I've seen some back-and-forth in the YA community this year on needing more STRONG female characters. We need tough girls, buff girls, girls who kick butt and take names. Some folks, though, say there are PLENTY of alpha females in the YA world. That there's room for girlie girls, too. Mousey girls, sweet girls, girls who played with Barbies and grew up to read fashion mags.
I say this: we need both.
Teen girls can't be lumped into one category. There are girls out there who are both feminine and fierce. There are girls who will relate to a character who gave her Barbies green Mohawks and there are girls who will relate to an aspiring model. And there is NOTHING wrong with that. There are books out there for both of these girls. And, in all likelihood, these girls are bffs, and end up sharing books with each other. Mohawked Barbie Girl reads GIRL IN THE ARENA by Lise Haines, loves it, and trades with Fashionista Girl for VIOLET ON THE RUNWAY by Melissa Walker. And what do I love about both of these books? They're well-written, insightful, and feature REAL girls. Girls who are three-dimentional, make good and bad choices, have complicated relationships with their family and friends, and are developing their own sense of identity.
I think there's also something to be said for girls who are strong in a more subtle way. Right now I'm reading JEKEL LOVES HYDE by Beth Fantaskey, and what I love about her character, Jill, is that while she's quiet and reserved and innocent, she is super super smart. She understands and LOVES chemistry. And even though she doesn't always stand up to bullies, and loves to be rescued and comforted by her crush, she's learning to make her own way. And girls can relate to that -- being the science nerd, feeling insecure and unpretty compared to a friend, crushing on a bad boy and wanting Prince Charming to come riding in on a white horse. And that's okay. Sometimes we need that. And sometimes -- like for Jill -- your brain is your biggest weapon.
I also love books like HOTTIE by Jonathan Bernstein, where you have a girl who kicks bad-guy booty while wearing designer heels. HOTTIE is like Clueless meets The X-Men, hilarious and girlie and badass. How perfect, because, in my mind, inside every don't-break-a-nail diva is a superhero ready to strike. And with a book as fun as HOTTIE, does it get any better?
The best thing writers can do for teen girls is to write REAL girls. And real girls are a lot of different things -- tough, happy, sad, lonely, strong, fearful, girlie, smart, feminist -- and there's no reason we shouldn't accommodate all these girls. There's plenty of room on the shelves for girl characters of every shape and size, mood and mentality!