YA Heroines: Likes and Dislikes

25/04/2016 Discussions, Reading 26

YA Heroines: Likes and DislikesThese days YA fiction (or Young Adult fiction) is an absolutely huge genre, and one that is home to some of the most successful books and series in recent times (I’m looking at you, Hunger Games and pretty much everything written by John Green!). It’s no longer purely the realm of teenagers either: anyone familiar with the book blogging world knows that a huge variety of ages and people can enjoy YA. I myself am now 23, so several years past being classified as a ‘Young Adult’, and I regularly read YA fiction.

There is still this idea though that YA fiction is mainly read by girls and women, (I’m not sure how true that actually is…based on the blogosphere I would say it’s probably true because I don’t know of many male book bloggers!), which I think is why there’s so much emphasis on the idea of the ‘heroine’ in YA. A huge portion of YA books have a central female character, and from what I have seen in the book blogging world there seems to be a lot of debate over what people do and don’t like in their heroines. Some people absolutely adored one heroine for a certain reason, whilst others despised the same heroine often for the exact same reason!

Plus there seems to be debate over what exactly constitutes a ‘feminist’ heroine. Whilst portrayals of strong, tough women can be really empowering, at the same time saying feminine women are weak and vapid seems very…un-feminist? And is definitely untrue.

So what I want to know is, what do you or don’t you like in a YA heroine? Here I’ve listed a few examples of female characters I’ve liked and disliked and why, but I’m sure other people will agree or disagree quite strongly with me! So let me know what you think!

Heroines I Liked:

  • Hermione Granger from Harry Potter

I feel like Hermione is one of those universally loved female characters (please correct me if I’m wrong!), especially amongst the bookish crowd. I know for me, I grew up reading the Harry Potter books, and she was the first character who made me feel like it was OK to be bookish and try hard at school, even if it wasn’t ‘cool’.

The way she is described implies that she isn’t the prettiest girl ever – she has bushy hair and oversized front teeth – but she is super smart and confident, and ultimately isn’t all that bothered if people think she’s a swot. Plus she goes on to save the Wizarding World from Voldemort along with Harry and Ron, so that’s pretty cool too!

  • Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games

For me, Katniss was the original ‘tough girl’ heroine, which is possibly why I still like her, even after that trope seems to have grown a little stale. I didn’t even entirely love The Hunger Games series: I felt like they deteriorated as they went on. I loved the first book, thought the second was OK, but didn’t like the third, and can barely remember what happened in it to be honest. Regardless of this though, I still remember really liking Katniss. She was tough, resourceful, and feisty, which wasn’t the kind of heroine I was used to reading about at the time.

  • Cath Avery from Fangirl

Cath is probably one of the characters I’ve related to most in any book I’ve read in the past few years. Everything from her ‘dorky’ interests to her shyness and insecurities really resonated with me, and she seemed like a person who could actually exist, unlike a lot of the ‘super special, adorably quirky’ heroines you get in a lot of contemporary YA.

  • Celaena Sardothien from Throne of Glass

Celaena Sardothien is another tough heroine, but I like the fact with her that she’s also super girly. She may be a badass assassin, but she also loves pretty dresses and getting dressed up. A lot of tough heroines seem to imply that being girly means you’re weak and shallow, but Celaena shows that isn’t the case at all.

Plus she likes reading!

Heroines I Didn’t Like:

  • Bella Swan from Twilight

It’s almost a cliche these days to hate on Bella Swan, so I’ll try and keep this brief!

From the very start of the Twilight series she didn’t seem like a particularly strong character: she seemed a bit flat and lifeless, and the fact that she had that annoying ‘I’m not pretty but everyone seems to fancy me, so I probably am really’ thing going on. Then she went into an almost catatonic state in the second book because her boyfriend left… Sure, break ups suck, but it all seemed a bit much, and she completely lost me there. Your life shouldn’t be over because your vampire boyfriend left you!

I did read a blog post though recently (I can’t remember where, so if it was your post, then I found it really interesting!) that defended her character, and it was actually really convincing and made some good points, but it wasn’t enough to change my mind. It still made for an interesting read though, and it was nice to read a fresh perspective on the character!

  • Tris Prior from Divergent

I really liked Divergent, and originally I quite liked Tris, but there was always an element of her that seemed like a Katniss rip-off (maybe just because she was a female protagonist in a YA dystopian book?), and by the third book she just seemed to have become so whiny that I started to find her really annoying.

Plus she was one of those ridiculously self-sacrificing characters where she would basically risk her life at the drop of a hat for the other characters when there was really no need. Everyone would have been just fine anyway, without her trying to martyr herself!

