In the world of young adult books, "kick-ass" heroines seem to be all the rage. When I think of the heroines I grew up with (and the heroes, for that matter), I can't come up with any who beat people up. They won their battles by using their brains and usually they had a little help from their friends. Many of the heroines in our books and movies today, though, could thrash Bruce Lee and turn right around and mop up the floor with Chuck Norris (Did anyone see Hanna?).
Where did this love for violent heroines in YA books come from? I don't think it's just that because children feel powerless they are drawn to powerful protagonists. Children have as much power today as they've always had. And this YA warrior woman is a new thing.
Or maybe not. Women have always had the capacity for great evil, and I suppose they've always wanted power and they've always wielded as much power as they could. Look at Salome and Herodias asking for John the Baptist's head on a platter. Maybe feminism is just an old lust for power sporting a diamond nose stud and acrylic nails.
Bitch Magazine gives us the 100 best Young Adult books for the Feminist Reader, which is fine. Feminists are welcome to talk about books they love. What I find a little disturbing, though, is that many of those books are being read by girls who don't know they are picking up feminist thought. Our daughters are likely reading them, thinking the strong heroines are great.
I don't want to do any knee-jerk reacting. Strong heroines are great. I like books with active protagonists, be they female or male. Girls are able to think and plan and dream. They should have goals and they should work toward those goals. I even like the girls who know how to fight. I liked Katniss and Katsa. As I was reading The Hunger Games and Graceling, I believed the girls should be fighting in their worlds. They started off fighting to save people. They had the "just war" thing in their favor. Or to put it Biblically, they were setting captives free.
I haven't got anything against strong girls. When the strength leads to selfishness, though, that's another matter. True strength is about being self-sacrificing, not self-centered.
I've read several of those top 100 feminist books. One was so beautifully written I ached when I read it (A Northern Light). The heroine grows in the story until she is able to leave her family behind and go off in search of self-fulfillment. In that book, men and Christians are depicted as rather brutish. I cared about the heroine and wanted her to learn that in obedience to God's purposes there is great joy. Instead she set off to look for joy, unencumbered by familial obligations. And we all know where that road ends: in the pig sty, with a starving character longing to be fed with the pods the pigs are eating.
We know that's where she'll end up, but I bet most teen readers don't know this.
In Graceling, Katsa, who has a special power that allows her to kill people with her bare hands, starts out wanting to save people. This is good. She also tells the boy she loves that she will never marry or have children, which is not so good. She's determined to remain free. The would-be husband says that's OK with him. He'll take whatever she'll give. He wants her so much that he lets her set the terms of the relationship. They make love then, and they continue to have wonderful, unhindered sex throughout the second half of the book. He thoughtfully provides her with a root to chew that will keep her from getting pregnant.
I loved Graceling, I loved Katsa, and I loved the boy...right up until he agreed to let Katsa use him and take from him what she wanted without promising anything in return. When he did that, I lost all respect for him.
Is this how it is? In order to make our girls strong must we make them selfish? In order to make our girls strong must we make our boys weak?
YA is a hot market right now, and I would rejoice if God would give us more strong writers publishing books for teens, written from a Christian worldview. What about you? Have any of you thought about writing for teen girls and giving them strong, faithful, healthy, happy, obedient-to-God heroines to look up to? Do you know any writers who are putting out such books now?
When Sally Apokedak was eight, she fell in love with reading. The characters in the books she read opened their hearts to her and allowed her to share their lives. They taught her to relate to the world—to rejoice with those who rejoice and to mourn with those who mourn. None of them beat anyone up.
Sally hopes to write great stories with characters girls will love. Her short works have been published in various magazines, including Highlights for Children, and her YA novel The Button Girl is currently being reviewed by publishers. She is represented by Reclaim Management. She blogs about young adult novels at sally-apokedak.com.