Today I am delighted to host a guest post from none other than Catherine Doyle, author of Vendetta and Inferno, published by Chicken House. I absolutely love these books and cannot wait for the finale of the trilogy! Check out my review here of Inferno.
Examining bravery in YA: What makes a badass heroine?
In recent years, feminism in YA has been almost exclusively associated with heroines who wield a sword, exhibit impressive physical strength, or espouse typically masculine traits to reach her end goal. This singular notion of bravery coincides with the latest spate of YA novels and the booming success of dystopian novels. Katniss Everdeen and Tris Prior are often lauded as being ‘badass’, but in placing them on pedestals, are we forgetting the other kinds of strength – intelligence, kindness, resilience – that can get overlooked for being quieter or less showy?
Feminism in YA is about more than brute strength, and bravery is about more than survival. A strong character is one who possesses noble qualities, and can fall anywhere on an entire spectrum.
There is strength in intelligence: In The Wrath and The Dawn by Renee Ahdieh teenager Shahrzad’s best friend has been put to death by order of the Caliph of Khorasan. Shahrzhad makes it her mission to avenge her, to infiltrate the palace and find out what has turned this ruler so callous in the treatment of his wives. To do this, she becomes a wife herself. Instead of matching his cruelty, she uses her talents as a storyteller to draw him under her spell. Her power here is gentle, careful, but effective. Her intelligence is her greatest weapon, and as it turns out, the most effective tool to gain the answers she needs and to set right a great wrong in the kingdom.
There is strength in vulnerability: Vulnerability is often considered a weakness, but there is bravery in daring to open your heart to someone else, and choosing to love instead of being afraid. Violet in All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven might be an unconventional ‘badass’, but there are few things more difficult than pushing through a dark cloud of grief, acknowledging the loss of her sister and her closest confidant, and choosing to live a full life for both of them. There is strength in choosing to love the perfectly imperfect Theodore Finch, in opening her heart and knowing that even though it might not last, it does not mean it won’t have been worthwhile.
There is strength in being different: Jo March in Little Women blazed her own trail. She is clever, bold and outspoken. She doesn’t allow the external pressures of society to change who she really is inside. Her ambition to write stories is the fire inside her, that makes her passionate, dedicated, and unafraid. It makes her different, and different is most certainly good.
In Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, Celaena Sardothien is strong and skilled. She is also unashamedly into boys – dating, kissing, flirting. She likes to wear beautiful dresses and make herself up. She is both a physical powerhouse and she is a teenager, complete with raging hormones and the occasional mood swing. Maas is determined to show that being interested in romance, among other things, does not make Celaena weak, nor does it stop her from being a feminist.
This year, I attended several panels on feminism in YA, where authors examined the idea of bravery in their characters, and discussed what they felt made their heroine strong. More than just physical displays of bravery, they spoke of the quieter ways in which their characters stood up for themselves and others, and how oftentimes, subtler noble characteristics make for a more impressive lead character.
There is more than one way to be strong; female badassery comes in many different forms.