By: Larissa | May 2, 2014 | (40) Comments

discussing through midnight

This meme was created for YA Midnight Reads as a discussion post of all things bookish.

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This may be a very jumbled, ranty and confusing post. I just have a lot of feelings and I hope anybody reading this can at least understand what I’m trying to say haha (:

So I’ve recently read books that have heroines which seem to stand out from the norm in YA. One of them was Rebel Belle  by Rachel Hawkins, with Harper (the main character) who truly personifies the Steel Magnolia. Her narration was so enjoyable to me and very refreshing. Harper is girly to the extreme and I just found her to be a barrel full of fun. The other book I read recently where the main character stood out to me was in The Winner’s Curse. Krestel was the main character in that one, and I loved her. I found her introspective observations to be quite telling of her personality and loved her intelligence when it came to strategy. It takes Krestel awhile to act, her concern for herself and others was clear.

These characters are what inspired this post today. More specifically, it was certain people’s reactions to them. While generally pursuing some reviews surrounding these books and their main characters, I found words like: weak, vain, shallow, boring, indecisive, bossy, vapid.

I get that people can differing opinions from my own. But something itched the back of my brain when I read those reviews. I soon found that the underlying point with those reviews was that these characters weren’t found to be strong/badass/whatever.

I believe that this love affair for “strong” characters is quite rampant over YA, and it’s getting to quite a high point. Authors and publishers want to please readers and are therefore attempting to create more strong characters. I’m not going to deny that it can work. Sometimes though, I’m reading books in which the main characters are so strong it’s too the point of ridiculousness. They’re rash, arrogant, prone to make stupid decisions and basically badass to the point of invincibility in any circumstance. These once relatable and strong heroines are now becoming caricatures of themselves and are popping up all over the place.

The thing is though, characters don’t have to be strong in order to be good characters. They don’t have to be all badass and snarky. They don’t have to be some fierce warrior.  I feel like these strong characters are great, some of my favorite characters in books are painted to be that way.  It’s great to have characters that you can really look up to and admire.

Again this doesn’t mean all  characters need to be this way though. It also doesn’t mean that those characters who don’t fit into the very subjective mould of strong/badass/whatever are any less amazing. In fact I find those characters with vulnerabilities the ones I can connect with the most and find extremely relatable.

I feel like the fact that “strong” characters are so much favored is why there’s been so other types of  heroines in YA. I personally would like to see more balance.  One singular type of thing only is never good, it makes for repetition.  I want to to see a good range and diversity of characters with different backgrounds, traits, personalities, likes, dislikes and really anything. I just want some variety.

Most of all I’d like to see people be a little more open minded about characters, not just considering “strong” to equate to good.

What do you think of the representation of different types of characters in YA? Do you think it’s fair?

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Larissa was born and still is living in the land of ice, snow and maple syrup. She's 18 years old and really has no idea what to do with her life lately. Larissa's plans are constantly changing--though there’s one thing has remained constant throughout her seventeen years, and that’s reading. It takes her to another world and puts her into impossible situations and that’s why she loves it so much.

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40 Responses to Discussing Through Midnight (31): “Strong” Characters

  1. This is such a great discussion topic. I personally dislike the trope of “strong” females in books – it makes it seem as though women aren’t strong unless they’re embodying stereotypically male attributes. I love females who are well-rounded, with insecurities and strengths and fears and developed personalities. And whatever type of character they are, I will probably enjoy it if they’re well-developed 🙂
    Emily @ The Loony Teen Writer recently posted…It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini: I review one of my favourite contemporariesMy Profile

    • Larissa says:

      Thank you Emily! YES. Omg I never even touched on that point regarding women not being strong unless they have male traits. But, it’s definitely true and quite alarming. I agree, female characters that have realistic weaknesses and actual personalities work well for me. Well developed characters are a must!

