Young Adult is a booming genre in the literary world, an unstoppable juggernaut that refuses to back down. A few weeks ago I discussed What YA novels are, and part of their success is easily attributed to the way YA novels tear down societal and cultural preconceptions.
YA’s most distinctive feature – aside from its targeted focus on teenagers – is the prevalence of female main characters. Not only do girls frequently feature as leading stars, but they have quickly become symbols of feminism and anti-sexism around the world.
Over the years, male YA characters have had their fair share of the limelight, from the most famous like Harry Potter, Percy Jackson or Alex Rider to more recent series like Half-Bad, The Maze Runner and Inheritance.
But there is undoubtedly a far greater number of heroines in YA literature than male heroes – this might, in part, be due to the ratio of female authors to male authors.
As a male writer and blogger, I am distinctly aware of how rare I am, and I respect that the vast majority of my beta-readers and followers are women; but more than simply providing an associable main character, heroines are an excellent example of how established cultural tropes can be turned on their heads.
For me, part of a heroine’s appeal is her range of emotions. Rightly or wrongly, male characters tend to be rugged and stoic, rarely showing more to their emotions than a handful of stock-purchased attributes from the Writer Store of Tropes. This isn’t always a bad thing of course – depending on the genre (for instance, Epic Fantasy), a leading man who is indefatigable in the force of impending doom is par for the course.
But YA is relatively new, and it is a highly dynamic genre.
YA changes from year-to-year, responding to real-world demands and opinions, often changing to tackle cultural issues of the time. In this new age, old-school tropes and clichés are falling by the wayside in favor of showing how things really are.
To this end, heroines provide a complex character with effortless room to grow. Arguably, one of the ‘best known’ heroines is Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games. She first drew attention to the way that a female could actually lead a plot (as a primary POV, rather than being a secondary character like Hermione Granger or Annabeth Chase), but rather than simply acting like a boy with long hair, Katniss played a shifting emotional role that was believable. She was a frustrated but loyal daughter; a dependable and brave sister; a fighter, a leader, a figurehead for a revolution. Her expressive range was not limited to merely being angry or sad – she was everything in-between, and this was the key that unlocked the floodgates for heroines.
In the years since, YA has veritably exploded with the number of heroines, each adding their own unique twist to the formula that was gone before them. Heroines are integral to the plot of their YA novels, tying together romance, action, emotion, and growth – pillars of literature that have proven themselves over and again.
As a male reader and writer, I’m not ashamed to admit that I prefer female main characters to men – there should be no stereotype or judgement on behalf of either author or reader.
I prefer the more expressive palette of female characters, and in this time of societal upheaval, my support for female authors and characters is representative of my belief that the established roles for men and women should be given a serious shakeup.
This goes the other way too – I thoroughly enjoy seeing girls take on the roles of ‘action hero’, and by the same measure, I wish that more male characters were allowed to show emotion, rather than being relegated to muscled heroes with the ’emotional range of a teaspoon’ (to quote one of my favorite lines from Hermione Granger herself).
So what are your favorite heroines?
Of all the books I’ve read, my favorite heroines are: Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games), Marguerite Caine (A Thousand Pieces of You), Mare Barrow (Red Queen), Chan (Way Down Dark), and Risa (Unwind).
I took to Twitter to ask for your favorite heroines.
The overwhelming result was: Celaena Sardothien of Throne of Glass.
However there were dozens of other choices, and you can see the impressive response my tweet gathered below:
@BrettMichaelOrr Jane Eyre, Jo March, Katniss, Ella (of Ella Enchanted), Lucy Pevensie, SO MANY MORE!
— Emma Rose Ryan (@TheERRose) August 11, 2015
— Allison Mulder (@silent_pages) August 11, 2015
@BrettMichaelOrr Tris. June. Katniss. Remy from the Sowing. Achk. So many! Everyone except Bella Swan…
— Samantha Eaton (@Samantha_Eaton3) August 11, 2015
@BrettMichaelOrr Celaena, Seraphina, Aysel(My Heart and other Black Holes), Kayla (Every Last Promise), Shazi(The Wrath and the Dawn) 🙂
— Rachana(@inkylove16) August 11, 2015
@BrettMichaelOrr Cress, Puck (Scorpio Races), LieselMeminger, Eowyn.
