When I agreed to write a post on what makes a strong Young Adult female lead, I had every intention of pontificating on the traits I thought made her that way. Turns out, I had an even better idea, with the results not so far from what I would have written myself.
I teach high school students and figured, who better to tell us about strength? I asked boys and girls and got some pretty amazing answers.
“She can’t be all wimpy, like Bella. She has to fight for herself. And she must have humor. I read pretty depressing books but I like when the lead finds things to laugh at.” Imani - Age 16
“She’s got to be empathetic and not all “I can do this all by myself.” She has to have friends that she’s willing to lean on.” Zachary (boy)- Age 15
“Definitely not Bella, she was sort of “dependent”. Strength is definitely when they’re more independent, when they can make decisions on their own, when they’re courageous and can speak for themselves. I really like Witsy in the WITCH & WIZARDS series.” Alexis - Age 15
“Someone who is daring and adventurous, who keeps the reader guessing the whole time, like Katniss.” Cassie - Age 17
“A girl who’s not stereotypical, that goes against social norms, extremely smart, can dress up and be pretty but chooses not to.” Sam (boy) - Age 19
“A girl who sticks up for others and cares about the insides of people not the outsides.” Jacob (boy) - Age 17
“A girl that doesn’t care what other people thinks, and just “be’s” herself.” - Diane - Age 18
“A girl that knows she has to do the right thing even when she doesn’t want to. That she doesn’t always think of herself and tries to make the best out of situations.” - Christian - Age 16
As a writer, it was great to hear what these students had to say, because I agree with all of them. When I was thinking of my own ideas, I thought of brave Katniss who put her own fear aside to stand up for her sister and her district. I thought of Fire, who though nurturing and maternal, made a conscious decision never to bear a child for her own selfish reasons. Or Marisa, in What Can(‘t) Wait, who has to decide between what is best for herself and what is best for her family, but does it with empathy and love. To me, that’s the heart of a strong female lead. Honesty. To others. But mostly to self. Strong girls embrace their wholeness, their flaws and their perfection, and love themselves for all of it.
Jaye Robin Brown - www.jayerobinbrown.com