I took a copy of GRACELING with me during our Thanksgiving trip to Michigan. For those of you who haven’t read it, Kristin Cashore’s YA fantasy tells the story of Katsa, a girl graced with an extreme talent. Gracelings are held separate from the rest of society and are viewed with wariness or outright scorn.
Reading GRACELING brought to mind November’s blogosphere conversation about pushover/strong female protagonists in YA. You can read parts of the discussion at The Rejectionist, The First Novels Club, and Steph Bowe’s Hey! Teenager of the Year.
Katsa, like Katniss of THE HUNGER GAMES, is a complex, fully-developed female lead, the kind of character I could comfortably share with teen readers. I’m more careful, though, recommending books with passive protagonists.
The strength of the YA female character seems to be the defining factor in a story’s depiction of love. I would much rather introduce girls to books with characters who find their worth and purpose apart from their boyfriends. Weak characters tend to define themselves in light of their relationships. Their motives and choices are bound to them.
I’m not saying teenage girls can’t think for themselves or that strong characters have no weaknesses. All well-developed characters must be flawed, both the passive and the assertive. It would be great to read a number of titles with teenage girls, comparing characters and their relationships. But given the opportunity to recommend a title or two, I’d pick the multi-dementional character every time.
Caroline Starr Rose says
Just have to add this — the protagonist from THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH, Mary, I believe, is also a great character.
Shannon O'Donnell says
I agree. Since literature is meant to teach us what it means to be human, it is vital that teen girls are provided with strong character models. Too often, my high school girls DO define themselves according to relationships.
Frankie Diane Mallis says
Yes I agree, and thanks for linking to the First Novels CLub!
I loved GRACELING, and felt Katsa was a complex, well-developed character. Her world-view was so opposite my own, but I found myself sympathizing with her quite a bit. That takes skill!
Stephanie Thornton says
That’s been my issue with several YA novels I’ve read recently. The whole story, and therefore, the character’s life revolves around her boyfriend. It’s not the best message to send to girls.
Heather Sunseri says
I haven’t read Graceling, yet, but I plan to now. I’m agreeing with several here re: the many YA characters who are making life decisions based on boyfriends/love interests. It’s good to see some characters who find importance in things outside that love.
I agree too. Strong female leads are a must for me. I haven’t read Graceling but I keep hearing about it–it’s probably time to pick it up.
Andrea Cremer says
Hooray for strong female leads!
Jemi Fraser says
Count me in – I’ve very careful of the books I read in class. Weak characters send such strong messages to the audience.
In my current ya ms, I’ve made sure my female is srong
Bethany Wiggins says
I love strong YA female characters. I can’t stand the pushovers! Katniss is awesome. I also really like Giovanna in “How to Take the Ex Out of Ex-boyfriend.” Bella drives me nuts. How many times must she be saved???
PJ Hoover says
I’m reading FIRE right now. Have you read it yet?
You’re so right on what we recommend and why we recommend it. It really is something we should give considerable thought.
Caroline Starr Rose says
Haven’t read FIRE yet. Need to.