— Rachel Stevenson (@whatshewrote) August 11, 2015
@brettmichaelorr Vin (Mistborn), Blue (The Raven Cycle), Tris, Meg (Wrinkle in Time), Meggie (Inkheart), Emma (totally counts, right)?
— Katie Nichols (@SherwoodWriter) August 11, 2015
@BrettMichaelOrr Annabeth Chase, Lin Cinder, Hermione Granger
— E.P. Hahn (@writer_ep_hahn) August 11, 2015
@BrettMichaelOrr LILA (ADSOM), Sophie (Howl’s Moving Castle), Karou(ADOSAB)
— Aentee(@readatmidnight) August 11, 2015
@BrettMichaelOrr Mackenzie (The Archived) 😊
— Michelle G (@unfinished_book) August 11, 2015
@BrettMichaelOrr Celaena(ToG), Elisa (GoFaT), Wilhelmina (OQ), Paige (The Bone Season)
— Sarah K (@thebooktraveler) August 11, 2015
@BrettMichaelOrr Rose Hathaway, Sierra Saintagoand Katniss.
— Kristen (@blissfulbkworm) August 11, 2015
@BrettMichaelOrr Evie(Paranormalcy), Cimmorene(Enchanted Forest Chronicles), Hermione, Annabeth (PJ+O), Nancy Drew, (1/2)
— Lily Jenness(@AKingdomofProse) August 11, 2015
@BrettMichaelOrr Tiffany Aching (The Wee Free Men), Puck (Scorpio Races), Ella (Ella Enchanted), Azalea (Entwined). I will stop there. (2/2)
— Lily Jenness(@AKingdomofProse) August 11, 2015
@BrettMichaelOrr Oh, and I know this isn’t technically YA, but Sansa and Arya Stark and Margaery Tyrell and basically all the ASOIAF ladies.
— Alyssa Carlier (@AlyssaC_HK) August 11, 2015
@BrettMichaelOrr Clarke from The 100 🙂
— Jess (@JessJustReads) August 11, 2015
— Meg (@megelzbth) August 11, 2015
— Heather M Bryant (@heather_b88) August 11, 2015
@BrettMichaelOrr Someone who deals with their hardships internally – like Anne Frank or Hazel Lancaster. Or literal badasseryas in Celeana.
— Nirvana A. (@quenchingquills) August 11, 2015
@BrettMichaelOrr *pops in* BLUE SARGENT, CELANEA SARDOTHIEN, ISABELLE LIGHTWOOD, VALKERYIE CAIN *pops out*
— Cait(@PaperFury) August 11, 2015
@BrettMichaelOrr CeleanaSardothien, Paige Mahoney, *forgets all books I’ve ever read*
— Eleanor (@dragonsandRAWR) August 11, 2015
@BrettMichaelOrr CelaenaSardothien, Alina Starkov, Anna Whitt and Tessa Gray… apparently I’ve forgotten everything I’ve read 😂
— Kayla ➰ (@mindcrazed) August 11, 2015
What an amazing response for YA heroines – not only am I impressed by the number and variety of heroines, but by the enthusiastic response from my followers. Thank you so very much to everyone who participated and voted!
This list is really just the tip of an ever-spreading iceberg. Heroines – much like YA itself – aren’t going anywhere, and in fact, we are only now seeing some of the most well-written female characters in the history of young adult literature.
I am excited to see this new wave of fiction that champions the abilities of girls without resorting to ‘girl fiction’; instead, YA books with female leads can oftentimes be far more engaging and exciting than male-led fiction. And at the same time, young girls reading books for the first time will be exposed to powerful characters who can help lead them into a new future where old-world stereotypes are nothing but a half-remembered past.
Thank you for reading my blog post! Please consider sharing via Twitter, and discuss what your favorite heroines are!