  2. I think there are a lot of strong female main characters in books. The first one that comes to mind is Celaena from the Throne of Glass series. Not just because she’s a deadly assassin, but just in general. Sure, she can kick your ass to the other end of the world if she wants too, but that’s just an awesome extra. And of course, Katniss.
    But a character can be strong in another way. Think of Echo in Pushing The Limits. She’s incredibly strong. Not literally, but mentally.

    My point is that “strong” can be interpreted in many ways. She doesn’t have to be a deadly assassin or awesome archer to be strong in my eyes.
    Bieke @ Istyria book blog recently posted…Bookish Babble: How and why I started reading & new on the blog!My Profile

    • Larissa says:

      Yes, they’re definitely a lot of strong female characters in YA. Celaena from the Throne of Glass series was one of the first to pop into my head too, and I totally adore her. I do agree with you, strong can definitely mean different things to different people. It can be mentally, physically or emotionally.

  3. I sometimes really like it when characters are strong in a different way. Not every character has to be a Celaena or a Katniss for me. Sometimes I like to read about a character who is mentally strong. Having shy, more weak-looking characters doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It makes it sometimes easier to connect with them and everyone can be strong in their own way.
    Mel@thedailyprophecy recently posted…Early Review 256. Jennifer Donnelly – Deep blue.My Profile

    • Larissa says:

      Same! I agree, characters don’t need to be physically strong in order to be liked. I love reading stories where the character starts out weaker and slowly becomes stronger. It’s a cool journey to go on. And yes, definitely! People are strong in their unique ways c:

  4. Kelly says:

    *claps madly* That’s exactly what we need, more variety! I love kick ass heroines in gritty dystopians, but even I get sick of the same personalities time and time again. I’m reading The Winner’s Curse at the moment and enjoying her quiet but resilient personality.One character I love in YA is Saba from the Dustlands trilogy. She’s a unique strength in young adult, no graces about her, but Moira Young wasn’t afraid to create a character so flawed that readers can’t help but root for the underdog. Awesome post.

    • Larissa says:

      Yay, I’m glad you agree c: I think some variety is much needed in the YA genre. Sometimes reading about badass heroines can be repetitive. Awww I’m glad you’re enjoying Krestel (: Resilient is the perfect word to describe her as. I’ve never actually read the Dustlands trilogy, but I need to. Saba sounds like a character I’d simply adore. Thank you! (:

  5. Larrisa, you needn’t have worried about us understanding you, I think you may have taken the words out of our mouths. There’s so much more to being strong than being badass, having the inner strength to accept and overcome grief, having the strength to put others before yourself and intelligent strength, to know what battles to fight and what ones to take flight with. You’ve highlighted a strong point, I would much rather have a character with great development who can’t win every fight alone than a character so single-layered, unrealistic and unrelatable in the slightest. Greta topic and it’s an important issue with the diversity tag all over Twitter, good job hunny! 😀
    Amanda @ Book Badger recently posted…Five Friday Favorites #13 – Not So Favourite Leading LaddiesMy Profile

    • Larissa says:

      Yay, I’m glad you think so c: Strength is such a hard thing to define, and it really is about a multitude of things. There’s so many varying degrees and levels of it. Character development and to really go on a emotional journey with a character is key for me. Those are really the characters I enjoy the most. Thank you Amanda <33

  6. I think it can work out either way. Katniss is a bad ass bitch, but she’s also kind of frigid and cold and standoffish and it makes it hard (for me) to connect with her. Rose on the other hand, who is also bad ass, is so easy to relate to.

    A character doesn’t have to be strong for me to like them. I’m excited to read Rebel Belle BTW!
    Nereyda @Mostly YA Book Obsessed recently posted…Series Review: Under the Never Sky #1-3 by Veronica Rossi!My Profile

    • Larissa says:

      You do make a good point with Rose (: She’s definitely a strong heroine who I love.

