Feminism and the Young Adult Heroine

Woman book reading flannel Photo : Alanna Bagladi

As a woman in my late twenties, I am not ashamed to admit that I read more than my fair share of Young Adult (YA) novels. I especially enjoy the dystopian genre, where the protagonists are forced into a bleak and dismal world that they didn’t choose or make for themselves. I love to see how the authors will develop their characters to react and grow through the series.

I have been reading YA dystopian novels for close to ten years and have been amazed at the plethora of female heroines written into these books.

Heroine (n): a woman admired or idealized for her courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.

So, are the women in these books accurate portrayals of the definition they are meant to represent, or are they simply concoctions of the ever present female stereotype?

YA dystopia is very rarely confined to just one book, the stories generally span over a series of three or more books which lead us through the heroine’s ascent to power. Too often, however, the evolution of the heroine is disregarded after book one. She sees no more growth, has already fallen madly in love and then ends up stuck, battling the same issue over and over again. Her inner dialogue is often overrun by the problem of deciding how best to go about a situation without pissing off said love interest, and then there’s the Oh shit, I am complicated but I shouldn’t be because said love interest doesn’t appreciate it and/or understand it problem.

There are too many YA books that try and ultimately fail to develop complex, strong women as leads and that is where I get frustrated. I can say without pause that there have only been a few YA books (that I have read) with female heroines that have not centered on a love interest: ‘The Hunger Games’, ‘The Queen of the Tearling’ and ‘Shatter Me’. These books do a great job at giving us complex characters. They have emotional, physical and self worth issues, they are not caught up in love. They have romantic feelings and understand that men can play a role in their lives but they are not governed by that fact. Their decisions are not made because of those men; they are made because she decides for herself where her path will lead.

I want for myself, my friends, and my future daughters, books which guide their imagination but also reiterate that complexity, adventure and finding yourself is not dependent on what a man thinks of you but ultimately, what you think of yourself. And also, let’s be honest: hot guys are great, but if the world has gone to shit or I’m fighting for my life, I highly doubt that romance is going to be the first thing on my mind.

*If you have read a YA series with a great female lead or character please share in the comments below. And follow me on GoodReads (https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/7180109-colleen-seambos), let’s discover more strong female characters together!

Books cited:

The Hunger Games  by, Suzanne Collins
The Queen of the Tearling by, Erika Johansen
Shatter Me by, Tahereh Mafi