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.