book and it's a wild success - that my protag's appeal was questioned specifically because she didn't originally have a 'love interest/conflict' I mean, the entire story is about the fact that this girl has made it on her own through an apocalypse, but now she needs to learn that no matter how strong you are on your own, you need friends. The last thing she needed was a complicated love triangle. Love was already part of the story, but according to those agents, it wasn't a big enough part. So now it's got more limelight, and I do love the story, I haven't done anything I regret, it just bugs me.

Sorry, that was rather ranty... but I'm so with you, Mr. J. I WAS one of those girls who went off and had adventures and never once doubted my own worth just because I didn't have a string of boyfriends trailing me. And I don't want my protags (either the ones I write, or the ones I read about) to writhe through pages and pages of agony because a guy stood them up for a coffee date.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I was THAT girl in high school. My lack of self worth was partly defined by the guys lack of interest in me. Turns out that wasn't totally true. There were some guys interested in me, but because I was so shy, they thought I was stuck up. Only I didn't learn that until later.

I don't see girls in YA novels being like that. That would make for one dull plot if that's all that was going on. Usually there's a bigger storyline going on, which shows how the mc is growing in other ways. In the end, her selfworth isn't measured by whether or not she nabs the guy in the story.

Megan said...

I think it comes down to the books you choose to read. There are a lot of strong female protagonists out there - the Hunger Games trilogy, the Study series, XVI, just to name a few. But I do get your point. There are also a lot of weak, lovesick protagists and yes, this is not necessarily the best message to be sending young girls, but at the same time, sometimes you just want a feel good love story, not as an example of how to live your life, but just to add a bit of happiness to your day. Sometimes a book is just a book.

Laura Pauling said...

So many good points and great discussion! I think there are lots of books out there with strong protagonists in all different YA genres. Depends on which book you read. Yes, anything written and based on Twilight has that same Bella character who needs a boy to define her worth. Unfortunately, there are many high school girls that think that way - and women! But I think that comes more from parenting and other influences than being influenced by fiction. i could be wrong.

I do think that it makes a good opportunity to talk with teens about self worth. Gosh, this broaches such a huge topic. So many teen girls equate sex with love and are ultimately disappointed in the end. I'll stop there. All I'll say is that strong female protags rock!

Thanks for sharing Mr. J.

KarenG said...

Well the problem is that so many teen girls are like this, and maybe they're the ones at home sobbing under the covers and reading these books. But there are many more who are NOT. And as the mother of 8 sons, I can tell you that the emotionally-stable, not looking for girls to victimize teen boys avoid those needy, boy crazy girls and are attracted to the happily self-confident ones. Someone should right THAT book. And I realize this comment is full of rash generalizations but oh well, you get the point.

Matthew MacNish said...

Amen, brother!

I'm a dad of two daughters and I feel the same way. Sure, they read and enjoyed Twilight, and I don't really think there is anything wrong with that, but I'm glad that they moved on and are now even a little annoyed by all the hype.

Personally I think you're only partly right. There are a lot of YA books out there with weak female MCs who base their happiness on their love interest, and they seem to sell pretty well. But there are also books that don't fit that mold, books that inspire, books that move, books that chew you up and spit you out.

I think the key here is for parents to read what their children read. I've read the first Twilight novel and I was very glad to be able to talk to my kids about it when they had questions.

Nice to met you Mr. J!

Melissa said...

Your husband clearly loves you!!

And, well, in SOME respects I agree with him. I'm not a big fan of the weak girls in fiction -- I wouldn't have been friends or associated with them in highschool. I'm a firm believer that you have to love yourself before you could possibly love anyone else. There ARE good books out there though, with strong females. I don't think it's fair to generalize YA based on Twilight (which, while I enjoyed the book, has the weakest MC I've ever read)

Kelly said...

I liked Twilight, I did. But Bella always bugged me how dependent she was on Edward and I was always Team Jacob because he was less controlling than Edward. So yes, I definitely felt similar about that female protag.
I like strong female protags as well. Go Katniss! There is room for good stories about strong females, and females who tend to base their well being on their relationship status. Because there are both kinds of girls in real life.
I think you have a very sweet hubby, Elana, that obviously thinks the world of you!

