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Why I Try To Write About Strong Girls

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Let me just say first that I love books. I love character development, and I love watching characters grow over the course of a story into something they didn’t know they could be. It’s exciting, entertaining, and pretty much the only reason I read a story.

I want the girls in my stories to be strong, tough women that can take care of themselves. I am not saying they have to start out that way–heck that would be kind of boring, and I’m not really sure where the plot would go after that. But, I am saying that I want to see them learn to be a kickass version of themselves.

YA has taken a lot of flack lately for talking down to girls and teaching them to devalue themselves based on a boy.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this, because those are two books I really like, and when I read through them, I just didn’t see it. But, as I read what people have to say and start to really examine the stories, I can see why people think that. It’s definitely a matter of opinion, though, because you could also look at Hush, Hush or Twilight and see girls fighting for love against ALL odds. That’s pretty cool if you ask me, and it makes me happy to think in this time where more than half of marriages still end in divorce, the teenage audience wants to believe in unfaltering love.

That kinda rocks.

The thing is this… we can’t tell kids what to read, and we can’t tell them what to be into. The reason they love these girls is because they see them as versions of themselves. The meek girl sitting quietly in the back of the classroom finally gets her day to shine, and what is a reader if not the girl with her nose in a book?

So, I feel like when I tell a story I want to combine those things, I want the reader to identify with my characters so–you know she doesn’t feel like she’s reading about some hottie cheerleader that she already hates, but in the end I want to see my main character take charge of the situation and save her friends, her true love, her dog–whatever. I just want to see her be a badass, because it gives me hope.

And hope is what reading is all about.

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  1. Jamie,

    I love this – and I wholeheartedly agree.

    I tried to make my MC strong (not Power Puff Girls strong – hee!) but strong enough to realize her worth independent of how the boys in her life view her.

    Thanks for a great post!


  2. Wow! Hot topic tonight!

    I loved both of those books.

    The funny thing is that the more adults gripe about the type of books that teens shouldn’t read, the more they are going to pick them up in spite.

    I’ve got 4th graders reading BOOKS this year just by handing over the Twilight book to them.

    If it means they are reading and they are enjoying it, why does it matter so much. It’s not like they aren’t getting this stuff from other sources of less desirable media: tv, movies, music…
    .-= Tiffany Neal´s last blog ..Muse is MIA – If Found, Please Return =-.

    1. @Tiffany Neal, ahhh the teacher opinion… it’s the EXACT same as mine.

      Who cares… I just want the kids to READ!

  3. Having read HUSH HUSH, I have to say that the Goodreads review seems to me to be the result of poor reading comprehension. (I won’t go point by point, but I could.)

    What I LIKED about that book is that Patch is the quintessential bad boy, and that Nora’s proximity to him comes with real consequences. I loved that he wasn’t fully redeemed in the book… that she likes him even knowing that she shouldn’t–knowing this makes her an idiot.

    I liked that because it’s true to life. There’s something about a moronic, dangerous jerk that attracts us at one point in our lives. But it isn’t rainbows and glitter just because he likes us back. In fact, it’s creepy and scary and dangerous, rips us out of our comfort zones and makes us face things we aren’t ready for, and usually means that we get hurt in bad, un-take-back-able ways.

    But then, I don’t think writing YA is about writing role models. Some people do, and awesome for them. But the main character of a book shouldn’t HAVE to be someone that the reader wants to emulate for it to be a good book.

    The MC doesn’t have to be a super strong woman of power who knows herself and makes decisions that teach good gender lessons.

    She doesn’t have to be kick-ass or brilliant or deep.

    She definitely doesn’t have to choose the right guy for the right reasons in the end, zealously guarding her chastity as they embark on the journey of love as equals.

    I only ask that the female leads of books be real, deal with real issues and feelings, and face the real consequences of their actions, whether that’s physical or emotional.

    (Here’s where I would talk about my issues with the Twilight series, if I had the time or inclination to join the bash party that is the INTERNETZ AGAINST ALL WHO SUCCEED movement.)

