These 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?