Let’s Talk: FE&L #6-History of YA

female


 

A Discussion on History of Females in YA

Brin

Thanks so much to Batool for inviting me to write a guest post detailing the importance of

female empowerment in young adult literature. Her blog is wonderful and I was deeply

touched to be approached to write a piece on a topic that is dear to my heart.

I am an adult who reads young adult fiction. There, I said it.

Why, you might ask? I actually get asked this a lot. The answer is: because I find more

empowering female protagonists who I can actually relate to.

When I was a teenager I had difficulty finding books that had realistically depicted, strong

female characters. That’s not to say there wasn’t any – it was just difficult trying to find

these types of books in my local library (my main source for reading material) or my school

library.

Female empowerment, in young adult novels in particular, really saw a boom in the 1990s.

Prior to that, the majority of contemporary young adult fiction aimed at girls was romance

orientated (Sweet Dreams I’m looking at you!), though there were some great examples of

strong female characters in fantasy literature (Alanna from The Song of the Lioness series by

Tamora Pierce, or Aerin from Robin McKinley’s The Hero and The Crown to name two

examples) but you could argue the contemporary market was somewhat lagging behind.

Let’s go back a bit. The first book to be deemed a ‘young adult’ title was Seventeenth

Summer by Maureen Daly released in 1942. It was a romance (naturally) aimed at girls

about the trials of first love. A prevalent theme in all young adult fiction is coming of age –

regardless of gender.

The term ‘young adult’ was originally devised by the Young Adult Library Services

Association during the 1960s to represent the 12-18 age range. It was really the 1970s that

saw the ‘young adult’ novel really take off though. This era has been called the ‘golden age’

of young adult.

Authors such as Judy Blume and Lois Duncan dominated the shelves (even though both

were seen as somewhat controversial for their often difficult and challenging subject

matters – they can frequently be found on the ‘banned books’ list for example). I read both

of these authors myself (mainly in the early 1990s) and classed them among my favourites. I

liked that they targeted ‘difficult’ subjects such as teenagers having sex (shocker!) and

feminism. Another author who was greatly lauded for this was Norma Klein but I am only

passingly familiar with her works so I cannot really comment.

They had female protagonists who actually read like real people – completely different from

the other young adult series that I consumed at the time (like the aforementioned Sweet

Dreams series or the completely unrealistic Sweet Valley High series – with the most

perfectly beautiful and ‘sweet’ Wakefield sisters – pass me the sick bucket please)!

It is always something of a disappointment for me that when I was growing out of reading

young adult, the market had its second ‘golden age’. This began in the very late 1990s but it

was the 2000s that really saw the biggest impact.

Book series such as J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter paved the way for series such as Stephanie

Meyers Twilight, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Veronica Roth’s Divergent

series. I am not a huge fan of Twilight (Bella is too much of a Mary Sue, damsel in distress

type for me and don’t get me started on Edward Cullen as the romantic lead) but you

cannot deny that the popularity of these particular books has really allowed female-driven

narratives to flourish.

Katniss Everdeen is a great example of a strong, kick-ass protagonist but what makes her the

more relatable for me is that she doesn’t want to be thrust into the role of role-model and

icon – she just wants to survive and protect her loved ones from harm. This is what makes

her such an awesome example of female empowerment for me. She is a warrior but she is

also just a girl that has to overcome some truly horrific circumstances. The final book in the

trilogy Mockingjay is actually my favourite because it deals with the fallout of all the trauma

that Katniss has and continues to experience.

As I mentioned before, it really was unfortunate that the young adult genre really saw a rise

in the types of books I would have loved to have read as a teenager – just as I was heading

out of my teenage years!

I didn’t have a lot of time for reading when I was studying at University and I was beginning

to cut my teeth on more adult-themed books (to be fair though I had always read a mix of

young adult and adult books previously – as much as I loved Sweet Dreams and Point Horror

novels aimed at the teenage market – I also lapped up Stephen King novels and the like).

Young adult seemed a distant memory.

However, the popularity of books such as Twilight encouraged me to start reading young

adult books again and I am incredibly glad that I did. I have cited Katniss as a strong,

empowering female character but she is far from the only one I have read. I love Rose

Hathaway and Sydney Sage from Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy and Bloodlines series

for example – both approach things in vastly different ways but they are kick-ass characters

that deserve attention.

I would also recommend Kristin Cashore’s Graceling novels which can definitely be

described as feminist and anything by Maggie Stiefvater who always has strong female

characters. As for contemporary novels, Sara Zarr and Rainbow Rowell are definitely worth

checking out.

There are actually a plethora of novels to choose from which just goes to show that the

market has greatly expanded since I myself was a teenager. I am glad that I got the chance

to rediscover young adult – it has been an incredibly enriching experience and I am thankful

that young girls today get to experience such a vast range of powerful, strong and relatable

female characters as role models – I wish there was more of it when I was that age.

Here is some further reading material on the above subject:

http://edition.cnn.com/2013/10/15/living/young-adult-fiction-evolution/

http://www.dailydot.com/opinion/understanding-appeal-young-adult-novel/

http://www.bustle.com/articles/19569-12-childhood-book-characters-that-empower-young-

women-and-grown-ones

http://www.popmatters.com/feature/185264-the-empress-new-clothes-brave-new-heroines-in-

young-adult-fiction/

http://www.thewire.com/entertainment/2012/04/greatest-girl-characters-young-adult-

literature/50746/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/18/ya-books-heroines-_n_4467453.html

Adios!

Brin (forever young adult at heart)


 

brin1 (1)

My Blog – http://brinsbookblog.com/

Twitter – @BrinGuivera

Tumblr – http://brin-guivera.tumblr.com/

 

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3 thoughts on “Let’s Talk: FE&L #6-History of YA

  1. This is one of the reasons I love young adult, as well! I feel like there is a variety of strong female characters in YA. Since they tend to take place during the teenage years of life, there’s a sense of rebellion and letting out of emotion that I love. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I agree. I also love how Brin talked about the changes YA females have undergone throughout the years. Because the first young adult book I read was the Hunger Games, I’m used to stronger females. It was interesting, however, to read about the characters that were in books during the ’70s and onwards.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Monthly Wrap-Up: March 2015 - Brin's Book Blog

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