    And if, in the end, our beloved main character decides to do something that we all know is stupid, so be it. Because I don’t know about you, but I was an IDIOT as a kid. I didn’t pick the right guy until I was 28 (and picked plenty of wrong ones leading up to that moment). And in some very real ways, there are decisions I made way back in high school that I still feel the consequences of today.

    I would never want someone to emulate me. And I’m not writing books to teach girls how to live. I’m telling stories that hopefully make them think about life issues so that they can draw their own conclusions.

    1. @Claena, I’m with you. I don’t think that goodreads review really portrays the story in a fair way, but I think everyone has the right to review whatever they want however they want. (Watch me eat those words some day…)

      I love the idea you have here of talking about real life issues in our stories and hoping that teenagers draw their own conclusions. Isn’t that all we can do as writers? And, hey if our stories do that–then I think we’ve accomplished something.

  4. I’m right with you on the strong girl thing, Jamie! And you definitely write a strong girl but one that has her moments of weakness that we all experience. You rock!

    I’m not afraid to say that I LOVED both Hush, Hush and Twilight, and while I can see where some people find fault (a few I might even partially agree with) I think the whole this-is-teaching-teen-girls-a-bad-lesson thing is ridiculous. Give teens some credit!

    I’m very disturbed that a fellow author would attack a book in such a way as that review of HH did. Wow. Anyone who writes knows how much of ourselves we pour into our work, how hard the people along the way work (readers, agents, editors etc.) and we don’t all have to like the same stories, but you will NEVER find me ripping someone’s work apart like that. It’s wrong. There’s a respectful way to approach things, that’s not even close…

    1. @Rebecca, The reviewer crihicized the work, not the person, and if the author cannot separate the difference, no matter how much of ourselves we put into our work, then she has no business being published. That review did an excellent job of laying out arguments with the book and giving supporting evidence why she concluded what she did. It was hardly an attack, just a well-written negative opinion to which she is entitled. I fail to see how that was disrespectful.
      .-= Jess´s last blog ..Reading/Want to Read =-.

      1. @Jess, That’s my opinion not the author’s. (I hope she never has to read that review)And it’s just that…my opinion. We all have our opinions so we’re bound to disagree. And that’s OK.

        I realize she didn’t attack the author, reviews typically don’t, but this isn’t a traditional review. I’m the last person in the world to fault someone for not liking the same things I like, but I won’t sit back and listen to people butcher a book that doesn’t deserve it without speaking up in its defense. The author who wrote that review did so because she felt strongly about her view. So do I. At least we agree on something.

      2. @Rebecca, but it’s *your opinion* the book didn’t deserve it, and I could see your point if she just went off ranting about it but she didn’t – she supported everything she said with examples from the book. You don’t have to like it but I don’t understand how you can call it an attack and a horrible review. And if you found a book you disagreed with as strongly as you like HH, you wouldn’t want to speak up about its perceived errors?

        I think it’s ludicrous you’re suggesting writers don’t actively criticize what they feel is harmful in a piece of fiction to avoid hurting the author’s feelings because it’s just too mean to write such negative things about someone’s book-baby.

        And, please, how is it NOT a traditional review? I find it to be a well-supported argument. More reviews should be such, whether positive or negative.
        .-= Jess´s last blog ..Reading/Want to Read =-.

      3. @Jess, I guess I don’t understand how the reviewer ‘butchered’ the book by dissecting it, with supporting evidence, in a manner with which you disagree. Had she done the same with a book you dislike would you be as outraged?
        .-= Jess´s last blog ..Reading/Want to Read =-.

      4. @Jess, This is will be my last reply on this topic because its clear that we are on two sides of the fence and I think its silly to spar over a difference of opinion. We could argue for days over this and get nowhere.