      I hope you enjoy Rebel Belle, I gave it 3.5 stars c:

  7. Awesome review Larissa, you hit the nail on the head when you say we want diversity in characters, not just those that are characterised as “strong” but then they somehow become weak. I think no matter what sort of character an author will create, there will always be people who criticise them. Lovely discussion <3
    Jeann @ Happy Indulgence recently posted…Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira Review: Get the tissues readyMy Profile

    • Larissa says:

      Thank you! I think diversity would add a much needed breath of fresh air into the YA genre. I want not only diverse characters but also diverse settings, plotlines and conflicts. Diverse everything really 😛

  8. Zoe N. says:

    “The thing is though, characters don’t have to be strong in order to be good characters. They don’t have to be all badass and snarky. They don’t have to be some fierce warrior. I feel like these strong characters are great, some of my favorite characters in books are painted to be that way. It’s great to have characters that you can really look up to and admire.

    YES TO THIS TIMES 100! I absolutely agree! A character doesn’t have to be perfect or badass to be “strong.” They just have to be well-written and connectable – even if they aren’t perfect. Sometimes the best characters are the ones that feel the most real and are most connectable for you. Thanks so much for sharing this Larissa, and, as always, BRILLIANT post!
    Zoe N. recently posted…Dorothy Must DieMy Profile

    • Larissa says:

      I’m glad you agree hehe c: Well written and well developed is really all I need from characters. And diversity! Am I really asking for too much?? Thank you Zoe <33

  9. SEE?! You wrote this so much better than I could!! XD I was going to do a Notebook Sisters Approved on Tella’s characters…aaand, I still might, but not for a while. Because you rocked it here. 😉 I think strong characters shouldn’t be confused with “different personalities”. I mean, gosh, everyone’s DIFFERENT and how are we expecting “strong” to fit into one neat little compartment? I think strong can mean intelligent and brave, not like extroverted and kick-butt. So yup. There are all sorts of strong and I love how they’re getting explored now, just interesting how readers react to them, right?
    Cait @ Notebook Sisters recently posted…Should you write consistently or in bulk?My Profile

    • Larissa says:

      Haha awwee, I really doubt that Cait [; But thank you! You should definitely do that in the future. Yes! We’re all not clones and I feel like there’s so much needed diversity needed in YA to represent our differences. There’s just so many definitions for “strong” anyway. It’s definitely a word open to interpretation. Yes, seeing people’s reactions to these characters can be quite telling

  10. “Strong” could mean a lot of different things for me. There are the badass characters, emotionally strong ones and social characters who never get shy. And many others, of course. I do appreciate when characters are “strong”, but sometimes we definitely need some characters who are realistic and diverse. Honestly, I’ll love any character as long as they’re written well, given good development throughout the book and as long as they don’t do any horrible, unforgivable thing. 😛
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    • Larissa says:

      Of course it can! (: It’s definitely a very hard word to narrow down. There’s so many varying levels and categories. Realistic and diverse characters are quite honestly my favorites. Yes! Haha, I definitely do have some no-nos when I find it hard to ever forgive characters. Like slut shaming or cheating.

  11. I think strong means a lot of things…but people seem to equate it to certain characters nowadays. I don’t want a character (boy or girl) that is mean and whines all the time and nothing changes. That’s not cool. But there can be characters that are bit more timid, shy, or don’t have physical strength. They can be “strong” in their own way, and they are very important to include in books.
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    • Larissa says:

      Of course! Strong is just a very open word, one that means different things to everybody. Yeah, character development is quite necessary for me in order to actually enjoy reading the book through the character’s narration.

  12. Yes! I agree with everything you said. Strong isn’t everything, and just because you may not be physically strong doesn’t mean you’re not a strong person. I don’t mind a girl who actually acts like a girl. The balance is way off.
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    • Larissa says:

      That’s awesome! And I totally agree, strength definitely isn’t everything about a character. I love reading about girly girls, as I’m one myself lol 😛 I really would like to see more balance.