  • Alaska Young from Looking for Alaska

I actually really liked the book Looking for Alaska, but unfortunately I didn’t really like Alaska as a character (although technically I guess she isn’t a heroine, because Miles is the main character). She’s selfish, overdramatic and pretty pretentious, and she doesn’t treat the people around her very well, yet she’s supposedly this super special person that everyone loves. It totally didn’t make sense to me, however much I liked this book!

  • Mia Hall from If I Stay

Anyone who’s read my review will know how much I hated this book, so I’m so sorry if you liked it. Each to their own!

I think one of my biggest problems with the book was my dislike of Mia. She just seemed so…twee. I don’t know how else to describe her. She was just such an irritating goody two-shoes, and got ridiculously upset about stupid things eg. her boyfriend and best friend didn’t absolutely love each other so she cried, and everyone thought that her and this other girl would make good friends, so she decided to hate her. And don’t get me started on the bit where her and her friend had that totally uncharacteristic fist fight…the very memory of it still makes me cringe!

So from writing this list I’ve kind of gathered that I like heroines to be relatable and intelligent, and don’t like whiny, pretentious or ‘twee’ heroines and I certainly don’t like the ‘special little snowflakes’, or heroines who are so quirky that they don’t seem real.

So who are your favourite/least favourite heroines? What do you like/dislike in heroines?

26 Responses to “YA Heroines: Likes and Dislikes”

  1. Jee Ann @ The Book Tales

    I love Hermione <3 When I first read HP, I loved the idea of this brainy girl who wasn't just book-smart; she totally owned it. I think, during this time, I read so few books with Hermione-like characters so I latched onto her.

    I feel that the most common "YA herione" nowadays (as far as the books I've read anyway) are the snarky, only-had-one-close-friend, didn't-know-I-was-special kind (probably means I have to expand my reading horizons), but I always remind myself not to be too critical of the female protagonists, as they are as varied as the colors of the rainbow.

    I also quite liked Tris in the beginning, but she was starting to seem a bit like a flat version of Katniss as time went on (just my opinion, though)…

    • Laura

      Yeah, i’ve never really found another character quite like Hermione, even amongst other bookish characters.
      The way you’ve described the most common YA heroine sounds so much like so many heroines I’ve read about recently, and it has got kind of boring to be honest. I get what you mean though about trying to not be too critical, because there are definitely a lot of variances between even quite similar seeming characters. Maybe it’s their family background, or views on something, but there is usually something a little different that somehow impacts on their personality.

  2. Aj @ Read All The Things!

    I agree with everything on this list. Hermione is my favorite fictional heroine ever. When I was a kid, I had never seen a heroine who was like me. I was so happy when I got into the Harry Potter books and discovered Hermione.

    • Laura

      I think that is why Hermione is so popular – through her a lot of people who had never read about anyone like them before found a character they could truly relate to.

  3. Kaja

    Cath is the best. She’s like a Hermione for the cyber generation. 🙂 I enjoyed Fangirl so much, I really need to re-read it soon.
    Ah, and you’re right about Alaska – she’s a weird one. Though I HAVE known people whom everyone seems to love despite the fact that they behave atrociously towards others, it’s strange. I’ve heard Alaska described as a “manic pixie girl”, which sounds about right.
    Ohhh and don’t even get me started on Divergent, that’s HOURS of my life just wasted! Tris was such an insipid character and as you say, her sacrifices were unnecessary. Ugh.

    • Laura

      It has been ages since I’ve read Fangirl myself, so I definitely think a reread is in order for me too! 🙂
      Alaska definitely has that ‘manic pixie girl’ thing going on, but that is such a worn out trope, and I just don’t think people like that exist in real life, which is probably why I never really liked her much as a character.
      Tris was so insipid! I’m glad I’m not the only one who didn’t really like her. The concept for the Divergent books was actually quite good in my opinion, if only the characters had been better!

  4. Krystianna

    I didn’t really like Bella or Mia either. For some reason, I wasn’t the biggest fan of If I Stay. I felt no connections with the characters, which is weird, because I LOVED the movie.
    Krystianna @ Downright Dystopian

    • Laura

      I have still never seen the If I Stay movie, but a lot of people have told me it’s better than the book, so I may give it a watch some time and see if I like the story better as a film.

  5. Lia Levina

    Hermione and Katniss are my absolute favorite heroines, and even more, Katniss appeared during the time when I was down because Harry Potter just ended (I read THG in 2011). I didn’t know what feminism was at that time, but they, followed with discussions on the internet, introduced me to it. I think it’s amazing to have such representations of females in today’s literature.

