Many female characters in YA (especially paranormal YA) nowadays are labelled 'feisty', or 'kick-ass' in their book blurb. They are meant to embody all the modern virtues of strong, independent, girl-women who go out and take what they want in life without being constrained by the default 'but I'm a girl so I can't do that' box of the not-so-distant writing past.
As a feminist myself, I say 'Hooray' to all that. I've much enjoyed meeting Sarwat Chadda's determined monster-stomping Billi SanGreal and (more recently) Sarah J Mass's defiant knife-wielding assassin, Celaena Sardothien, and would much rather promote them as female role models than the wimpish, vapid Bella Swann from Twilight. (Not that I'm advising teenage girls to go out and stab people, but you take my meaning.) I do wonder, though, in more general terms does all this overt feisty, kick-ass stuff come at the expense of a certain nuance of emotion? Does making the girls we write about 'strong' before anything else come at the expense of depth and breadth of character? In the frantic quest to make sure our girl heroes do anything that boy heroes can (of which they are, of course, entirely capable) are we losing sight of the fact that it shouldn't matter and we shouldn't even be thinking about it because it ought to be a given?
As McDougall herself says, "No one ever asks if a male character is “strong”. Nor if he’s “feisty,” or “kick-ass” come to that." Well, we don't do we? We're more likely to ask what his character is like. Let's take Standish Treadwell, from Sally Gardner's Maggot Moon. An unlikely hero at best. Is he kick-ass? Is he feisty? Does it matter? No, of course it doesn't. He is simply himself, a scared, heroic, solitary, nervy, matter-of-fact, dyslexic boy who breaks your heart.
We need to get over and move on past the 'Wow! This princess does kung-fu!" moment in children's and YA books. Strongly-written female characters are great and entirely necessary, but it should not be what she can do that defines a princess - it should be who she is as a person. Am I alone in thinking this? Do tell!
Lucy is teaching Guardian Masterclasses on How To Write for Children on 7 Sept and 19 Oct 2013
Lucy's new picture book, Bear's Best Friend, is published by Bloomsbury "A charming story about the magic of friendship which may bring a tear to your eye" Parents in Touch "The language is a joy…thoughtful and enjoyable" Armadillo Magazine. "Coats's ebullient, sympathetic story is perfectly matched by Sarah Dyer's warm and witty illustrations." The Times
Her latest series for 7-9s, Greek Beasts and Heroes is out now from Orion Children's Books.
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Lucy is represented by Sophie Hicks at Ed Victor Ltd