  13. Stephanie B says:

    I’ll go ahead and admit that I really don’t buy into the “strong” character thing people seem to be picky about in YA books. I don’t think a character has to do brutal things in order to be strong. It’s quite ironic actually. When we see female protagonists from books like Throne of Glass and Not a Drop to Drink (I loved both books) do some pretty brutal things, we regard them as strong characters. If we were to see male protagonists do some of these same things though, the effect is quite different. Kind of a double standard. I think Krestel is a strong character but her strength is different and the value of this type of strength seems to be widely forgotten and undervalued.
    Stephanie B recently posted…Mini Review: Marco’s StoryMy Profile

    • Larissa says:

      Me too! Lol if you couldn’t guess from this post. It really is ironic in a way. If we saw male protagonists doing these “strong” things we’d see them as harsh and such. It’s quite an intriguing double standard, you’ve made a brilliant point there. I do love Krestel! She’s more of a less obvious strength, and one that I definitely find to be undervalued.

  14. I definitely agree that there needs to be diversity in YA characters. Yes, badass chicks are awesome. We all know that. It’s nice to see a girl take the lead and protect herself etc etc, but like you said: don’t overdo it. Not every YA MC needs to be this badass chick. Not every YA MC *will* be. In life there are extremely strong people, there are normal people, and there are weak people. So why shouldn’t they all be represented in novel characters?
    But then on the other hand, not every MC needs to be likeable. If the character is vain, and as a reader someone doesn’t like that, then they don’t like it. Just like there are different characters in books, there are different people in the real world, too. 🙂
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    • Larissa says:

      I’m glad you agree! Haha I was worried I may be the only one thinking this. Lol yeah, badass chicks are well renowned for their greatness but it can just be sooooo overdone. YES! We need to realistically have characters that reflect our own lives (: And we’re not all badass katana whielders, as much as some of us may want to be.
      Yes, creating unlikable MC’s can be risky. But, it can definitely work if they redeem themselves in some way

  15. I really don’t think strong characters equals to good characters either. For me, any kind of character can be a good character. The way they become a good character is through learning HOW they became to be who they were and most importantly their development after. I can deal with a bitchy character, if I know why they’re a bitch and if they change as the story goes on. But I can’t deal with a strong character if I can’t understand why they got there and if they’re just strong for the whole thing. I don’t know if what I’m saying makes sense but basically I need more than story background and story development, I need character background and character development. Awesome discussion Larissa!
    Laura Plus Books recently posted…Stacking The Shelves #33: Massive April Book HaulMy Profile

    • Larissa says:

      Yes! Character development is a must and is really telling about what type of person the character is. I agree with you about bitchy characters. As long as they have a backstory and go through some sort of redemption I will actually quite enjoy them. Static characters are the worst, if they don’t change in at all then what is the point?? You do make sense girl, and I definitely agree c: Thank you Laura!

  16. In my humble opinion, I don’t really care much about strong characters. As long as they’re not always a damsel in distress that is. If that’s the case, it’s a big problem. >_<

    Of course… like Chiara said, the character has to be likeable. There's GOT to be something enjoyable, whether it's the voice, certainly not the look, or the personality. Or the way they treat their friends. I tend to be fans of sidekicks. 😀
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    • Larissa says:

      Yeah characters only become an issue to me when they don’t have any development. Likeable qualities usually do make me enjoy characters more :p Sidekicks usually are awesome! Lol sometimes they’re even more enjoyable than the main characters

  17. Yes I’ve always wanted to talk about this but never got the chance because I could never just put my words together. But I feel like strong characters are so ideal that in cases where the MC doesn’t HAVE to be strong the book suffers because the character’s forcing the “strong” traits they’re supposed to have. And I feel like when we get imperfect, weaker characters that reflect a NORMAL teenager, one with flaws and insecurities, we think they’re annoying because we’re so used to those strong characters who are nothing but badass and ready to handle the world as an independent character. Fantastic post, Larissa! <33
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    • Larissa says:

      Oooo you took the words out of my mouth regarding the forced strong traits. Sometimes it can seem so contrived and unnecessary. And then wow! You’re totally right about us viewing those who don’t embody those strong traits as annoying because we become used to those strong ones. Great points! And thank you Eileen <33

  18. oh YES THIS!! It is an issue, more revolving around female character than anything else.