Liza said...

I haven't read a lot of YA, but I've read the entire Twilight Series...and had long conversations with my 17-year-old daughter about Bella's subservience to Edward. So, AMEN to you Mr. J. That said, having been a teenage girl, I'm sorry to say that the overriding importance in life at that time was acquiring a boyfriend...and the market is only responding to what sells. This is a chicken or an egg thing. Do girls consider themselves incomplete without a love interest because of what they see and read; or does the market support these books because girls continue to buy them? Both I suspect.

So here's an idea. Mr. J. Would you please write a book?

Bohemienne said...

Unfortunately, that IS all too often the case. Even in the stories with kick-ass confident heroines, she never seems truly fulfilled until she gets the guy. Or chooses between the guys. So many guys, always so many guys.

There's nothing wrong with a great romance. But it doesn't need a role in every single book. And please, please, please make your heroine amazing on her own. She shouldn't need a boy to make her awesome--she should already BE awesome, which makes it all the more understandable that the guy would be into her. Because she doesn't need him, right?

~Jamie said...

Rosemary Clement-Moore's Prom Dates from Hell is a GREAT example of paranormal YA with a strong female protag!

Unfortunately, I don't think they sell as well because girls want to read about someone who is LESS awesome than them but still gets the boy in the end. It gives them hope!

Lori M. Lee said...

I have to agree with your husband. Books with females who only identify themselves by having a crush on a boy turn me off.

Ishta Mercurio said...

DUDE! Blogger ate my comment. It was probably too long, so here's the abridged version:

I like this post! You ask some good questions.

I think the key here is that we have to recognize the discrepancy between what we want our kids to read (good books with good messages) and what they want to read (books with characters who tap into their deepest fears and desires, and whom they can relate to). Unfortunately, once our kids start leaving the house unaccompanied, we don't really get to decide what they read anymore. They decide. And while they have picked The Hunger Games and Paranormalcy (and those books are out there), which have strong female protags, they have also overwhelmingly picked books with characters like Bella.

It's not that the books with strong female protags aren't out there. The girls just aren't reading them as much.

I think this is because of their hormones, frankly. Teenagers = raging hormones that make them defy authority/question their identity/want to strike out on their own/want to have sex. I think the last hormonal response is probably the strongest for a lot of teens. My guess is that there's a primal/survival thing at play there, but that's just a guess.

Can we control what they read? No. But can we talk to them about it, get them thinking, ask them what it is that makes them want to read this stuff and ask them to think about what decisions they might make in a similar situation? Hell to the yes.

I think it boils down to reading what your kids are reading, and keeping the lines of communication open.

Also: our culture is saturated with images of women whose focus is on getting it on with a guy. "My Humps" by the Black Eyed Peas? The Pussycat Dolls? This is part of it too.

Also, and unrelated, but based on the title of this blog post: do I detect a Castle fan? Or is it just a coincidence?

Moonwillow said...

The last "teen novel" I read was Twilight. I'm not sure if I agree that Bella's significance was defined by Edward. However, I do agree and I would like young girls to be betrayed as confident and magnificent w/o the adoration of a young suitor.

Katie Mills said...

This is a really great point and one that I've seen discussed elsewhere on the sphere as well. Basically I think we tend to focus on one part of the story instead of seeing the whole picture. YES girls want a guy who will make them feel good about themselves. Who doesn't? But that's not all they want and in most cases of a book focusing on a relationship, the mc's other thoughts and goals tend to be pushed to the sidelines. In the case of bella the dull, I like to think she always wanted to find a nice guy, get hitched and have a kid. That the guy happend to be a vampire and the baby a life sucking alien-like hybrid was just icing on the cake.

lynnrush said...

Great post! I like this insight. I've never really thought about it this so closely, to tell you the truth.

I just read the stories to escape. I can see your point.

Hopefully the girls reading any kind of book have parents who are right along side them helping them see past the "need to cling to a guy for self-worth."

I enjoyed this post! Thanks.

Bish Denham said...

I have to agree with your husband, which is probably why I'm strongly attracted to MGs! All that teen-aged angst makes me nervous. I didn't understand it as a teen and I still don't. (I'm not saying I didn't have angst, I did, tons of it. It was just different. I couldn't relate to the girls at all.)