        The bottom line is that I disagree with the review. I have no issue with negative reviews but I did have a problem with this one, which is why I chose to comment. I feel just as strongly as the author of the review did, but in a very different way. I’m not sitting here saying all reviews should be puppies and roses or that we shouldn’t speak up when we don’t agree. I’ve read brutal reviews of books I already had a distaste for but I didn’t feed into it. I choose to let people form their own opinions. I personally decided not to review the books I read because I like to let others form their own opinions. If I don’t like an author’s book I would rather readers see if they agree on their own. But that’s just me and I know most people would disagree. Heck, I read reviews all the time. Reviewers put a lot of time and energy into writing them.

        I’m a mother, a writer, an avid YA reader, a blogger…so I have a lot invested in the world of YA books. I love books and I respect each and every person who chooses to write and read them. This is why I’m speaking up. I loved Hush, Hush and I don’t feel it deserves to be butchered. And, yes, I do feel she butchered it in that review.

        I hope that makes sense. Jess, I totally respect your opinion and realize you’re likely to disagree on my this reply as well, but I think I’ve chewed up enough of Jamie’s comment space on this particular post.

        Thanks for calling attention to this issue, Jamie. I think it’s an important one and it won’t be the last time we hear about this sort of thing. Hush, Hush and Twilight aren’t the first and they won’t be the last ones. The more popular a book becomes the more people give it attention, good and bad.

    2. @Rebecca, What I want to see is a balance… show me characters girls reading them WANT to be, and I will be a happy camper 🙂

  5. I’ll be honest, reading the commentary on Hush, Hush makes me a little sick in my mouth (and not just the link you linked to). Same with Twilight – obsession is not sexy. And for good measure, here’s one you missed, about Shiver: http://www.therejectionist.com/2009/11/todays-book-review.html

    A heroine need not be conventionally strong for me to like her, but please, please, if you’re a female writing teen romance, don’t set feminism back sixty years. Strong girls, like Emily says, know when they need help, etc.

    As for finding love against all odds . . . that doesn’t seem the case with HH. It seems more like codependency on Nora’s part and, well, sleaze on Patch’s. I haven’t read the book myself, but I’m read a ton of reviews. And when the ‘odds’ are the men themselves, it does seem sort of cliche in that “my pure love will make him better!” way. That does not happen, and if that’s the message we’re giving teen girls, it’s a wonder battering is still considered a crime.
    .-= Jess´s last blog ..Reading/Want to Read =-.

    1. @Jess, I love what you just said there– obsession is not sexy.

      I think that’s really true. I want to see these bad boys fight for these girls’ affections. Prove they aren’t jackasses and deserve their love, ya know?

      1. @Jamie, on one hand yes, they need to show they aren’t creeps or jerks. on the other – I don’t want anybody fighting for my affection. One of the best lines from Aladdin: “I am not a prize to be won.” I think the guys can show they’re worthy without it being about the girl. Maybe they do volunteer work. Something, anything, that doesn’t objectify the girl!

        And I understand not every girl has strong preferences and hobbies, but losing your identity for a guy is sad. You need a richer internal life than that.
        .-= Jess´s last blog ..Reading/Want to Read =-.

      2. @Jess, Ah yes! That aladdin line is hands down one of my FAVORITE lines of all time!

      3. @Jamie, and let’s net even talk about the concept of ‘deserving’ love. Like people ‘earning’ respect, it makes me chafe, and my skin is red enough already.
        .-= Jess´s last blog ..Reading/Want to Read =-.

      4. @Jess, I agree there that deserving and earning aren’t really the best words to use in that respect, but I do like the idea that characters in stories should work hard to make the people they like love them back–and what they need to do just depends on the story and the situations…

  6. I think it’s possible to write strong, unfaltering love stories without…you know. Other Issues.

    I read the first review and I have to be honest, I had a lot of trouble getting through the book for those very reasons. I just didn’t see why everyone liked it so much or thought he was such a great guy. I liked TWILIGHT more, and if you know how I feel about that book, that’s saying a lot.

    I *do* want to read about unfaltering love, though. And I want to write about it.