    I think in YA, particularly fantasy YA, there is a cookie cutter model of heroines. Mostly they’re badass and snarky and fierce, with slight differences between them. And you know what, that’s cool. I like those characters, they show that girls can be as badass as the boys. BUT a lot of people criticise those characters for being “mary sues” OR, as you’ve said, they hate on any heroine that does not fit the model. Which I think is silly because there are so many different ways in which someone can be “strong”. Just because a character doesn’t fight/can’t hold their own physically against attackers doesn’t mean they’re weak. All different types of strength need to be represented, because those other types are easier for me to relate to. Those characters more like me and do give me a little self confidence.

    This comment got long… sorry. But yeah, slowly representations of characters are getting better and we’re beginning to see a wide variety. But up until recently there wasn’t that much variation (in the genres I typically read anyway)

    Thanks for the great discussion!
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    • Larissa says:

      I do feel like it’s based in the female side of things, definitely.

      Yes, cookie cutter is certainly a great way to describe things. Those characters are fine. I do feel like they can be Mary Sue’s sometimes though. Strong is definitely something open to interpretation and just because one character doesn’t fit your definition of strong doesn’t mean they won’t fit somebody else’s definition. We do need diversity! And I agree, characters alike myself are the most relatable and some of the most enjoyable.

      Never apologize for a long comment, I totally adore long comments <33

      Thank you! (:

  19. Great post! I really enjoy strong characters, but when they are more realistic. I don’t like the ones who are seemingly invincible for everything. I think that’s why so many people love Katniss, she was a strong character but she wasn’t invincible, she got hurt and she suffered a lot. It was how she got through and dealt with all of it that really showed how strong she was.

    But, like you, I don’t want to just see these types of kick-ass characters. I want to see ALL types of characters. I have about as much strength as a 5 year old, so it’s much easier to relate to a character who can’t kill a main with her own hands. Both the books you mentioned are ones I am planning to read, I am looking forward to seeing what I think of the characters and whether I love them or not.
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    • Larissa says:

      Thank you! Yeah the ones that seem invincible are definitely annoying to me. I want them to fail almost lol. Katniss is a great example of strong heroine who went through a lot of horrible circumstances but still managed to rise to the top.

      Yes! Lol I bet you have a little more strength than a 5 year old [; Hopefully. Oooo, I hope you enjoy the characters in those two books. Lol I did have some issues with the books, gave them 3-3.5 ratings. But the characters in them were the best parts for sure.

  20. I love you so much for writing this, Larissa. I was really surprised to see criticisms of Kestrel’s strength in a number of reviews as well. Do we only define strength by a girl’s physical abilities? Or by her sarcasm or defiant attitude? There’s so much more to being resilient and resourceful women than that, and it makes me sad when people dismiss characters like Kestrel or Tessa Gray on such superficial terms.

    I got into a Twitter discussion with Rosamund Hodge on this very topic, by the way. I’m glad to see you bringing attention to it as well.
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    • Larissa says:

      Thank you Wendy c: Yeah, it was rather shocking and honestly a bit disappointing to see people who I enjoy diss Krestel. I definitely agree with you on how we view strong characters and how we shouldn’t be confined to the sarcastic/badass/whatever stereotypes. Tessa Gray is another brilliant example of a strong heroine who doesn’t fit the usual mould.

      Oooo,I’ll have to go have a look at that. I think this is a very important issue and I hope more people take notice of it

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