By Tanvi Berwah:
I am 24, and I love Young Adult fiction. Despite the whole “grow up” insinuations that are thrown at me every now and then, I think carving out the category of YA is the best thing that happened to modern literature. There’s nothing more fulfilling than a good YA filled with a subtle coming-of-age theme mixed with fast-paced action, adventure, fantasy, romance, history and so much more. In short, YA books are awesome.
What makes them even more awesome is that a large section of these books are lead by a teenage girl who, in-between trying to navigate the abysmal life of being a teenager in general, is bringing down despotic governments or saving entire humanity from Downworlders. You know, regular 16 year old stuff!
But, for me, a strong female character isn’t necessarily hunting horcruxes or surviving the Hunger Games – although, you’re both so amazing Hermione and Katniss! A strong female character, simply put, is someone who believes in herself with conviction and isn’t afraid to stand up for herself. Even Bella Swan, the eternal poster girl for YA-literature-bashers-in-disguise, was ready to stand by her new family and face the Volturi to save her daughter. She wasn’t waiting to be rescued, she chose to act and displayed an extraordinary resilience to the horrors of the supernatural world.
My point is that while Harry gets to be moody (Order Of The Phoenix, anyone?), Bella is panned because she’s not “strong” and isn’t kicking butt throughout the books. Why the double standard?
The female characters in YA, in my opinion, are universally strong because they all exhibit incredibly human qualities. Taking up Harry Potter’s example again: Hermione is smart, Luna is wise, Bellatrix is fiercely loyal (also totally evil, but that’s another debate), McGonagall is – well, McGonagall. These women are people. They’re not faultless, but they refuse to let their mistakes wash them over. That’s what makes them strong characters, not the constraining box where they must be wielding wands or fighting evil in grand battles every day.
Recent YA books – apart from the already huge franchises – have taken a step toward redefining the “strength” of female characters:
1. An Ember In The Ashes by Sabaa Tahir has a slave girl, Laia, spying on the most ruthless Commandant and passing on information to the rebels so they can help her save her imprisoned brother. All of Laia’s strength comes from loving her brother.
2. The Wrath And The Dawn by Renee Ahdieh is a retelling of A Thousand And One Arabian Nights where a 16 year old Shahrzad must keep herself alive for one more night so she can exact revenge on the murderous boy-king who kills a wife daily, including Shahrzad’s best friend. But when Shahrzad learns the truth of the girls’ deaths, her compassion is what unravels the facade of evil.
3. Written In The Stars by Aisha Saeed focuses on a cultural problem – forced marriages. Naila, with none of the phoniness of a female deemed strong because she acts like a dude, perseveres through an ordeal that we’d be too horrified to imagine.
4. If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan tells the incredible tale of Sahar, a lesbian teenager in Iran who decides to go through gender transition to be with the girl she loves. An honest and raw portrayal of emotions, Sahar is strength.
5. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is probably one of my favourites. It introduces us to ourselves – Cath, a fangirl, who uses her love of fandoms to come into her own and navigate life. The book redefines geek culture in today’s social media-infused world, and how it’s not a boy’s world anymore.
6. Throne Of Glass by Sarah J. Maas gives us the most notorious assassin of her continent, Celaena, who’s absolutely feminine. She loves dresses, waltz, parties, chocolates, and is pretty boy-crazy (Team Dorian!). But the best thing about her is that assassin and boy-crazy aside, she knows how to keep herself safe.
All these female characters tell us one simple thing: strength comes from within. As they come of age and know themselves, these girls inspire others to do the same. Their strength is what makes these stories timeless and ageless.