Brigitte said...

I completely agree. But as great as a strong female character is, it's always nice to reveal some of their weaknesses. It makes them believable and the story less predictable.
I was going through my local bookstore the other day and I also noticed most of the synopsizes in the YA section started by bragging on about how different their protagonist is. Maybe they're supposed to do it that way, but I just prefer reading about a character I can relate to, and their biggest secret or the thing that makes them special is something I can find out as I read along.
I hope my comment was helpful. x)

Mary said...

Awesome post, Mr. J! I completely agree - I want my students (girls and guys alike) to read about strong, independent girls (and guys!), not doormats or people who depend on others for their happiness. It's all about image and self confidence and I love the books that promote that (like your wife's!).

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

yeah i agree with many of your hubby's points. I do think there are plenty of YA books out there (twilight included) that sends the wrong message to girls. That tells them, you need to have a boyfriend to be successful in life. And if he does things like dismantle your car so you can't visit your friends, well he only does that cuz he loves you.
I can't stand that kind of stuff.
BUT - i don't think even half of the YA market are books like those. Almost all of the books i read in YA have strong women who don't cater to boys.
And also, teens are teens. Even if what they're feeling is misguided, they're still feeling it, and as writers, we need to do what's write for the characters first.

Michelle Merrill said...

Agreed. And may I say that from reading this, I can tell that Elana picked a great man.

A. You care about what your daughter reads and how teen protags will affect her future as well as your son's future girl picks. That's not wrong. That's rockin' awesome.

B. You care about your students and what they're reading.

C. You're right about protag's being the way they are. Yes, there are some that are tough and strong like dear Elana right from the start, but most of the others have to learn to be like that. Hopefully by the end of the book they have. And hopefully that is what teens can focus on. That even though the protag has certain problems they change and take control.

I don't know what to say about the dude attention problem. I've definitely seen that and it makes me a little worried for my four daughter's as well. Let's just say, I'm a little picky at what media they are exposed to.

Thanks for the post.

Shari said...

I agree with what Candyland said. The relationship with the boy should be a side to her growth and belief in herself. I've actually written a novel just like that.

Jenn Johansson said...

I think the books you are looking for are out there, you just have to know where to look. I tend to enjoy books where the boy doesn't make the girl awesome, but helps her realize how cool she already is. Those are my faves. :)

Stephanie McGee said...

Read Tamora Pierce's books. Her female MC's aren't always in situations that mesh with my personal beliefs, but those can be teaching moments. Her female protags tend to be very strong and definitely don't rely on attention from men to feel secure in their self-worth.

Kathryn Packer Roberts said...

I agree with everything he said. (What a great husband btw!) I think I was a little like Bella Swan, feeling like I 'needed' a boy to like me for validationg, but I really don't want my girls to be in the place I was. My life was pretty hard, and I wish I didn't think about boys so much. It took me all the way until I got married to really concentrate on the other things I cared about accomplishing, being ambitious in another way besides just wanting to snag a great husband. I think female protags should have more substance than that. What are they passionate about? What is their point?

Now I'm going to have to double check my MS to make sure I follow what I preach. =)

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Wow. A sixth-grade teacher AND a thoughtful reader. Elana, you've got it made!

I also feel a number of the girls I read in YA are too dependent on boys for their identity. It's good to see strong female leads appearing more and more, and not just the kung-fu variety. Nothing against the toughies like Katniss and Katsa (I love those two), but I like seeing strong girls who aren't warriors, just everyday people.

T C Mckee said...

I feel the same way. I want the same thing for my own daughters, but unfortunately, a lot of teenage girls can relate to books that show a weaker version. Seeing how one of those characters survives their troubles seems to give some of them hope. I like books that show strength but also growth. I want girls to see that they're not sentenced to be an outcast or to be unloved. I like books that reveal that discovery. Great post.

Little Ms J said...

Now I have two Mr. J's to love!

