Monday, February 18, 2013


This just in (from NPR):

Today in literary infographics: Young Adult heroines are mostly shy, plucky virgins with poor self-esteem and brown hair.

I'm going out on a limb here--do you suppose because most Young Adult authors are themselves bookworms and former English majors they might be writing about what they know?  You know the type of girls buried in Anne, Nancy and Jo's stories throughout adolescence.  The type of girls who were, by nature, introverted, shy, prone to daydreaming?  Blonde, gorgeous, popular girls were generally too busy going on dates and trying on prom and homecoming tiaras to read and fall madly in love with books.  Heck, if I'd had boys flanking me throughout high school, I don't know if I'd have felt as drawn to a fantasy life between the pages.  Another funny story:  boys don't seem to be drawn to the shy, virginal bookworm types who don't lead cheers or party all weekend long ... 

And if a writer writes what they know, it stands to reason that we find a dearth of popular, gorgeous, blonde, confident and promiscuous Young Adult heroines, right?  Because those girls?  Don't fall into reading and writing in the same numbers as shy, plucky, brunette virgins.   Bookwormy-English majors are of a type--mostly shy, plucky, brunette virgins who don't wear much make up and play in the school band or join Key Club.  I know very few fellow writers who identify more with Jessica Wakefield from Sweet Valley High than with Elizabeth Bennett. 

I'm currently working on a YA manuscript.  My heroine?  Plucky brunette virgin--who works part-time at the public library.  (Of a type?  You betcha!)  This girl is a total cliche.  Realizing this, I thought Hey, let's switch this up a little bit--make her stand out!  Yeah, my big brilliant idea was to make her (wait for it...) a math whiz!  Yeah!  Instead of a bookworm, my heroine would be on the math team!  Bam!

I'm rolling my eyes at myself right now.  What a dope!  Mmmkay...let's change her up differently.  Instead of giving her long, straight brown hair I'll give her spiked PINK hair!  And she doesn't have to be such a goody-goody afraid of other people (while her best friends are all busy dating boys and sticking up for themselves).  Nope, I'll make her more antagonistic.  Suspended for fighting in school and coat her eyes with black make up.  Because that?  Will definitely appeal to my standard YA reader.

Like that shy, plucky brunette virgin in the flowing hippie skirt browsing the stacks over at Barnes & Noble or the public library ...

Spill it, reader.  Your favorite YA heroine AND your thoughts on how you'd make a YA heroine stand out of the pack of shy, plucky, insecure, brown-haired virgins.


  1. I think you're "write" we write what we know. :D

  2. I always preferred Velma over Daphne, myself. I did like Joss Whedon's explanation of why he made Buffy the Vampire Slayer a cute, petite, slightly clueless blonde; they are always the first to die in horror movies. Don't really know how that ties in with your heroine, though...

  3. Curly red hair.

    African American with an afro or fabulous braids.

    A blonde pixie cut.

    Asian with bobbed hair and bangs with a red streak. (I know such a girl.)

  4. My friend Nathan Kotecki, who is working on his second YA novel was an architecture major. I can't recall what color hair his heroine has. She and her friends are goth, so they definitely don't fit the standard. (His first book, "The Suburban Strange" came out last October and I highly recommend it.)

    Not all blonde teen girls are confident, promiscuous and popular. I certainly wasn't.

  5. Emma reads a lot of spy-girl books, and the heroines are definitely not the shy, brunette, librarian types. However, she is currently writing about a spy girl who feels a conflict between being herself (nature-lover) and fitting in (understanding the popular culture). Definitely writing what she knows.

    My favorite heroines were always the ones who weren't gorgeous, but while growing up were able to embrace what was special about themselves. Anne of Green Gables was always my favorite. Not pretty, but passionate and full of feeling. And while boys in high school may be not be attracted to the shy librarian, it's a whole different story in college :-)

  6. Anne of Green Gables ran against type a little, but I get it. I decided to read the series again and realized in horror I must have loaned my boxed set to SOMEONE. Long enough ago that I don't remember, so I can't ask for it back. Because I cannot live out my life without them on my shelf!

    Come to think of it--who was I as a child? NPR is probably using my picture as an example of the girl they mean.

  7. I always read Sweet Valley High books when I was a young adult and Jessica and Elizabeth were both beautiful twins but Elizabeth had more brains.

  8. My niece is just such a girl. 15 years old, introverted, very insecure and easily embarrassed to the point of it being an issue but she dresses to suit herself in a unique, extremely individual style. Never immodest (in fact heaven forfend she should show even a hint of cleavage) but always unique and left of center. Right now she has crayon-red hair and loves it. It's an amazing dichotomy - she doesn't want to be noticed but dresses in a way that almost guarantees she will be. She would make a wonderful model for a heroine - and would overwhelmed with pleasure at the idea of becoming a character in a book!

  9. I loved so many heroines it's hard to choose--but Anne of Green Gables and An Old Fashioned Girl were up there.

    Make her a gamer. I bet that would sell.

  10. interesting thoughts...right now I am reading Moby Dick and I do not think there is a female character in the whole book! maybe Herman didn't want to even go there...

  11. I think it's time for a redheaded heroine who is not Pippi L. or a dork.

    I like the idea of a young woman who writes the book no one thought she could (and you would have to write it but it would be HER book, get it?)

  12. My favourite YA heorines were for example:

    Anne of Green Gables
    Jane Austen's Emma Woodhouse and Elisabeth Bennet
    Lisbeth Salander (I'm still quite young in my mid twenties)
    Jane Eyre
    Scarlett O'Hara - annoying at times, but I wished her to be lucky and be finally with Rhett

    Surprisingly, I did't find an ideal heroin for me among the March sisters (Little Women). They were all lovely, each in her own way but any wasn't great enough for me.

    Ideal heroin for me would be a strong woman - smart, knows how to get what she wants, usually decisive - but still fragile and bit shy and clumsy when it comes to relations with men.

    sorry for my English (if there are any mistakes) English is not my mother tongue.

  13. Been thinking about this since you posted, and realized that I didn't really have a heroine until Buffy. As a kid I read voraciously but never found anyone I identified with (precocious, looked like a boy, better with adults than kids, into science, math, reading, and riding bikes) especially since I mostly read science fiction and fantasy, and the main characters were always boys. Loved the Dark is Rising series, Dune, Lord of the Rings, Hardy Boys, Pern, anything with Robin Hood or King Arthur. I guess for me any time a girl got the same rights/roles as a boy I liked the book. One that's really stuck with me is "The Blue Sword". Maybe a YA heroine who isn't into boys and whose main conflict doesn't center around some sort of a romantic relationship? That's pretty rare.

  14. Just got back from J3's, so if I list everything he's lost since the last time I was there, we'd be here all day. All his coats, just to start.

    I lost my glasses. But I found them. Finally. You will laugh when you hear where I found them.


Spill it, reader.