What kind of main characters do YA readers really want to see in the books they read? What makes a “strong young woman” strong?
There’s all sorts of talk about this subject, especially with the recent addition to the Twilight series, Life and Death, Twilight Reimagined, involving a reversal in gender roles. Meyer wanted to show the world that Bella’s portrayal of the “damsel in distress” was situational, and had she been a boy surrounded by supes, he would have been in distress as well. While that is a very plausible argument, creating a strong-willed female lead is a careful balancing act that is not easily accomplished.
In my own series, Emerge, my main motivation for writing the book was to create a true, realistic example of that young woman of strength. (And I like to think I achieved that with Allie.) I knew Allie needed to have an inner fire and a firm resolve to do what was necessary. She needed to face adversity head on and succeed. All qualities that most female leads possess. But here’s where YA has failed me as a reader in recent years. The heroine should not be all of these things to the detriment of her male counterpart! We as writers who influence younger minds, should not set the tone of tearing men down in order to raise women up. A successful female lead should be the epitome of strength, but her love interest should be the one at her side fighting the good fight with her, knowing that she can take care of herself. They should be a team. They each need to have a vulnerable side, with flaws and room to grow as individuals. They are young, so they also need to make mistakes and struggle with confidence. She’s going to have her moments of drama and he’s going to act like a douche sometimes, but at their cores, they should represent equality and have respect for one another. This generation of readers are passionate about equality and they want to see heroines and heroes they can admire.
The best example I’ve seen recently (other than my own series, Emerge, did I mention that yet? You can get it here) is the Defiance trilogy by C.J. Redwine. Rachael has backbone and determination, and the men in her life (father, grandfather and love interest) haven’t coddled her. They teach her how to fight and survive using her own skills and wit. Logan has his moments when he’s completely exasperated with her, but he knows Rachel doesn’t need him to hold her hand. Defiance is a remarkable example of gender equality in YA. See my review of Defiance, and check out Redwine’s upcoming Fairytale retelling, The Shadow Queen due out early next year.
If you’re a reader who loves books with strong girls and the amazing guys who stand beside them, check out my wall of #strong girls on my website to discover new books by authors like Kayla Howarth and her series The Institute.