    I like Tris up until the second book, where the whole third book felt uninteresting for me. I was sad though when that climax occurred.

    I ADORE Cath. Besides writing fanfiction and having a boyfriend, I feel like I can relate to her in many ways.

    Funnily enough, I really did like Twilight. But after the second book I don’t find the series appealing anymore.

    • Laura

      It really is amazing to have such great representations of females in today’s literature!
      I didn’t really think much of the third book in the Divergent series myself, and that was where I really began to not like Tris as a character. The book seemed to have a totally different tone to the rest of the series, and Tris was just so whiny I just found it annoying.
      I feel like the plot and concept of Twilight could have been really good (especially seen as the series came before the vampire love-story boom), but the characters, and particularly Bella who was just so flat, totally let it down. The first book was probably the best of the series, but I started to not like it quite so much after the second book too.

  6. Becky @ A Fool's Ingenuity

    Ooh, thinking about my likes and dislikes of heroines is hard. I am fully with you on your love for Cath (she reminded me of me in a lot of ways and it was the first book where I related with a main character) and I really enjoyed Katniss (although some of her choices really annoyed me). I think heroines I love have to be strong (I don’t want them breaking down every two seconds), have some kind of personality, and they have to be willing to grow.

    I hate nothing more than reading about a bland MC or one who isn’t willing to grow up and accept they may not know everything. I find it so frustrating when drama is created in a book and not resolved because someone is unwilling to just think for a second. I agree with your dislike of Tris (she began quite well, but by the end any progress in her character development was shattered) as well as Bella (she was never developed into enough of a character for my liking). Another heroine I disliked was Alina from the Grisha trilogy because she had no backbone to her and she was just so annoying continually allowing characters to walk all over her. I could have put up with it at first if she had grown a pair and stood up for herself.

    This is such a great thing to talk about. I’ve not spent enough time trying to figure out what I like to see in my bookish heroines.

    • Laura

      Strong is definitely one of the things I look for in my heroines too, and you make such a good point about them having to be willing to grow. If a heroine is exactly the same at the end of a book or series as they were at the start, then in my opinion I may as well have not read the book, because nothing at all was achieved in the however many pages I just read!
      I think you’re right about the problem with Bella too. She was definitely underdeveloped as a character, which is probably why I found her to be so flat, and I don’t think she was developed enough as an individual before the big epic love story with Edward began. I have never read the Grisha trilogy, but Alina sounds like just the kind of character I wouldn’t like!

  7. Cait @ Paper Fury

    It’s so totally true that everyone looks for different things in their favourite heroines. ;D I actually adore Mia and Alaska! (Although the later is a little bit too manic pixie dream girl? But I still liked her because BOOKWORM. XD) I don’t think many books say that being feminine isn’t wanted. I think it’s more the fact that they DON’T include strong but feminine characters very often that leads us to this conclusion? Which is really sad. D: And also a huuuge reason I loved The Winner’s Curse series because Kestrel is all into strategy and she wears pretty dresses and enjoys manipulating/court life kind of thing. IT’S SO AWESOME AND DIFFERENT. XD
    I used to adore Celaena but I think she’s become really vapid in later books. Eeek. Like only thinking about men/sex when there are bigger fish to fry and getting frustrated when she doesn’t get the sexual attention. That kinda…ruins the series for me. She was so much cooler in the first books. (But like you said! Each to their own!)
    Basically it’s awesome that there’s SO MANY TYPES of heroines out there! There’s someone for everyone to admire, right?! 😀

    • Laura

      I definitely think you’re right about Alaska being one of those ‘manic pixie dream girls’, which is probably why I didn’t like her (although that is probably the kind of thing a lot of people like, so I can see why other people would). I just feel like those kinds of characters are quirky just for the sake of being quirky, and aren’t really like real life people (but I guess seen as it’s fiction, that’s kind of OK!).
      I agree that the idea of books saying femininity isn’t wanted is more an implied thing, but it seems like most of the tough female characters I have read about have been more tomboyish, which was one of the things I liked so much about Celaena – she was one of the few girly tough characters I had read about. I still like her in the later books, although she has changed a lot, so I can see it being the kind of thing fans of the series will either love or hate.
      I have never read the Winner’s Curse trilogy, but I really want to! I’ve heard such great things about Kestrel as a character in particular, so hopefully I’ll get round to reading the series soon.
      It really is awesome though that there is so many different types of heroine. That way there is someone everyone can relate to, or can admire 🙂

    • Laura

      Thanks for the link! That was such an interesting post! I had heard about that gender swap Twilight that Stephanie Meyer had written, and kind of suspected it wouldn’t have worked, so it was interesting to get some insight into it 🙂

  8. Greg

    Great topic! As a guy I think you’re right, most YA readers seem to be female (just judging from my own experience) but I have seen guys in the YA aisle picking stuff up. And I hope it continues, because as I’ve said before a lot of good stuff is happening in YA, and guys who like fantasy or sci fi are missing out if they’re not watching the YA shelves.