I agree, Elana's husband. To an extent. I do hate weak characters and loved Bella until I saw her on film. The problem is that so many girls relate to a character who pines after love. I remember doodling boy's names all over my folders in school and doing stupid stuff to get their attention. And I was a strong girl. I think the death/immortality thing took it to another level, gave it a life all it's own, but hey - someone has to sell books, right? I think a smart girl can read a piece of fiction and still be self aware and separate herself from the weak, the feeble minded, whatever. If she can't then she's going to spend some time in therapy as an adult.

Tracey Neithercott said...

I'm not a fan of books in which the protagonist's world is a boy and nothing more. But I don't think that's all YA. Katsa from Graceling comes to mind. Sure, there's a boy. But she's tough and definitely doesn't base her self-worth on whether or not he likes her.

LTM said...

I think it's more getting lost in the concept of Love and their emerging hormones. :D LOL! Seriously, though. It's more a matter of not knowing what to do with or being overwhelmed by feelings, infatuation, whatever.

I think it's a very real thing, which is why it's so popular. But it is troubling. Is there a cure?

Hell, I don't know! :D I do try to show characters arcing, gaining control, maybe more self-confidence... But that's just me. Great post, Elana's hubs~

Nichole Giles said...

I agree that it's dangerous for anyone (girl or boy) to look for validation in another person. But some people do. I think that's the reason some books become so popular--because the audience can relate.

Recently, though, I've read several books with strong protagonists, who are capable of making decisions themselves, of taking care of themselves, and who are able to discover their own self worth. But not just that. I think sometimes human beings can be strong and good, but always made even better as a complimentary team--as you two clearly are.

Maybe that's what we're all looking for in a story?

Katie Ganshert said...

This is pure awesomeness. LOVE it. Especially how you describe your wife!

I agree about Bella. Totally agree. Yet something in me still loves that flippin' series....even though the intelligent part of my brain knows she is turning her entire life upside down all for a boy. It's obsessive love and I'm not so comfortable with teen girls reading about it.

Robin Weeks said...

There are all kinds of girls out there. There are kick-butt hardened heroines like Katniss and there are physically weaker, less self-confident, self-sacrificing girls like Bella. Why should we confine YA fiction to only one kind of heroine? Don't we want the clingy, co-dependant girls to have fictional characters to relate to?

I loved Twilight, and I don't agree that Bella was defined by her relationship to Edward. That's what the story was about, sure--but that's the nature of a romance, folks: it's about the boy getting with the girl. Why doesn't anyone talk about how unhealthy Edward's obsession with Bella was for him? He's this multi-talented immortal with a loving family and he's prepared to throw it all away upon the loss of his love. Compared to Edward's obsession, Bella's ability to defy him and even fall in love with Jacob proves she refused to be defined by her relationship.

But even if she was a co-dependant weakling--Twilight obviously opens the door for parents and teachers to discuss that sort of thing with teens who might be prone to unhealthy relationships. If it opens a discussion, I call it good.

Sierra Gardner said...

I completely agree with your husband. This might not be an issue for adults reading YA, but the books I read as a kid are indelibly impressed in my mind and influenced who I grew up to be. Sometimes I worry that we are so busy putting 'real' characters into YA that we forget to give teens someone to look up to. I remember reading Girl of the Limberlost as a pre-teen and looking up to the MC because she managed to be a strong and good person when life treated her really poorly. Those are the kind of characters I want to write.

Laura said...

My oldest brother really liked the movie Tangled because it showed a princess who wasn't a Damsel in Distress, and she actually saved the guy a couple of times too, even though she had some self-esteem issues.
I think that there are both kinds of female protags and many more in between because there are many different types of people out there that can relate to them.
One of my favorite strong female protags is Cimorene from The Enchanted Forest Chronicles. She goes out looking for dragons because she doesn't want to be a "proper Princess." =)

Laura J.

Marsha Sigman said...

I hate wimpy girly protags. But then I've always been a Buffy fan and even Zena Warrior Princess back in the day. Oh yeah. I'm not ashamed.

I do not want to read about young girls or women who need a man to define them or give their life purpose/meaning. Having a male character they fall for who is more along the lines of a partner...that I like.

Martha Ramirez said...

What sweet words you said about your wife. Brownie points!! :)

I agree with you. YA stories should be much more than an unhappy teenager looking for love to make her happy. Very true.

Heather said...

