Female Protagonists in YA Fiction

Okay, so I just picked up a new YA novel – “Getting Over Garrett Delaney” by Abby McDonald. I’m only in the first chapter, and already, I’ve rolled my eyes so far that I’m shocked they’re not stuck in the back of my head, permanently.

From the first two pages, I can already see it: this book is about a girl who’s madly, hopelessly in love with a dude she can’t have. The descriptions make that much very clear. Blah, blah, blah. (Let me guess, they get together in the end, right? I’m not sure yet.)

It’s a try-too-hard piece and painful to read, and I’m only a few pages in.

“We’re supposed to be together! I knew the day we met that it was fate!” “Everything except the only thing I ever really wanted us to be. In love.” Honey, you’re friends. And apparently you’ve been friends for two years. Stop whining and either ask him out or get over it.

But wait – she doesn’t. Because a few pages later, our protagonist is talking about an “intensive writing camp” the two of them are headed to this summer, which sounds (quite frankly) badass and something I would’ve LOVED at the age of 17. She says it’s “the chance I’ve been waiting for,” but she’s not talking about a chance to better herself as a writer! Alas, our protagonist has to be dumbed down to just thinking about “the nights” spent with her pal, “snuggling together.” Never mind the fact that she’s supposedly a good writer or developing that part of her character!

A few pages later, and – surprise – she’s now gone into the clichéd “my town sucks!!! this place is awful!!! it’s a wasteland!!!” speech. Seriously? Why do authors always feel like the characters can’t like their hometowns?

A few pages later, we’re then left poking fun at young teenaged girls talking about a seemingly popular movie (because apparently if something is popular, it’s not “real culture.”) Then our protagonist talks about how she can only take her coffee black and strong, since – surprise! – she switched from drinks like frapps as soon as she met this guy. Because changing for a guy you just met is TOTALLY the right thing to do. Jesus.

She goes on to call other female characters “crazy” and “bitches” in hopes of warming up to her best friend (aka, the guy she’s in love with). And again, later, referring to her best friend’s “crazy ex-girlfriend” simply because she’s jealous.

Later, she’s judging an old friend’s relationship as one with a “monosyllabic jock,” and of course, ~praising~ her crush because they talk about politics and philosophy. Let me roll my eyes harder. It seems, so far, that literally every facet of her life revolves around only one thing: love. There’s no other dimension to her.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with writing female characters that are in love. But for God’s sake, it is that hard to give them some more dimension, even in YA novels?!? I got through two chapters of the book before I just couldn’t handle it. (On a side note, we just found out that our protagonist won’t be spending the summer with her crush-to-end-all-crushes, because she didn’t get accepted to the camp! Maybe this will force her character to improve. Hopefully she doesn’t spend all summer pining over him.)

To finish off this post – err, rant – I’m going to throw in a quote here:

“Screw writing ‘strong’ women. Write interesting women. Write well-rounded women. Write complicated women. Write a woman who kicks ass, write a woman who cowers in a corner. Write a woman who’s desperate for a husband. Write a woman who doesn’t need a man. Write women who cry, women who rant, women who are shy, women who don’t take no shit, women who need validation and women who don’t care what anybody thinks. THEY ARE ALL OKAY, and all those things could exist in THE SAME WOMAN…. Write characters who are people. The only bad female character, if you ask me, is one who’s flat. One who isn’t realistic. One who has no agency of her own, who only exists to define other characters (usually men).”

Based on the first two chapters of this book, our protagonist is entirely flat. Her world revolves around a man – and that’s all there is to it. And quite frankly, it’s painful to read! Maybe it’ll get better as the book goes on — maybe. (I hope.)

Update: So far, it hasn’t. “He thinks I’m devastated over the loss of my summer of intellectual and creative discovery, and sure, I am, but mainly I’m devastated over the loss of my summer with Garrett.” ….. “I try to act like the writing is what matters in all of this.” “Before love came crashing into our lives and everything else ceased to have meaning or purpose.”

Except that’s not how life works. You don’t fall in love and abandon everything else. Love is a huge thing, but it’s not the only thing, at least not in the real world.

She talks about her bookshelf: “the books he’s given me, the books we’ve read together, the books I got because he recommended them…” For God’s sake, girl. Get your own books, find out what YOU like ON YOUR OWN! At this point, I want to pick up our protagonist, shake her by the collar and scream “DO SOMETHING FOR YOURSELF!”

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