I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed a few annoying trends for female characters, specifically in YA. One is the whole “tougher than the boys” character. She fights, she swears, she’s probably got the lockdown on her emotions. But hey, what did you expect from a tough girl? The problem here is that being more traditionally masculine doesn’t make you strong. Femininity isn’t weak. But that’s not what I really want to write about today, so if you’re interested in that, check out this awesome blog post from Kaitlin over at Ink and Quills.
Today, I’m focusing on the problematic other side to these characters. They’re so painted as strong and competent, but when it comes down to the wire, they end up needing to be saved.
There is nothing wrong with characters who need help – in fact, I’d say there’s something wrong if a character doesn’t occasionally need help. But when a “strong female character” is constantly picking fights and having to be bailed out by her handsome love interest, I don’t really consider her to be the force of nature she’s billed as.
So! Today I’m spotlighting a few books with female characters who do live up to their reputation as physically tough women who can fight. These gals get the job done.
- Sabriel – The Abhorsen series, by Garth Nix
Sabriel is the Abhorsen, and it’s her job to make sure the dead stay dead. She does so with her set of seven bells that she wears, as you can see, in a hardcore bandolier across her chest. Despite being thrown into this Abhorsen business without much (any) training, Sabriel doesn’t flinch away, not from the undead who chase her, from the people who need her help, or from the responsibilities of her position.
Sabriel’s got a good head on her shoulders: she doesn’t panic, she makes plans, she asks for help when she needs it. As a bonus, if you’re a fan of smart aleck talking cats, you’ll probably like Mogget.
2. Meda Melange, The Soul Eaters series, by Eliza Crewe
Meda Melange is bad and she knows it. She’s half demon, and can only stay alive by eating other people’s life source, which sort of puts a crimp in her plans for heroism. She is the monster under the bed. Unexpectedly, she ends up hanging out with the good guys, after she’s attacked by three of her own kind. They’re hung up on some sort of noble quest, and Meda’s caught up in it too, despite trying to persuade them that they should drop the whole thing and save themselves.
Throughout this whole series, Meda is supposed to be faster and stronger than pretty much everyone else around her… and she is. She’s a skilled fighter, and while she’s not invincible, she doesn’t back down. She’s also a hilarious, consciously self-centered narrator, and the series completely flips multiple YA clichés. While there is romance in the series, it’s the friendship between Meda and Jo that really drives the story. Cracked emphasizes that friendship isn’t showing someone your best side or impressing them. It’s seeing someone at their worst and loving them anyway.
“Chi’s faith means nothing, because it has nothing to do with me. Chi’s faith is blind. He doesn’t see me. But Jo does.
Jo always has.”
3. Keladry of Mindelan, the Protector of the Small series, by Tamora Pierce
Kel is just the best. She dreams of being a knight, and when girls are allowed to enter training, she’s the first (and only) one to sign up. Throughout the series, we see Kel transform into a capable, formidable warrior. But unlike so many fantasy stories, she doesn’t have some incredible natural aptitude for fighting. She becomes a skilled fighter through years of training and unswerving dedication. Kel’s sense of justice, her perseverance, and her integrity make her one of my favorite fictional characters, ever.
4. Penryn Young, Penryn & the End of Days series, by Susan Ee
This is the series for you if you’re a fan of dystpopian, apocolyptic fiction; paranormal romance with lots of action; or snarky banter between the main characters. Penryn’s used to taking care of herself, growing up with a paranoid schizophrenic mother. When angels attack earth, Penryn keeps doing what she’s always done: taking care of her mother and her sister. But when the angels steal her sister away, Penryn (reluctantly) teams up with a betrayed, wingless angel named Raffe to storm the angel stronghold and find her sister again.
“So long as you don’t bleed in the shape of wing joints, you should pass for human. Oh, and don’t let anyone pick you up. They’ll know you’re not right as soon as they feel how light you are.”
“I’ll be sure not to let anyone but you carry me in her arms.”
Whether they’re knights or demons, these girls clean up their own messes.