The problem is, a lot of teen girls are looking for validation and they often look for it in boys. Sad, but true. I must admit though, the really good books don't focus on that, and there are a lot out there! I'd like to think they outnumber the Twilights. Great interview!

Sara McClung ♥ said...

omg I LOVE that you guest posted for Elana. What a cool/sweet idea!

My thoughts: I'm a fan of strong female MCs. But not all girls are strong and while, no, I don't think they should be taught to validate themselves based on what a boy thinks of them--sometimes they do. And reading a book with a similar MC might make them feel less alone for a few hundred pages.

That being said, there's been such a HUGE backlash to the Bella Swan stye characters, I don't think you'll have to worry about reading a lot of MCs like her in the future. The market seems more and more inundated with girls who are strong and don't base their self-worth around boys. I loved Twilight, but I also love this surge of badass girls in books :)

Carol Riggs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carol Riggs said...

Well said! (Hubby did very well, and I hope your nerves have recuperated. LOL) Good points about the kinds of protagonists who are in a lot of YA books. It in part depends on how the writer develops that girl's story...if she starts out selfish or not as strong, and grows more unselfish and strong, much better. But in a way, I kinda dislike some of the brashy bossy snarky characters.

I think teen readers like (and can handle) encountering all kinds of people in books, just like they encounter all kinds of people in real life!

Lola Sharp said...

'My Elana is tough. She’s strong. She’s beautiful and quite frankly magnificent!' Awwww! This made me so happy. :)

Hugs,
Lola

Melissa Sarno said...

Oh, I love this discussion! I don't feel I'm well-read enough in the genre to make grand statements, but I do agree that a lot of books have female protaganists who rely on validation from boys. I think it's like that because a lot of girls that age DO rely on validation from their peers in order to feel good about themselves. So, in my mind, it's kind of like art imitating life. All that being said, I hope to write heroines that are not like that because I agree that's it's more refreshing to read about strong girls who don't care what boys think of them and don't take anyone's bullc***. But then you have the other end of the issue: don't girls like that deserve to fall in love with an equally awesome guy? Does it have to be one way or the other?

Michelle McLean said...

He does have a point (and seriously, how awesome is your husband? :D ) but I don't think he should base an entire genre on one book. There are a lot of books out there with strong female MCs and even Bella (as others have pointed out) had her good points.

I do try to write my own female characters as strong girls with brains and brawn and all the other good stuff, but I also want my readers to relate to them and you know what? It feels good when someone likes you :) But no, your entire self-worth shouldn't be based on it.

Find a YA book with a good, strong female MC and see if his opinion of the genre changes.

Bottom line, while he makes excellent points that I agree with 100%, it's unfair to base an entire genre on one little book :)

Krispy said...

I love this topic and Mr. J sounds awesome. :)

I think because of the success of Twilight and the surge of books focused on the romantic aspect of YA, there are indeed a lot of girl protagonists who come across this way. It is a concern. But there are also plenty of young ladies in YA who are not at all like this, who can be both vulnerable and strong, and who don't need a boy to validate them. An obvious choice here is Katniss, and there's also the incomparable Hermoine. Both have dudes in their lives, and both have weak and strong moments, but never do they let their romantic counterparts/issues define them.

Christine Fonseca said...

First, I like your hubby even more with this post.

Second, Tell him I AGREE!!!

Third, I think the key is to use the books as a point of discussion. While it is perfectly okay that some girls are weak in stories, and it is okay that we escape with books - I want my daughters to NOT define themselves by others. My own teen daughter likes stories with flawed heroines who figure out who THEY ARE by the end. And yes, she is a #1 fan of Es book because the mc is strong, yet flawed.

Awesome post!

L.T. Elliot said...

Mr. J? My hat's off to you. Brilliant man. Wise too.

I agree with a lot of the commenters here. Some girls do find validation in other people. Some books do have strong MCs that seek to find their own validation. Some books have love interests that bring out the best in the MC. Sometimes, these books are just about escape. I think trying to pin down the YA genre is an impossible feat and I'm just grateful for the variety. =]

nutschell said...

love this topic. Personally, I'd like to see more strong teenage girls as protagonists out there- more hermione's, more katniss's.

