Book Chat: What I Look For In Heroines

There are so many complaints on my feed about the typical YA heroine. I absolutely understand that; I’m always the first to complain about typical YA tropes. But I feel some of the issues verge into flat-out misogyny. After all, there are so many fascinating So here are some things I really want out of girl YA protagonists.

1. Not always being stereotypically beautiful. Give me characters who aren’t always the same body type.

I’m not even going to complain about main heroines being pretty, because we all have different definitions of beauty and people of all body types can be pretty. (Seriously, there are very few people who are actively not pretty.) But why is our definition of “pretty” so restricted? I’d like more heroines who are not conventionally attractive, but aren’t defined by being “not pretty”. I’d also like more characters who are pretty, just not in the conventional way. I want heroines who are chubby and pretty, or black and pretty, or fairly butch and pretty. Not all pretty people have blonde hair and blue eyes and super-skinny bodies. And I really want some characters who don’t have blue or green eyes. Not that those eye colors are bad; I have blue eyes. But the normalization of these eye colors has hints of white supremacy. Romanticize brown eyes too, people.

Examples of characters described as not being beautiful: Lada from And I Darken, Adelina from The Young Elites.

Examples of characters who are portrayed as beautiful but are not necessarily skinny feminine white women: Fire from the Graceling trilogy, Nina from Six of Crows, Lila from A Darker Shade Of Magic. This list is terrifyingly short.

2. Mentally strong or less insecure characters.

This is a statement that deserves some qualifying, because I mean at least four different things here.

First of all, give me some leads with confidence!! This doesn’t need explaining; even super badass characters often come off insecure and unsure. That’s fine and interesting, but make the pool of heroines more diverse.

But beyond that, give me characters with mixed relationships towards themselves. I’m absolutely not saying that weak-willed or insecure characters are bad, but they’re often portrayed in ways that feel unrealistic to me. For example, I’m fairly insecure about my personality, but not particularly insecure about my appearance. Many people I know have similarly complex relationships with self-esteem. I want this portrayed. It’s not always about your body.

Examples of confident heroines: Nina and Inej from Six of Crows, Puck from The Scorpio Races, Blue from the Raven Cycle, Scarlet from The Lunar Chronicles, Unnamed from A Thousand Nights, Lila from A Darker Shade Of Magic, Katsa from Graceling.

Examples of heroines with well-written self-esteem issues: Sarai from Strange the Dreamer, Rachelle from Crimson Bound, Katsa from Graceling, Adelina from The Young Elites, Liraz from Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Samantha from Before I Fall, Waverly from Places No One Knows, Andi from Revolution, Elise from This Song Will Save Your Life.

3. More development for the nameless badasses.

Many of YA’s “strong female characters” are strong because of their physical strength, not their mental strength. I find female characters that are strong because they’re violent often come off false and cheap. First of all, they’re often insecure in their appearance, which often rings false in the way it’s written. These characters need to be believable. If she’s a confident, stone-cold killer, she shouldn’t be swooning at every moment. And that’s not to say strong girl characters can’t have love interests!! They just shouldn’t fall over themselves for the guy’s approval.

Examples of developed warrior girl characters: Inej and Nina from Six of Crows, Rachelle from Crimson Bound, Katsa from Graceling, Katniss from the Hunger Games, Lada from And I Darken, Liraz from Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Hazel from the Darkest Part of the Forest, Rhee from Empress of a Thousand Skies.

4. Less development through romantic relationships.

Yes, healthy relationships can make you better and happier; in fact, they should. But relationships shouldn’t be a direct path to character development, and this is often their use. Many books I’ve read have only brief character development for female leads, and it almost always occurs due to meeting a guy. This isn’t automatically bad, but it’s used far too much.

This isn’t so much a request that needs examples; however, I do want to give a book recommendation that truly subverts this. Getting Over Garrett Delaney by Abby McDonald is all about how damaging it is to change for a relationship. Definitely recommend this one.

5. Powerful, non-tropey lady villains. 

Give me some lady villains who really scare me. I know this is an odd request, but I’m tired of the same old tired villain tropes for women.

Examples of powerful lady villains and morally black protagonists: Serena from Vicious, Lada from And I Darken, Levana from The Lunar Chronicles, Nimona from Nimona, Astrid from A Darker Shade of Magic, basically any Gillian Flynn protagonist, Imogen from Genuine Fraud, Elise from Dangerous Girls, Chloe from Dangerous Boys.

Honestly, all in all, I’m just asking for realistic character development. I want my heroines developed and honest, and my guess is everyone else does too.

Comment any of your least favorite YA heroine tropes below!

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EIise @thebookishactress

I like coffee, girls, and six of crows. I'm an introvert, but I love talking to people, so message me whenever!

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