    I really liked Cath from Fangirl too, and Regan as well. Even though they’re totally different, I liked things about both of them. their dynamic was great and realistic, I thought. As for heroines in general, I do like a tough, intelligent character but not so tough that it’s unrealistic, you know? If that makes sense. And there’s nothing wrong with a strong heroine liking feminine things either, there’s room for both. Most people are complicated so characters should be too, right? Contradictory or nuanced is okay. 🙂 One female MC I really liked was Sophie from Vitro- it’s been a bit since I read it but I remember liking her a lot.

    • Laura

      Yeah, I definitely think more guys reading YA would be great, because as you say they are missing out on a lot of good genre books if they avoid it.
      I loved the friendship between Cath and Reagen too, and I think that was largely because they were so different that they just complimented one another’s personalities. I definitely agree there’s a line between being a strong heroine and being so tough it’s unrealistic, so I like it when authors know where to draw the line.
      I have never read Vitro, so I’ll have to check that one out! 🙂

  9. Jess @ POB!

    I definitely see where you are coming from. Personally, the only thing I ask heroines to be are role models, whether that means sticking up for themselves or saving the world. Especially because YA is intended (I say intended because I know several adults that read YA and it’s totally fine) for a young audience, it’s important for heroines to be people to look up to and show us what to be in the world: strong, courageous, dependent yet independent, among other things. However, with this being the goal of EVERY heroine, you do see some repeating features (like you said with Tris being a Katniss-rip off), especially when they are heroines from the same genre.

    • Laura

      I totally agree that good heroines should be role models, particularly in a genre which is specifically aimed at younger people. It does lead to a lot of rip offs though, as you say, so i think giving characters few little quirks or flaws that they have to overcome makes them better rounded and more interesting.

  10. Mara @ Mara Was Here

    I really like reading about brave (the “smart” kind of brave, not the reckless ones) heroines, especially if they have a bit of snark.❤️ Of course, it would also be good to read them going through tough choices in life and see how they solve it. One of my recent favorite heroines is Aelin from the Throne of Glass series. I think she’s a really fun character and I love how badass she is as well. 🙂

    Great post!

    • Laura

      I love the snarky heroines too!
      Celaena/Aelin is one of my favourites as well. I like how she’s badass and girly! 🙂

  11. Jackie

    Hermione is my favorite! I kind of feel like she is a universal Heroine for many books worms. I mean…I know there are people that don’t like the Harry Potter books, but I prefer not to think of them right now.

    I used to not dislike Bella Swan. I admit that I quite liked the first two books in the Twilight saga. Then the series plummeted downhill after that. I don’t know why I didn’t dislike Bella as much as I hoped I would. I think I saw her as awkward and clumsy and the new kid, and I identified with that in a way. Then she just turned in to a selfish jerk.

    I also really did not like Tris (I didn’t like Divergent either, so that probably has something to do with it). Her actions made no sense to me. I just remember at the end of Divergent she goes around shooting a certain faction in the kneecaps to keep them from attacking her. But, the moment she sees one of her friends, she embeds a bullet between their eyes to keep them from attacking her and then talks about how sad she is for doing that. Did I miss something? Why didn’t she just shoot them in the knees? I didn’t understand the logic there.

    • Laura

      Hermione really does seem to be the character that pretty much every bookworm loves (although let’s seriously not talk about those people who don’t like her or Harry Potter right now!).
      I think there are some identifiable points with Bella, but I think those didn’t match up to the way other people treated her, which is what confused me. She was awkward and clumsy and stuff, yet everyone was like ‘you’re so amazing!’ literally all of the time. I think she was one of those typical characters who was given a few flaws to try and make her come off as less perfect and more relatable, and whilst sometimes I could buy it, definitely by the later books I found it really annoying!
      That’s totally what I felt about Tris too! There was no logic to so many of the things she did, and especially the whole shooting that guy thing, and then feeling bad about it for the last two books. As you say, why shoot all those people she didn’t really know in the kneecaps and then kill her friend immediately? So weird!

    • Laura

      Yeah, the ultra hip family was kind of annoying too. In fact I don’t know how such an annoyingly ultra hip family produced such an annoyingly goodie two shoes teenager, so that makes no sense either!

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