Jemi Fraser said...

There are a lot of books (not all of course!) where the young girls and young women only seem to care about 'the guy' - those ones drive me batty. I discuss this trend (in books, on tv & movies) with my students a lot too. We need girls who are tough & strong & independent.

Meredith said...

Absolutely awesome. I agree--there are a lot of teen girl protagonists out there who are not strong role models. But several are (I think everyone's touched on my favorites) or they learn to be strong, and I think today's teen girls can learn a lot from them. Great (and very sweet!) post!

Stephsco said...

Hermoine Granger! She's such a great example.

As another commenter said, I think there is a definite upswing of stronger female characters. The YA market is so rich with variety these days. Back in the early '90s I read a lot of Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley High, Babysitters Club... nowhere near the kind of characters in teen books now.

When I first read Twilight, it was just before the total explosion of Twilight-everywhere, and the first book made me cry; I remembered feeling that way, so lonely, so longing for a boy etc. I think part of the success of those books is that it taps into that insecurity that many girls have. Now, what you do with that and how you explore it is the key to making a good or a great book. I think Bella started out strong - she was bored in some classes because she already had learned certain things at her old school, and she read books, er one book (Wuthering Heights) all hinting at a smart character. She was self sufficient helping out at home. It was what happened to Bella that was disappointing.

Liesl said...

I get what you're saying. I think that's what many editors and agents mean when they say they're looking for STRONG female protagonists. Bella is not one of those, I don't care what anybody says. She's WEAK and the only reason she becomes strong is because she turns into a rock-hard vampire! And for the record I devoured Twilight.

I think girls just inherently long for a romantic relationship, to love and be loved, to have companionship, preferably forever. Of course that's not bad, however, some YA authors totally give in to this natural feeling in an unhealthy way, others fight it to the death. It would be nice to see a girl protag take a healthy approach to romance. But where's the drama in that? Romance is rarely rational.

Donea Lee said...

A great guest post! :) I love that your husband wants to be a compliment to you - so sweet!

As to the question...well, I think everyone secretly (or not so much) seeks validation in some form. A teen girl seeking it from a guy? I did that. I've got journal entries from HS that are completely boy-centered. But, I'd like to think I grew out of it.

I think when you're young, finding love is sort of a rite of passage and these feelings and attitudes are going to be identifiable to teen readers. There's usually more to grasp from the story, anyhow. I'm not sure Bella was the best example of this - although, on the flip side - she was confident and unwavering about what she wanted and she went after it. Even if what she wanted was just a boy.

And then we have Katniss. 'Nuf said.

Just my 2 cents ~ great topic! Thanks.

A Backwards Story said...

There are so many strong female heroines in YA literature. It's not all Twilight and angsty-love. One of my current favorite teen authors, Kristin Cashore, has some great female heroines. So does one of my current obsessions, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. It's not all about boys. Sure, they're a part of life, but for the most part, I dislike the books that are full of angst and instant forever love popping up all over paranormal. It just...doesn't happen. Fantasy and Dystopian novels feel more "realistic" than anything out because they have "real" heroines.

Rhemalda Publishing said...

I grew up on the strong characters of Nancy Drew, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables and Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice. I too agree that teen girls need role models as they traipse through the last years of adolescence into womanhood.

There are books out there with strong female leads that our girls can look up to and that we would be proud of them to emulate, we as adult role models are readers should help point them in the direction of those books.

I appreciate your husbands point of view and for his description of the strong relationship you have and the strong woman that you are.

E. Hoffmeister

Cyndi Tefft said...

I love the way you write about your wife. You say that she's a strong woman, but the way we are as teen girls is not always an indication of the women we will grow into.

I know when I was a teen, I lived and died by the guy-of-the-hour and every single moment seemed like a huge crisis. I was certain that if X or Y didn't happen, I'd just DIE.

I am not the same way as a woman. I have perspective, I have matured, I have fewer hormones zinging around, I have coping mechanisms that I didn't have then.

We want our teenage daughters to grow into strong, healthy women, but we can't discount the emotional rollercoaster that teenagers are on. Books that let them escape, that let them dive into another world where the problems are resolved with the happily-ever-after ending help bring joy. That's what it's all about!

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