    I think the boys need to deserve a girl who loves him that much, though. (Or at least be closer to deserving that kind of love than stalker/rapists. Because that’s not sexy to me.)

    1. @Jodi Meadows,
      I completely agree with you there. How can we make these girls deserving of awesome guys… I almost wonder if the problem isn’t with the girls, but with the guys they end up with?

      1. @Jamie,
        Right. I mean, I think girls should be smart and realize when danger isn’t sexy, but…the right guy isn’t *dangerous*. Sure, a bad boy spark is cute, but I would not want to be afraid of my boyfriend, you know?

        Neither of those guys deserved the girls, in my opinion. They hadn’t done anything worthy of such unconditional devotion. Patch — in my opinion — kept doing things that should drive a girl away. So I wanted a) Nora to be smarter about that, AND b) him to save her or do something heroic that made him seem like he was trying to redeem himself. He might have been a little more deserving then.

      2. @Jodi Meadows, I think that would have really redeemed patch for me if he had stuck up fr her in some way and really came to her rescue. The problem is that we always want the protag to be the saver…

        Which has me thinking even more. I really liked HH, but I wanted to see Nora stand up for herself more–and I wanted to see her really give Patch a piece of her mind. I’m not sure she ever does that.

      3. @Jamie,
        Right, I want her to stick up for herself — both to the guy and anyone else — but I want to see him do what he can to defend her, too. (Which means not thinking about pushing her off the roller coaster or making her think her friends left her behind.)

        I think it’s possible. Even Twilight managed it to some extent. Bella confronted Edward about what he was, and he repeatedly saved her life when she was unable.

        It’s difficult trying to wrestle all that, especially with an older and experienced hero — and not making him seem like a bossy jerkface — (ask me how I know!), but I think it’s important to try. No, we can’t control what teenagers read, but we can control what we write and hope it makes a difference.

      4. @Jodi Meadows, You know–that’s true with twilight. He fights his urge to drink all her blood when he saves her, etc.

        We don’t see that YET in Hush Hush. I wonder if we will see that in the next book. I’d like to see Patch redeem himself. The issue with Patch, though is–he’s a fallen angel… a really bad guy. Is it wrong for us to blame Nora for loving him despite his faults?

      5. @Jamie,
        For me, Patch had his chance in the first book. The selling point I kept hearing on that book was that he’s sooooo dreamy. But I didn’t see it. He doesn’t deserve *my* affections either. (Or my $17 for a hardback of the sequel.)

        And I totally blame Nora for loving him despite his faults. What has he done for her? What even makes him desirable? One sentences, she’s worried he’s going to kill her. The next, she’s kissing him. Not to blame the potential victim, but really, I don’t think it’s too much to ask her to be *smart* and make sure he’s not going to kill or rape her before she goes off alone with him.

      6. @Jodi Meadows, I think we blame everyone for loving someone despite their faults, but isn’t that what we ALL do?

        I mean… my husband’s pretty awesome, but he isn’t perfect, and I still love him 🙂

      7. @Jamie,
        Hee. I agree. Jeff is really awesome, but not perfect, either.

        But some faults are bigger than others. So Jeff always leaving his shampoo bottle in the sink (don’t ask) is not really a big deal, but having killed a bunch of people and not feeling bad about it… I know which boy I’d choose. 🙂

      8. @Jodi Meadows, HAHA AGREED! I mean… leaving trash on the kitchen counter is one thing… keeping dead bodies in the kitchen freezer, entirely another. 🙂

  7. I also like to write strong girls. At the same time, I want to write REAL girls, and real girls break down sometimes, lean on a friend, fall in love with the wrong person, and make big mistakes. I think that if you write a REAL girl who has STRONG girl moments, it’s just as valuable as writing a girl who does nothing but kick ass throughout the entire story.
    .-= E. Kristin Anderson (Emily)´s last blog ..THE TART HAS MOVED! =-.

    1. @E. Kristin Anderson (Emily), oh yes, I completely agree. I love the idea of strong girl moments. Don’t we all have those?!?

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