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Beyond Hermione And Katniss: 6 Awesome Heroines From The Young Adult Fiction World

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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.

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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.

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  1. TheSeeker

    I don’t understand how you can call Bella Swan a strong female heroine. It doesn’t really matter if she isn’t strong or kicking ass, what really annoys me is that she has a negligible self esteem when she is as normal as everyone else (every other human being, that is). These self esteem issues go to the extent of Bella wanting to change her species (and of course, wanting to be prettier, stronger and smarter for Edward -_-). You talk about Bella standing up for her vampire family. Well, what about her ORIGINAL family? She selfishly turned herself into a vampire without any trace of responsibility towards her human parents. And then there is the fact that she has no personality of her own. She is a blank slate without Edward, as can be seen in New Moon. It is hard to describe her (or any Twilight character, actually) without describing their physical features.

    I’m sorry for making this long, but please, Bella Swan is simply incomparable to a strong YA character like Harry Potter. And what troubles me is that so many YA authors are influenced by Stephanie Meyers work to make boring, zero-self-respect MCs. It is even sadder to see that such books are quite popular among young teenage girls and even women. Sorry, I’m out 😛 🙂

    1. xginnyx

      Hi. I understand the place you’re coming from, very similar to the one where people charge Cinderella for being passive and “waiting” for a prince to rescue her. But that later. If you read the books closely – and I won’t pretend they don’t have their flaws, they do – you’ll notice the marked difference between the human Bella and the vampire Bella’s narration. From that I conclude that this is simply a case of finding her place. Bella came of age in her vampire self, she found her place in the world. If she would let that go simply because of a sense of duty toward Charlie and Renee, isn’t that taking away her choice from the matter? And I find the charge about not caring about her family absurd. The main story starts from Bella moving to Forks to give her mom the freedom to be with her new husband, selflessly, and time and again, Bella has made sure that her father is always safe from the supernatural elements.

      As for New Moon, Bella never let her grief come in the way of her studies and kept her grades up. For a 16-17 year old, that’s pretty much what the world is supposed to be about. Despite dealing with grief, she holds on and goes through life. The book is blank for four months, but it also clearly states that it wasn’t like she wasn’t doing anything, but it simply didn’t contribute to the overall story because nothing out of the ordinary happened and Bella was depressed. This is a commercial novel, do we really need another long paragraph about Bella doing homework silently? Nobody can control depression, and judging a character simply because she was depressed – no matter the reason – and calling her a blank slate because of it isn’t particularly nice, is it? Everyone has a different kind of grief, everyone deals with it differently. Though what Bella does – putting herself in danger in order to hallucinate Edward – is definitely crazy. But what do you expect from an emotionally drained teenager? We’re forgetting that Bella is a 17 year old, why are we expecting the world’s rationality from her? That’s what I meant above, if a dude was depressed, most readers fawn over it when the girl returns. But God forbid a girl ever displays her heart. Being strong doesn’t mean being invincible. No one can do that.

      Also, speaking of no personality, people forget that Bella is abused emotionally not only by Edward and Jacob, but also Charlie who pushes her toward a man who kissed her without her permission.

      Twilight is by no means the greatest of literature. It is simply a coming of age story about a girl who doesn’t fit in but finds her place, struggling and riddled with things that push her down. Even so, she finds it. If that’s not strength, what is?

  2. SharedThoughts

    Lol, Kirsten Stewart was awful as Bella. I seriously cannot think of more awful performance by any actress, not even in Bollywood. May be Bella was a strong character in the books (I have not read the books), but casting Ms Stewart just destroyed the character in movies

  3. Wendy Knight

    What about Ari from Feudlings??? 😉

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