Strong and relatable heroines are just as drawing to a captivating young adult novel as a sexy and secretive hero. The two go hand in hand, their dialogue and the tension making us wish we were her, and wishing he wanted us.
Some of these heroines are more relatable than others, and in my opinion, more worthy of the reader wanting to be in her place. For me, it isn’t just about being the object of the heroes affection; she needs to be a strong person and have worthy qualities on her own, to be a draw for me.
Last night I watched the final film installment of the Divergent series, Allegiant, and that got me to thinking: which heroines are actually worthy of our obsession?
So, I’ve decided to give my take on three of the most popular young adult heroines of recent years, and why I feel one I would rather be one over the other.
*NOTE: this is MY opinion. Ive read and loved all three of these series, complete with sighing, squeals and face palms. But, I am a realist, and when push comes to shove, cant ignore they are not all created equal…at least in my mind*
Immediately when you think of recent young adult heroines, the mousy Isabella Swan will be one of the first you think of. The new girl in town, immediately gaining the attention and infatuation of the local ‘hot guy but also vampire’ Edward Cullen. The first time I read the books, I didn’t think too much in to the character. I read them all at face value, more interested in the action and back and forth than the qualities of Ms Swan.
But, with additional reads, and over time, Bella irked me. A whiney little do-nothing who doesn’t deserve either one of them (Edward or Jacob) was a statement my mother and I exchanged on more than one occasion. Bella didn’t seem to have a lot to offer in terms of true strength. Of perseverance, courage and a true stand off, she always seemed to leave it to the boys. Edward vs James. Jacob vs Victoria. Edward vs Victoria. The Cullen clan vs Volturi. At no point did Bella stand alone, and show her worth.
The attention she drew from everyone in Forks made no sense. She was mousy, uninteresting and plain, and yet boys were drawn to her as though she were so much more than she was described. As Edwards internal dialogue in the never officially released Midnight Sun pointed out, she was merely ‘a novelty in a town not used to anything new’.
Sure, she went to save Edward in Italy. And yeah, she stood her ground against the Volturi in the end. But…never did she actually face off against troubles. Never was she a leader, and never did she earn my true respect as a character.
In the end, the author broke all her own rules. She said all along you couldn’t have your family and be a vampire. That you couldn’t have a baby, and be a vampire. But Bella did it all, and in turn, leaves the story with the false idea that you can have everything you want.
Beatrice Prior starts out much like the aforementioned Bella. Quiet, meek and subservient. However, unlike Bella, Tris progresses and impresses, learning to be strong, to make her own choices, and be her own person as she leaves Abnegation to Dauntless, in turn leaving her family and culture behind. Sure, Bella sort of did this when she became a vampire, but really, other than her heart stopping and a rather nausea inducing diet change, she didn’t really have to leave everything she knew.
Tris went from a culture of always doing for others, to learning to fight, and to actually fighting for everything she wanted. She was stronger than she thought, and fought against annihilation because she was different.
The second book shows her bringing up an army against those who wanted to segregate and bring her down, while the third and final brings her to the outside world, and facing all the things she never knew existed.
Tris was strong, determined and showed true progression as a character. The issue I found with her, and didn’t even realize until watching the film, was the stock everyone put in her. A sixteen year old girl was apparently enough to bring up these forces, to bring down others. Yes, I realize that is the point of YA; teach young people that they are strong enough, that they can make a difference. But in the end, what truly changed? The factions were gone, and everything was different. It ended with the idea that things would then continue on happily; but reality doesn’t work like that. Take away what people know, and they panic. Hence, Tris was a leader, but one who doesn’t know her own place any more than anyone else.
Hunger Games Series
Strong from page one. A fighter and survivor, Katniss takes over the role of both parents after her fathers death, and her mothers spiral, to take care of herself and her sister. So much so, that she takes Prims place in the deadly Hunger Games, an event she knew she could never win.
But she does. Unlike any of her competitors, Katniss knew how to be resourceful. How to hunt, how to live on so little, her body barely knew the shock. Her oppression was her strongest characteristic that brought her to the winners circle.
As the story goes on, she is much like Tris in that she is put in the role of leader. Those older than her, with more knowledge and experience, look to her as an icon. This is always something that irks me in stories, but with Katniss, I was never bothered with her holding such a place. Because you knew how she was really dealing. In her head, she didn’t see herself as a leader. The trials she faced didn’t always make her stronger; instead they broke her down, like a real person would feel. And in the end, after the death of the one person she had devoted her life to protecting, she was completely shattered. Nightmares, flashbacks, physical scars and more; she didn’t come out unscathed and to a happy world. She returned to her destroyed district, with barely any other survivors, and started over.
That, to me, was so realistic despite the dystopian theme. That even though she won the war, she didn’t come out on top. She lost everything, and nothing would ever be the same for her. And all the while, she knew it. Her internal dialogue showed her decline and her struggle, and you felt for her. By the end of the final book, I felt as beaten as she was.
Now, I feel the need to put another reminder that these are MY takes on these characters. They all have honorable traits, all dealing with quite different scenarios. Who is to say that Tris wouldn’t have made the same choices as Bella? Or that Katniss wouldn’t have chosen Dauntless as well? We will never know these answers, but it is interesting to consider, since they are all so different despite facing trials.
In my opinion, a character needs to be more than the object of the heroes desire. She needs to be strong, and grow, and show determination. But beyond that, she needs to be real. She needs to fit her age, her experience and understanding, and not always come out unscathed just because she is the heroine. Because even in real life, without vampires and factions and districts, we are all just trying to come out in one piece.
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